New Zealand culture: A guide

Kiwis are a laid-back bunch. Talk to any Kiwi bloke and after a couple of minutes of light banter, you’ll find they’ll give you the skinny about what projects they’re working on in their shed and the renos that they’ve got going on for the house. Similarly, the Kiwi chick is versatile and a force to be reckoned with at work as well as at home. There’s so much more to New Zealand culture than meets the eyes. Let’s dig further into what makes New Zealand culture unique to the rest of the world.

New Zealand: The land of the big friendly giants

The typical Kiwi is affable, and you’ll also notice that they’re a burly bunch. Compared to Southeast Asian nations, Kiwis look like giants with the average Kiwi bloke at 177cm tall and the average Kiwi chick at 165cm. This is the confusing thing – they look like giants, but they’re usually polite and reserved.

Kiwi politeness

One of the first things you’ll notice is that Kiwis are extremely polite. They’ll always say sorry, even for things that you don’t need to apologise for; like walking past you in a crowd, or asking a question in a supermarket.

You might be shocked to find that everybody greets one another with ‘hello, how are you?’. This is out of politeness and you’re meant to say ‘good thanks’ and then move on with light small talk.

If you really want to see how polite Kiwis are, find a spot to spy on a checkout assistant at a supermarket. They’ll ask every single person in the line how they are. They might genuinely be interested in how each person is, but if they’re not, it’s still polite to ask anyway and they will do this to every single person.

Let’s decode the language a bit to understand what the checkout assistant is actually saying. Here’s what you would expect in a typical supermarket conversation:

Checkout assistant:“Hello, how are you?”

‘How are you’ is just attached to the sentence. It’s optional to answer and polite to say:

Customer:“Oh yeah, nah, things are good aye”

‘Yeah, nah’ is a premise to the sentence. It usually means no, but it depends on what is being said, so listen carefully to the content of the conversation. In this context it means ‘yes’. And ‘aye’ gets added to just about every sentence. It’s a filler and a shared cultural quirk with Canadians. You can then choose to continue the conversation or leave it unresolved, it’s up to you.

Kiwi politeness extends to modesty. Almost every communication brings the feel of the conversation to a middle ground ‘bro’ (brother) as Kiwis don’t like to do or say anything outlandish. This is because of a cultural phenomenon called ‘Tall poppy syndrome’.

Tall poppy syndrome

Kiwis value modesty. It’s a cultural taboo to brag, which is why tall poppy syndrome is something that every New Zealander lives with. Tall poppy syndrome is an old school value that originates in the 1960’s when income was about the same for everyone. This ‘egalitarian’ value hasn’t changed much, making it a bit of a taboo to talk about lofty achievements amongst acquaintances.

If you tread lightly, you’ll figure out pretty quickly that Kiwis love to chat about DIY wins.

DIY and the number 8 wire mentality

DIY is like a national sport. Shops like Bunnings and Mitre 10 Mega hold a place dear in the hearts of Kiwis. Every Saturday morning you’ll see these stores humming with families, couples and individuals purchasing materials to create their dream environment while they eat a sausage from the BBQ outside.

The number 8 wire mentality has been with Kiwis since the 1940’s. The gag is that number 8 wire, the most common material available on a farm, can be, and has been used anywhere to fix just about anything. The number 8 wire mentality loosely means that the average Kiwi loves doing things themselves with whatever means they have around them.

This DIY mentality extends to popular TV too with My House, My Castle and Mitre 10 Dream Home – popular DIY shows – being some of the most popular programs on New Zealand networks. Sport is also extremely popular viewing in New Zealand.

National Sports


New Zealand’s national sport is rugby with the national team being the All Blacks. Rugby season happens from about February to October and it starts with the Super 15– a large southern hemisphere professional tournament and ends with the NPC– a national amateur provincial competition. 

If you’re really invested in getting to know New Zealanders, then learning about rugby is an excellent place to start as it’s a topic that all Kiwis can relate to. The televised versions of the game are the mens competitions. If you’re interested in female sports, then look no further than netball.


Netball is the most popular women’s sport in New Zealand. During winter you’ll see provincial and international games of netball televised during prime time and sporty families and friend groups huddling around the tv with a couple of bevies cheering on their favourite teams.


In summer, Kiwis enjoy relaxing in front of the tv watching cricket. It’s a great game to go watch live too as it takes all day and is a day in the sun. Pack your umbrella, sunscreen, lunch and head to one of the many beautiful cricket venues around the country for a day of classic Kiwiana.


Townies in New Zealand enjoy multicultural cuisines and understand the difference between a Roti and a Chapati. Also, expect to order a flat white rather than a cappuccino at the café. A flat white is more milk and less froth than a cappuccino.

When you enter rural New Zealand, the Kiwi cuisine becomes decidedly more ‘Kiwi’. The standard joke is that ‘even the sushi is deep fried’. Expect to have chips (fries) and sauce with everything along with different variations of deep-fried goods in the bakery and service station warmer. Chicken cordon bleus, deep fried sausages, mince and cheese pies. Even Moro bars can be, and will be deep fried!

Fish and chips Friday is a standard New Zealand meal night. A piece of fish and half a scoop of chips is all you’ll need to feed a person. Steak and eggs is another very very Kiwi meal. The steak will be presented with your choice of eggs: poached, fried or scrambled and with a plate full of chips (fries). This is a great meal that can be prepared on a BBQ.

The famous Kiwi BBQ

New Zealanders love a good BBQ. It’s a favourite summer activity that is fun for the whole family, extended family and friends. Gas grills, webers, stone grills and braziers are a few of the many tools that Kiwis use to cook their food.

It’s always polite to bring food to a Kiwi BBQ. Sausages, steak and chops with a side of a salad and banter are all on the menu.

Sick bants, bro!

‘Sick’ is colloquially used as good, or great. ‘Bants’ is an abbreviation of ‘banter’, which in New Zealand translates to ‘conversation’.

BBQ banter is a little bit different from a polite exchange at the supermarket.

Standard BBQ banter includes talking about the latest renos (renovations), the weather, the rugby, netball and cricket results. You should also talk about tricks and tools, materials or your ideas about how to make that person’s house even better while nursing a bevy (beer). Remember to keep the conversation light as Kiwis are a private bunch. Money, politics, marriage and children are usually off limits. As you build a relationship with your kiwi friend, you’ll get a feel for what to talk about and whether to approach heavier topics.


Kiwis have a dry, sarcastic sense of humor. For migrants to New Zealand, this can be tricky to navigate as jokes are indirect and are delivered with a straight face.

Taika Waititi, Flight of the Conchords, Billy T James and Jeremy Wells are all famous New Zealand comedy pioneers and their repertoire of content should give you a good idea where to start when decoding humour.

New Zealand music

Although Lorde is the most popular artist to ever come out of New Zealand, most music you will hear in the backyeard will be reggae. Six60, Kora, L.A.B, The Black Seeds, Trinity Roots and Fat Freddies drop are popular and 100% worth a listen if you’re open to hearing new sounds.

It’s also light enough to have it in the background while you’re engaging in the banter around the BBQ and sets a great tone for the next game of backyard cricket.

New Zealand culture: It’s unique, bro!

Their accents are harsh, the people are huge, they’re annoyingly polite and they’re super independent; but they’re a loveable bunch. Friendly and always willing to help, your Kiwi friends are always up for a laugh and a bit of light banter. Sweet as mate!

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