New Zealand Customs & Culture

Toi Ohomai staff member and student engaged in tradition al Maori greeting

A Multi-Cultural Society

New Zealanders (also called Kiwis) are friendly, welcoming and enjoy meeting people from other cultures.

The Māori, New Zealand's first settlers, make up around 15% of the population but there are lots of different ethnic communities living in New Zealand. We have two official languages, English and Māori. English is the main, everyday language.

Māori Culture

Māori are recognised as the Tangata Whenua (people of the land) of New Zealand. They make up approximately 15% of the population and have a large cultural influence on the nation. In 1840 the British Crown signed a treaty (agreement) with some Māori chiefs. This treaty is known as the ‘Treaty of Waitangi’.

Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology is committed to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi. All activities including the setting of academic courses of study, the services offered and the employment of staff, are conducted in a way that encourages a commitment to the principles of the Treaty.

Most Māori affiliate themselves with an iwi. As an example; most Māori people from the Tauranga region are of Ngati Ranginui or Ngai te Rangi descent. Mataatua is the name of the waka (canoe/boat) on which the ancestors of those from Ngati Ranginui and Ngai te Rangi travelled to New Zealand hundreds of years ago.

An Insight into Kiwi Culture

Here's some information to help you get a feel for Kiwi culture.

Making Friends

New Zealanders are very friendly. They like to joke and smile, and usually enjoy meeting new people. It's important to meet and get to know New Zealanders. Try to get out and meet lots of people. Once you've formed one friendship it will be easier to make others.

Try to be relaxed and open, even if you're worried about making mistakes with your English. Some people may laugh at your attempts but they do not mean to offend and will be impressed that you're trying.

Some questions are not suitable to ask people in New Zealand unless you know the person very well e.g. don't ask a woman her age (especially older women), don't ask people how much they earn or how much they paid for their house or belongings.


In New Zealand you are expected to be punctual or ‘on time’. If you have to meet someone at 3.00pm you should be there at 3.00pm. If you're going to be late you should phone to explain.

‘Thank you’

Thank you is a phrase often used in New Zealand – even for small favours it's polite to say thank you.


New Zealanders do not discriminate – it's against our law. All people are equal. This means that men and women are treated equally and women must be given the same respect as men. It does not matter what country a person comes from; they will be treated as an equal and you should treat them as equal.

Meals and Table Manners

Most New Zealanders eat three meals each day: Breakfast (around 7am), lunch (around midday) and an evening meal called dinner or tea (6.00pm-8.00pm).

New Zealanders usually eat with a knife, fork and spoon. If you're not sure which one to use, ask your hosts.

If your hosts asks you if you would like a ‘second helping’ or 'seconds' (more to eat), accept if you would like more, but if you've had enough, just say ‘no thank you’. Your hosts will not think this is impolite.

If you have medical, dietary or religious restrictions on certain foods, it is good to tell your hosts before you join them for a meal. After the meal your host will be happy if you offer to help wash or dry the dishes.


There are very few servants in New Zealand. Children are taught how to do tasks around the house and husbands usually share the household duties. A family sometimes employs a cleaner, who may come once a week to clean the house, but usually people do their own housework, child care and garden duties themselves.


Tipping is not expected. People sometimes tip the waiter/waitress in an expensive restaurant. Tips are not given in cafeterias or fast food restaurants e.g. McDonalds.


In New Zealand people under the age of 18 are not allowed to buy alcohol and there are heavy penalties for people who drive after drinking alcohol.

New Zealand customs regarding drinking in hotels and bars may be different from those in your home country.

You pay for each drink as you receive it. The New Zealand custom of ‘shouting’ means that if someone buys you a drink you are expected to ‘shout’ them back by buying their next drink.


Bargaining is not practiced in New Zealand shops. The prices marked are the prices at which the goods are sold.


New Zealanders eat a fairly balanced diet of fresh vegetables with either meat or fish as their main evening meal. Tauranga has a number of restaurants and cafes catering to a variety of international tastes. Imported food products are also readily available from local retail outlets.


In most cities it is an offence to make loud noises that are annoying to other people, even if you make the noise in your own home. It is illegal to use your car horn after 10.30pm and before 7.30am.

