Top 20 Things a Brit in New Zealand Misses
By: Abigail Simpson
New Zealand is a truly wonderful country and I feel privileged to call it home. This doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t miss my real home, my native England. Yes, life in New Zealand is so much better than life in England, but there are some things that are bred into you, yearnings that never fade no matter how long you’re away. I’ve lived in New Zealand since I was ten years old; I’m now twenty-two and here is a list of twenty things I still miss about England:
1) The pubs
Okay, I wasn’t old enough to drink when we left England, but for me pubs aren’t just about drinking: what’s important is the atmosphere. British pubs have atmospheres that Kiwi pubs simply don’t. Kiwi pub culture is practically non-existent, but what New Zealand lacks in pubs it makes up for in cafes – Brits always remark on the sheer number of cafes here. This isn’t to say that New Zealanders don’t enjoy a drink; it’s just that they prefer to drink at a mate’s house. It’s cheaper.
2) The buildings
Living in England, you take all the old buildings for granted: the Anglo-Saxon churches, the Georgian manors – especially the Victorian terraces like the one I grew up in. I never realised how much I’d miss them. New Zealand is such a young country that hundred-year-old buildings are considered impressive. The upside of this is that most of the housing in New Zealand is relatively new and comes with considerable garden space.
3) The history
I am an unabashed history nerd, and if I ever go back to England it’ll be for the likes of Bath and Jorvik and the many castles and archaeological sites. Having the weight of so much glorious history pressing around you is somehow comforting, and it’s a feeling you don’t get in New Zealand. Though what little human history New Zealand has can be quite interesting, through no fault of its own it could never measure up to England’s. Its natural history, however, is fascinating – all that volcanic activity and those monstrous birds!
4) The woodland
The English woodland is enchanting – I miss those carpets of bluebells and snowdrops; those oak groves fit for ancient druids; the squirrels scampering between the trees. New Zealand doesn’t have any squirrels and you forget how cute they are! New Zealand’s native forest, though, has a magic all of its own. Known locally as the bush, it’s a mysterious and beautiful rainforest, with tree ferns that tower over you and pohutukawas that bloom in the most fantastic red – it’s a more than adequate replacement for the forest of my homeland.
5) The birdlife
In England, we used to have all manner of birds visit our (shared with the rest of the terrace) garden, but my favourites were the iconic red-breasted robins and the gorgeous blue tits, both of which are absent from the fauna of New Zealand. New Zealand has no shortage of its own birds, though. Regular visitors to our garden here are tuis, beautiful songbirds with shining plumage and a pair of white baubles beneath their beaks, and fantails, which flit around like the geishas of the bird world. New Zealand also has the kea, a devilishly intelligent alpine parrot, and, of course, the kiwi, the symbol of the nation itself.
Speaking of robins, one of the most important things I miss in New Zealand is the English Christmas. Don’t freak out – New Zealand does celebrate Christmas and it’s just as commercialised as anywhere else; it’s just that it’s in the middle of summer and that makes a huge difference. New Zealand never gets a White Christmas, (and I know that in actual fact England hardly ever does either, but the feeling of sitting inside all cosy with the decorations while it’s dark and cold outside is wonderful.) Trying to eat a traditional Christmas dinner while it’s bright and humid is quite a feat – no wonder the Kiwi Christmas dinner is a barbecue at the beach, and perhaps if we were sensible and unsentimental my family would be doing that this year!
7) Icy puddles
England may not always get snow in winter, but at least the puddles freeze over. I remember the joy with which I ‘ice-skated’ on them on my way to primary school, a joy I miss in New Zealand, where winter doesn’t get that cold, (except maybe in the south of the South Island.) On the plus side, New Zealand winters don’t get that cold! The weather here is much, much nicer than in England.
8) Marks and Spencers
You’ll hear every Brit in New Zealand bemoan the lack of Marks and Spencer stores – quality shirts and underpants are hard to come by, not to mention the Florentines! New Zealand doesn’t really have an equivalent – maybe Farmers or Smith and Caughey’s, but they aren’t the same. Also, New Zealand doesn’t have quite the number of products available as England does. I remember going on a class trip to England in my final year of high school in New Zealand, (the only time I have ever been back,) and my Kiwi classmates and I were overwhelmed by everything for sale in ASDA.
