January 13, 2015

Here's a Tip

There's a post that has been floating around my head for a while - and I promise I will eventually put 'pen to paper' - that is a follow-up to "To Be an Expat".  In it, I will explore why we still live in New Zealand and the likelihood of us ever moving back to the US (or to another country).  Stay tuned!

In the meantime, I want to talk about one very specific part of living in New Zealand that we enjoy: no tipping.  That means not in restaurants, pubs, taxis, spas, nail salons etc.  You name it --> no tipping.  In fact, the first time we took a cab, we tipped and thoroughly confused the driver!  

Just recently, there was a post on Gizmodo.com regarding tipping software in NY Taxis and how one software brand was rounding up.  (Wait...there is more than one kind of taxi tipping software?)  I commented on the post that I am happy to live in a country where tipping is not customary.  Of course this drew a question of "why".  And while I have voiced some of the reasons before, I realised my main objection is that tipping is a power play.  Here are the rest of my issues with tipping:

  • The employer is shifting their duty to pay workers fairly on to customers. What other job would allow this? Why are minimum wages allowed to be so low for waitresses/waiters in the US?
  • Tipping is arbitrary, so that the person receiving cannot actually ever know what they will make in a given week.  How can a person properly manage his/her finances when wages are so variable - AND - so low? 
  • Those who work in industries where tipping makes up a huge part of their wages simply cannot have an "off" day.  We all have those days - whether it be due to illness, grief, lack of sleep - but a waitress always has to be "on" in order to pay the bills. 
  • Federal US labor laws require employers to ensure wait staff make minimum wage when tips are included, and to make up the difference if that doesn't happen.  This rule is not often followed. Conversely, many cash tips are not reported, leading to income that is not taxed.
  • Tipping makes going out with a group a hassle when trying to split the bill.
  • The interaction with a server or other employee who relies on tips is fake and awkward.  The person is generally being nice so that they can earn more money.  There is often no sense of a genuine conversation in these instances.

  • And finally, the power play.  Tipping is  a weird construct to make the person tipping feel powerful over the server.  Ages ago, I travelled with a coworker who would 'warn' the waitress at the beginning of the meal that her tip would start at 100%, and for every mistake he would drop her tip by 20%.  He updated her throughout the meal.  What the fuck is that shit? 
  • Sometimes the percentage tipped is used as a bragging point. I've read many a discussion thread where people brag that they don't tip less than 25% *ever*. What is the point of this conversation? So that they can look like a fantastic human? The only person who cares how much you tip is your waitress.

Here's the thing: companies have the power to increase what they charge in order to pay their employees fairly.  This is how most retail businesses are run in the US.  And this is how all of them are run here.  The prices on the menus are all inclusive (in our case, they include tax too), so that there are no surprises at the end of the meal.  No math, no awkward splitting when dining out with friends.  

Coincidentally, College Humor posted this video just today. It addresses a couple of the reasons I listed above, but most surprisingly, it points out that tipping was "un-American" before Prohibition:

Note: the minimum wage in New Zealand is $14.25/hour [USD $11.15].  Some companies, such as La Boca Loca, go above and beyond and pay a 'living wage' of $18.80/hour [USD$14.75].

January 03, 2015

How to Speak Kiwi: The Sequel

Way back in 2007, I wrote a blog post on "How to Speak Kiwi".  I see that the post still gets quite a few views, so I thought I'd finally write an update.

Eight years into this adventure, I still very much have my American accent.  It is not really region-specific, except for the few times I drag out the "y'all" or say "Aunt" the Yankee way.  Darren still has his accent too, although he (and many people in the US) seem to think it has faded quite a bit.

We have both integrated many of the Kiwi words and phrases into our everyday speech, though.  Kiwis are much more subtle than Americans, and don't care for superlatives or strong emotions.  The word 'keen' is used if a person wants to express interest or show eagerness in a particular activity or to find out if someone else is "I want to see blah blah movie, are you keen?".  And if someone does me a favor or a customer service person actually solves an issue, I typically respond with 'sweet!' or 'nice!'.  Words/phrases used to congratulate someone are 'well done' or 'good result!'.   Conversely, if something goes badly, the most common utterances are 'that's not ideal' or a simple 'stink'.

To agree with someone, I often say the simple 'same!' instead of 'me too'. 'Cheers' is often used in place of 'thank you' - and Darren definitely uses it that way, but I only use it at the end of emails instead of the typical American use of 'Sincerely'.   Speaking of emails, I am (mostly) used to addressing business associates by only their first names, but I definitely never say I will 'flick' an email to anyone. Flicking is for boogers.

Another Kiwi term we frequently use is 'sorted'.  It is an incredibly useful word, which can mean a project is done or a conflict has been resolved.  I have also completely replaced my use of 'tons' with 'heaps'.