Personal Space

New Zealanders like a large ‘personal space’, so when talking with someone it is a good idea to stand a few feet away from that person. Intensive eye contact or standing too close can be viewed as an invasion of ‘personal space’. If you notice someone backing away from you, this could be the reason.


Many New Zealand families have pets such as dogs or cats. These animals are usually loved and treated well. Do not be surprised to find them inside the house and for them to be treated like a member of the family.


The main religion in New Zealand is Christianity. However, Tauranga has places of worship for most international religions.


Men and women in a relationship are usually called ‘partners’. They might hold hands in public and show affection. Men don’t usually touch each other in public as some Asian and Pacific cultures may do, but they briefly hug each other or pat each other on the back to show friendship and affection.

Culture Shock

When you leave your own culture and go to another you may experience a wide range of feelings and reactions. You may feel:

  • Confused and disorientated
  • Nervous, tired and have trouble sleeping
  • Frustrated and angry towards people in this new country
  • Dependent on others from your home country who also live in this new place

Experiencing some or all of these feelings is known as culture shock. The food will be different, people will look, act and speak differently. Your family and friends are far away. You may have difficulty telling people how you feel in English.

This can often make you confused and unsure and you may wonder if you made the right decision to study overseas. This is not easy to deal with, but remember you are not alone.

Coping with Culture Shock

Keep an open mind. People have their own ideas, habits and values that may be different from your own. Try NOT to judge people by the standards of your own country - does the behaviour make sense in the culture you are living in?

If you are having difficulties, contact our International Pastoral Care Coordinator:

Kiwi Slang

All Blacks / The ABs National rugby team.
Bikkie / Cookie Biscuit
Blokes Males
Bring a Plate When attending pot luck dinners you are asked to bring a ‘plate’. Bring a plate with food on it to share with others.
B.Y.O. "Bring Your Own" usually refers to alcohol or drinks.
Cheers Thank you or goodbye.
Chips French fries or potato crisps.
Choice Excellent.
Chook Chicken
College High school.
Cowshed Milking parlour for dairy cows.
Dairy Corner convenience store.
EFTPOS Electronic Funds Transfer at Point of Sale. This facility allows you to pay for goods at the shop using your bank card/credit card instead of cash.
"Eh" / "Aye" "Don't you think so/agree?" OR "Pardon?"
Fish & chips Deep fried fish fillets and thick French fries.
Flat Shared accommodation between friends.
Flatmate Person who you share your accommodation with.
Gidday Casual greeting.
Gumboots Rubber boots like Wellingtons or galoshes - necessary when visiting farms.
Guys Often used when referring to males, but also used when addressing a group of people (male and /or female). When people say “you guys” they mean “all of you".
Had it Tired
Heaps Many / A lot of.
(I) reckon "I think so too".
Jandals Rubber thongs/sandals. Summer footwear.
Jumper Sweater
Kids Children
Kiwi New Zealand's national bird. A New Zealander.
Kiwifruit Small soft fruit, brown and fuzzy on the outside with a green flesh and tiny black seeds. Delicious!
League Rugby League.
Lollies Candy, sweets.
Lotto The national lottery.
L&P A fizzy soft drink sold only in New Zealand.
Mate Friend
Movies The cinema. Place where films are shown.
"The Mount" Mount Maunganui - a popular beach resort neighbouring Tauranga
NZ Abbreviation for New Zealand
Pavlova New Zealand desert made with egg whites and sugar.
Pub Hotel, licensed to serve alcohol.
Porridge Hot oat cereal.
Pot Luck Meal where everyone contributes a dish of food.
Pudding Dessert
Refill A4 sized writing paper that can be used to re-fill folders.
Rubber Eraser, used for rubbing out pencil. Or a condom.
Rugby Rugby union.
Serviettes Napkins
Skivvy A high necked garment worn under a jersey.
Smoko Morning or afternoon tea break.
Soccer Football
Stubbie Small bottle of beer.
Stuffed  Tired OR very full.
Stoked Very happy/excited.
'sup? Abbreviation for "What's up?" i.e. "What's happening with you?"
Sweet as Good
Ta Thank you
Tea Cup of tea drink OR the evening meal.
"The Steamers" Our local provincial rugby team.
Togs Bathing costume/swimsuit.
Tomato sauce Ketchup
Twink White correction pen.
Varsity University
Weetbix A popular Kiwi breakfast cereal.