9) The sweets
In New Zealand, all sweets are called lollies, not just lollipops. Also, crisps are called chips. (To avoid confusion, actual chips are called hot chips.) You can buy English sweets in New Zealand, but only in specialist shops for expat Brits and special sections of the supermarket, and they’re expensive and very limited, and I’ve yet to see any Cadbury Mini Rolls or Milkybar yoghurts, even though both Cadbury and Nestle exist in New Zealand. (The Cadbury chocolate recipe has more sugar in it here.) Traditional New Zealand ‘lollies’ are chocolate fish and Pineapple Lumps.
10) The bookshops
I saw on the internet once that New Zealand has more bookshops per capita than any other country, but this can’t be right anymore. I see bookshop after bookshop closing and the reason is simple: books are too expensive here, partly because they have to be imported and partly because there’s a tax on them, which there isn’t in the UK. I miss not having to rely on The Book Depository website for cheap books, and I miss those secondhand bookshops that are crammed into old houses and seem to distort space and time, like the one on the really steep street in Lincoln that I’m struggling to remember yet still ache for.
11) The accents
The Kiwi accent is whiny and questioning and varies little throughout New Zealand. It is quite similar to the Australian accent, although New Zealanders will hate me for saying so. English accents, though… well they’re hilarious, aren’t they? I miss being able to tell exactly what part of the country someone is from just by the way they speak, and I’m strangely comforted now whenever I hear a Northern accent – one of the many Northern accents.
12) The comedy
Everyone knows British comedy is the best in world, so there was no way that Kiwi comedy could ever compare. I have come across one genuinely funny New Zealand comedy series – Seven Periods with Mr Gormsby, if you’re interested – but we mostly have to rely on DVDs of English comedy. We’ve got a huge collection and it’s kept us going through many a tough time. Happily, more and more English comedians seem to be touring New Zealand now – we saw Bill Bailey a while back and there were lots of eager expats in the audience clamouring for a slice of home.
13) The BBC
Any Brit who’s ever grumbled about having to pay the TV licence fee finds themselves wishing they could when they move to New Zealand. All telly in New Zealand is free – unless you get something like Sky, which you’ll probably want to do if you’re a Brit, for UKTV and the football – but the adverts and the quality of programming drives you mad. We all wish we had the BBC here, so, again, we have to rely on DVDs. My dad also misses Radio 4 and The Shipping Forecast.
14) The seaside
This is something about England that I kind of miss, but wouldn’t in a million years swap for what I have in New Zealand now: the old-fashioned seaside with the piers and the fairs; the donkey rides and the Punch and Judy shows. New Zealand doesn’t have any of that. Instead, it has a selection of the most beautiful beaches in the world. English seasides are so tacky in comparison, but that’s part of their charm, isn’t it?
15) The trains
I have very fond memories of taking the train as a kid: the swaying, the rattle, the chug-chug-chug, the countryside racing by… New Zealand doesn’t have a great rail network. There are the odd few railway lines, including the fantastic Taieri Gorge steam train journey in Dunedin, but you can’t take a train to Auckland as you would to London. Then again, trains have gotten so hideously expensive in England that the romance has rather gone out of them anyway.
16) The football
I was never a huge fan of football. I mean I support Manchester United because my mum and her mum do, but I’m often not terribly interested in the actual games. However, there’s something about the sound of an English football crowd that makes me feel right at home. Everyone in New Zealand is obsessed with rugby and I can’t warm to it in quite the same way. I suppose at least the All Blacks win stuff.
17) The North
My family’s from the North and I love the understated culture of the North. I miss hearing jokes on telly of which the North is the butt. In England, ‘up North’ means a cold and dull place inhabited by down-to-earth working-class people; in New Zealand, ‘up North’ means a sunny holiday destination inhabited by bogans.
18) The Lake District
The Lake District is one of the few places in England that can compare to New Zealand in terms of beauty. I spent so much time there as a child and am convinced that the hills have magic drifting over them like mist. New Zealand’s hills aren’t so misty, but that’s probably because it doesn’t rain so bloomin’ often. The mountains of New Zealand are just as magical in their own way – watch Lord of the Rings if you don’t believe me.