I still haven't gotten used to flashlights being 'torches' (all I can imagine is an actual torch with fire and monsters), or saying an item is 'on special' instead of on sale. 'Special' for me means...other things. And whenever I hear or read a news report about 'appliances' attending a fire, I can only imagine a heap of toasters, blenders, maybe even a couple stoves sitting on a sidewalk (err..I mean 'pavement' or 'footpath') outside a burning house.

The news also reports crimes or other activities happen to an address 'in' a street, as opposed to on such-and-such street.  As I read or listen, I always mentally correct the statement, as I just can't reconcile how a house or business is *in* a street.

A word I've only come to hear in the last couple of years is 'paper'.  Here, it means a university level course.  Instead of saying "as part of my degree, I took an Economics course", one might say "I did a paper in Economics".

Another term that is very much an English term is 'cuddle'.  Except it is often used to mean 'hug'. I still find it a bit creepy when an adult friend asks if I need a cuddle...

Ah! That reminds me of an awkward exchange during my first few weeks of work: the newbies of the tax group were forced to do a weird comical role play in front of the rest of the group as sort of an icebreaker each year.  Even though I wasn't a graduate, I was still expected to participate.  I emailed a (Kiwi) coworker about my hesitation, and he responded "you'll be sweet".  I immediately sent a text to Darren freaking out about such harassment.  How *dare* this guy tell me to be sweet? What the hell?!  Fortunately, Darren was already up with the Kiwi lingo and explained what it meant ('you'll be ok').  Phew!

Something else I learned early on was that Kiwis don't describe poultry meat as 'dark' versus 'white'.  Instead, you have to specify which part of the bird you are after (i.e. thigh, drumstick, breast).  Fortunately, I only had one awkward experience before I learned this!

Pronunciation of words can be interesting at times, too.  [Disclaimer: not every Kiwi pronounces every word the same way].  Over the past couple of years, I've become acutely aware of words ending with 'wn' being pronounced with an extra 'e'.  For example, 'known' = 'know-en'.  I've heard this from random acquaintances as well as news announcers (!).

Many French words/names are also mispronounced [read: 'herb', where the 'h' is pronounced!], especially if they are street names, but 'debut' is always pronounced "day-boo" here.  Even though both the UK and the US pronounce the word "day-bue", the original French pronunciation is followed here.

And buoy!  Americans typically pronounce those floaty things "boo-eee".  However, here (and likely in the rest of the world), it is pronounced "boy".  I giggle every time I hear it.

I also giggle whenever I hear "duty" or "tainted", and most people I've come across here do not understand why.  They just end up repeating "duty" several times in a row, as if the subtle difference in pronunciation changes how funny it is.  It does not! It just makes it sound like a fancy version of "doodie'!

And drawers - as in, dressers with drawers - is written and pronounced 'draws'. Drives.me.nuts.  There are just two more letters! Two!

Let's see...I still say 'elevator' instead of 'lift'; (movie) 'previews' are not the same as 'shorts' (to me); I haven't yet switched from saying parking lot/parking garage to 'car parks'; and 'plaster' instead of band-aid is too weird for me.  Plaster goes on a wall.  Oh, and we have a front lawn and a back yard...not two 'gardens'.  For the longest time, I thought everyone spent their weekends maintaining beautiful gardens!

And here's a two-fer:  the kitchen counter is called the 'bench' here.  And combined with the Kiwi accent, it sounds like "bEANch".

When I first met Merrin, we were hanging out at Darrel's house, and I asked about a particular item.  She stated it was on the bench.  Since I was not quite familiar with the Kiwi accent yet, I had no idea what she had even said! She repeated it several times, until she finally said "kitchen bench".  Now, Darrel's kitchen at the time was the size of a small closet, and there was NO way a stool would fit in there, much less an entire bench! Still, I wandered into the tiny room and found what I was looking for...on the counter.  And thus, I had been thrown into the deep-end of the Kiwi language and accent!

January 01, 2015

New Year's 2014/2015

Today is the first day of 2015.  A new year always brings a sense of hope and excitement, and today even more-so because the weather was simply stunning.  Most of the 'backwards' seasons feel weird to me, but I do enjoy a beautiful summer New Year's day.

Like most years, we didn't make any advanced plans for New Year's eve this (last?) year.  In fact, we can't remember most of NYEs over the last 8 years. However, we both agree that the most enjoyable one we've had was 2013/2014 - we spent the evening with Merrin, Darrel, and a couple other friends playing Cards Against Humanity.

Every year I imagine I'd like to do something fancy. Perhaps get all dressed up and eat a fancy dinner with a fabulous live band in the background.  There *is* a winery just north of Wellington that puts on a great NYE dinner each year, but the band this year was not one we were interested in.  Ah, well.  Maybe next (this?) year.

Even though New Zealand is in the first time zone to see the New Year, there is no large organised celebration.  That is, none of the 4 major TV networks have a countdown or NYE special - most just play old movies or music videos.  I assume Auckland has a fireworks show...it isn't televised.  And Wellington promises to do a fireworks show each year, but they are often cancelled due to weather.  Yes, despite it being summer, NYE in Wellington is almost always cold, rainy and/or windy!  This past one was no exception, although the crap weather stopped just before the scheduled fireworks. I can only assume they happened, because...also not televised.

Darren and I had a relatively quiet evening filled with beer, pizza, video games and the struggle to stay awake until midnight.  We made it though, and celebrated with a beer from Garage Project called "Hops on Pointe", which melds a golden lager with champagne yeast.  It was...horrible.  Truly, absolutely tragic!  We plan to lump that into the sucky year that was 2014 instead of as a harbinger of things to come in 2015.

Today, we woke up to gorgeous weather, so we headed out for a walk across Karori to the cemetery. Along the way, we passed the main Karori shops, the smaller shopping area in Marsden Village and an even smaller shopping area just before leaving Karori.  Almost everything was closed, which is not unexpected.

The cemetery is gorgeous:  

With a bit of history:

The cemetery was quiet and peaceful, as cemeteries are, I guess.  Afterwards, we headed back through Karori past the few open stores (a Chinese take-away, a Dairy), picked up a DVD from the video store (yes! we still have video stores!), a couple items from the grocery store and made it home in time for lunch.  Later in the afternoon, we streamed the NYE fireworks show from Walt Disney World via their website.  Magical!

Happy New Year!

December 26, 2014

To Be an Expat

The word I associate most with being an expat is "lonely".

Now, that may not be true for other expats - even for Darren - but after eight years living outside of the US, it is certainly true for me.  Unlike some of our friends, Darren and I didn't have the "call our parents every day" type of relationship with either of our families.  So, of all the things we considered when we decided to move, leaving family behind was not a major concern.  At the time I felt quite close to my brother Kevin, his wife, and her family.  I also had fairly regular contact with my Aunt and cousin in Connecticut.  I simply didn't consider any of that would change, even being across the world and 16-18 hours ahead in time.  

We took this leap of faith together, knowing that it would be just us for a while in our new homeland.  And we were also very fortunate to have my friends Darrel and Merrin here in Wellington - they welcomed us on our first day, and have been a constant presence since.

However we were determined to make more friends, and so launched headlong into leading a social group here for people like us (expats/people new to Wellington). We did indeed forge some lasting relationships.  And as people moved along or faded away - as inevitably happens in a transient city - we joined other groups to meet more people.  Rinse and repeat. We've even found friends at work!

But it isn't the same.  There's no replacement for the people we have left behind - the people who know our histories and our struggles.  I am a people (and memories) hoarder.  I am hesitant to let go of any significant period in my life, or anyone who was a part of it.  Email and Facebook are fantastic ways to keep in touch with what is going on in my friends' lives, but it isn't the same.  It just isn't.  I didn't realise this before moving, and I'm certain it wouldn't have stopped our journey. But still...

The loneliness is worse at the holidays (not too unexpected, though, right?).  For the first few years, I made an effort to send gifts and/or cards, as did my brother and my Aunt (the word "aunt" looks weird in lower case. Deal with it.) at birthdays and xmas.  I often was late, but the thought was always there.  Skype calls were always scheduled for the major holidays and it felt like an equal effort. But it has all faded away now - the effort is more on one side than the other, and even then, less than it was.

It seems there is an expectation that the person who leaves has the obligation to stay in touch.  And maybe that's fair, I don't know.

I wonder if we are missed, and if we are, if it is enough to make an effort.

November 28, 2014

8 Years

I started this blog post a couple of weeks ago – it was to be a reflection of the past 8 years and what we have learned about New Zealand and the Kiwi culture, especially as it is reflected through the language.

However, that version is on a now-bricked flash drive. Darren is desperately trying to fix whatever I have done to that (not backed up) tiny piece of technology.  In the meantime, I will think (and write) about how today is Thanksgiving. 

Nine years ago, while celebrating Thanksgiving with my family, I announced to my brother that Darren and I were thinking of moving to New Zealand.  Kevin responded with “cool!”.  Just one year later, Darren and I celebrated Thanksgiving with my family for the last time*, three days before we headed out on our one-way flight to New Zealand.  We landed here eight years ago today.

As our families and friends celebrate Thanksgiving, Darren and I are at our separate workplaces on an ordinary Friday.  We miss you all and send love across the world -

*so far!