19) The villages
The English pride themselves o their idyllic, little villages with their flowery cottages, historic squares and barmy traditions. New Zealand just doesn’t have villages like that. New Zealand’s equivalent idyllic, little villages all have the frontier feel, which, I suppose, is how it should be.
20) Being part of Europe
A major thing I miss living in New Zealand is being part of Europe, and by that I mean being close to other countries. New Zealand’s nearest neighbours are Australia and the Pacific Islands, which are great to fly to for holidays, but it’s not the same as hopping on the train to France. New Zealand feels so isolated sometimes, which I find to be alternately a good thing and a bad thing. New Zealand is a truly amazing country to grow up in, but it’s hard being so far away from my homeland and the people there that I love.
I was ten years old when my family moved to New Zealand; I didn’t have a choice in the matter. But knowing what I know now, knowing how much I would miss, would I have come here if I HAD been given the choice?
Of course I would.
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Contest Comments » There are 8 comments
The writer, for me, excellently sums up the dichotomy for many expats, our hearts are in 2 places at once, our homeland of birth and out adopted country of residence. We can love both, but we can't be in two places at once. But the yearning for homeland is always present, it's where we were born, it's where our childhood ghosts roam freely, it's a place we don't have to 'ask' permission to be. New Zealand is a wonderful country, but by any alchemy of perception, it's not my homeland. A wonderful, balanced blog written by someone with a natural writer's talent.
I really enjoy reading your blog, Abby, and I'm glad that there are some parts of New Zealand that you're warming up to. Who knows, one day when you're back in England you may even miss it! Also I trust you've seen your fair share of flight of the conchords and Billy T?
so true! this is a wonderfully written piece that captures the british experience of new zealand so well. i agree with every single one of those points. when we were back in britain, people thought we were mental for cooing over the squirrels!
Very well written article by an obviously talented young writer. Even though I immigrated from Germany by choice as a young woman 28 years ago and love New Zealand, call it home and would not want to live anywhere else, I can fully relate to Abigail’s vivid descriptions of the longing for (conditioned) delights of - in my case - German chocolate, bread and coffee, German Christmas traditions, skidding on frozen puddles, walking through autumn leaves, squirrels, villages, breathing in history, etc. and the challenges of developing an identity that embraces several cultures. I hope that we will hear more from her about her journey…
A great article which accurately reflects the feelings of many immigrants to New Zealand - including mine. I particularly agree with the quality of public TV and would rather pay to watch then having to endure current substandard NZ programs :) Thank you for sharing your experiences !
I am a German expat, living since 20 years in Auckland. Around Christmas I miss rising early in the morning, seeing the garden covered with snow, inhaling the frosty cold air and the total silence. I miss the evenings, huddled around the tiled stove, the mulled wine, the candles alight. I remember holidays in the mountains and the bells of horse-drawn sleighs. In spite of this I love to live in New Zealand, it is a kind of paradise. But this time of the year you feel a bit homesick.
As an American expat here is New Zealand, I can relate to so much of this. However, whenever I am whining about how long the flight is to go anywhere, I think of my British friends. Half way around the world must make it much harder to go back, even when history is calling. We visited England last year, and I can see why Bath and Jorvik and the many castles and archaeological sites are so attractive. I am supporting our New Zealand expat team. ~Rhonda
Its mainly just the nature in general. I'm from north east Yorkshire and I miss all the bird song of the woodland. Cuckoo, woodpigeon, robins, blackbirds, pheasant and partridge. Also owls! They don't have owls like we do back home. I'm a big hunter and when out shooting ducks on the edge of the river Hull I would often have owls right next to me and my dog to investigate what we are doing. Such a beautiful sight. The roe deer popping out on the edge of woodland in a morning while out walking. Sitting in our high seats while out deer stalking in Lincoln you would often see the Wiley old fox wondering around hunting and eating brambles. Badgers rooting around and playing. All of these things I miss soo much. The birds of prey which I have always had a fascination with are so numerous in England and each one so well evolved to catching its prey. I have lived in New Zealand now for one and half years and I still feel it will never fill Britain's boots. I do have a great job installing kitchens though and its a secure jobw something unfortunately Britain can't offer. So for the sake of a future and owning a house it has to be here. I wish I did not have to say that but it's true. Thanks. Pete