Thursday, December 15, 2011

Culture Shock

About a year ago, some American visitors asked me about culture shock, specifically if I had experienced any. All I could come up with at the time was: "We heat our house with a wood burning fireplace..." In itself, this fact probably does not really represent culture shock, though if you try to discuss heating/insulation/house building with a local, then maybe it does qualify.

Anyway, we're going on two years now, and I think I now have a pretty good list (in my head) of shocking items. Well, not very shocking, but at least a little interesting. I will probably add to this post over time, so feel free to check back.

1) Documentation in patient notes. Example from a respiratory physician (who is not called a pulmonologist in NZ): "She denies much in the way of sputum production with less than an egg cup full of sputum daily which she describes as white and occasionally creamy."

You can learn so much about the culture from this sentence...most notably that people eat eggs out of egg cups here. [I only know what an egg cup is from hotel breakfasts in Europe.] Also, in case you hadn't noticed, people tend to be more polite in NZ as compared to the US; or at least they look and sound more polite to my ear (and eyes)...

2) Dining Out. At first glance, restaurants in New Zealand seem very expensive. But when you consider that tax is included in all prices and that tipping is unnecessary, restaurants in New Zealand are only a little expensive. Furthermore, very good restaurants are about the same price as mediocre restaurants. Case in point: Saffron, usually considered the best restaurant in the Queenstown area, and Sombreros Mexican Cantina...which would not pass for Mexican even in Indianapolis. I guess that's not a great example as you can eat for less than $25 at the Mexican restaurant, and you're looking at >$35 at Saffron; but hopefully you get the idea.

The culture shock comes when you are done eating and waiting for the bill. It will never come. [Except in very touristy areas like Queenstown where they are used to Americans expecting a bill to be brought to the table.] The reason a bill will never come is because 1) nobody in NZ caries cash--ATM cards are king, and a PIN must be entered at the cash register and 2) nearly every table is going to want its bill split into several parts--and this is best handled at the cash register. [I should probably type some sort of aside on dining out with friends in NZ...and someday I will. For now, let's leave it at: Don't pick up a check at dinner, and don't expect anyone else to, either.]

Friday, December 09, 2011

The best things in life are free

Americans: I know you are used to being able to spend your money everywhere you go, but do not count on being able to do that in New Zealand. Fortunately, there are money changers everywhere, including the airport(s). Using a money changer is usually a little cheaper if you're changing >$500 NZ (around $400 US), but they are still expensive (especially at the airport).

Instead, I would recommend bringing an ATM card and a credit card. Just about everybody accepts credit cards, but it is a good idea to have some cash for those that don't. I would strongly suggest that you ask your bank and/or credit card issuer how much it will cost to use their card here before leaving home.

Last I checked, you can use a Bank of America ATM card at Westpac ATMs at no charge. USAA should allow you to use any ATM for a 1% transaction fee.

Visa and Mastercard charge you a 1% transaction fee for all credit card purchases made outside the US. The credit card issuer will likely charge you something on top of this. If you have a USAA card, you will pay just the 1% Mastercard fee. Capital One is even better: they will cover the 1% charged by Mastercard/Visa...and if you have a cash back card, you can turn a profit of the transaction.
Jafaland II

Alternative title: Eating cheaply in New Zealand

Before getting sticker shock at NZ restaurants, remember that tax and tip are included...or actually, there's no tip, but your server is paid much better than he/she should be. GST (Goods and services tax) is 15%, but is already figured into the cost of everything you buy. If you make any big purchases to take home, the shop may be able to send it directly to the airport and not charge you GST). But I digress.

1) Have coffee and a scone (or cake) for breakfast. Order a flat white; you can only get them in NZ and Australia...some claim there is a difference from a latte... Just about any restaurant with "cafe" in the name will have a pastry case and coffee section (and just about any restaurant with "cafe" in the name will require you to order at the counter...then they'll bring you your food; if in doubt, a menu on the wall is a clue that you have to order at the counter). Expect to pay $7 to $10 for coffee and a pastry. If there's a sign out front that says $5 for coffee and cake, that's even better.

2) Pies!!! You can buy these just about anywhere (like petrol stations), but if they come from a real bakery, they're much better. There are bakeries everywhere. It's like a hand-held chicken pot pie (you can get other meats in them as well; mince=ground beef; if you find a vegetarian one, those are my favourite, followed by chicken and vegetables). $4 to $6 for a high quality pie from a bakery; less from a dairy, market, petrol station. Make this a breakfast and/or lunch item, as the bakeries close up in the early afternoon.

3) Fish and Chips!!! (or as they say in the NZ: Fush and Chups). Just about the cheapest thing you can eat, and probably the worst for you. I order them without salt in an attempt to make them healthier (they're not quite as good, but still seem to come with a lot of residual salt). You can find these everywhere...if the place also sells Chinese food, it probably won't be as good. "Two Fish and one scoop of chips" should feed two of you for a little under $10. (Battered fish is much better than crumbed, but probably worse for you.)

4) Ethnic food: NZ does Indian well and isn't too bad at Thai. These should be cheaper than Kiwi/European food. There are also Kebab places everywhere (virtually all Middle-Eastern food in NZ is Turkish...the locals seem to like it, but we've been unimpressed every time we've tried it).

6) Combine dining with something else. It costs $25 to get to the top of the Sky Tower. If you eat in Orbit or the Observatory, Sky Tower admission is included. The Observatory is a buffet ($42.50 lunch, 62.50 dinner); Orbit is a sit down restaurant (mains $30 to $35); we ate there with a group. It's good, especially if you keep in mind that you're eating there for the view. They serve high tea on Saturdays and Sundays...

5) More restaurants: Great restaurants do not cost much more than average restaurants. There's a giant collection of them (restaurants, not great restaurants) around Viaduct Harbour. They all turn into nightclub type places around 9, so don't wait too long to eat. Note: "Entrees" are appetizers; "Mains" are main courses. On the Viaduct, we've eaten at Degree (mains in the $20 to $30 range)--only in NZ will a restaurant put an 800 degree stone on your table so you can cook a lamb chop. Kermadec (mains in the $35 to $45 range) is supposed to be the place to go for fish/seafood. We ate there once during a rugby game, and it was obscenely busy. Can't remember much else about it--they have a few other restaurants in their building (all with Kermadec in their name): a brasserie, a tasting room, etc. These are all a little cheaper. We seem to end up at Fox's Ale House a lot. It's what I picture a British pub looking like, but you can eat for under $20 a person. We have not tried any of Auckland's best restaurants.

It's getting to be tourist season, so I thought I would post a few paragraphs on things to do in Auckland. [Note: I have not spent very long on this post, it is mostly a composite of a few emails exchanged with previous guests.] Auckland is not the greatest city in the world for tourists, and for many, it's probably a lot like visiting Los Angeles (and never leaving downtown). I find I like Auckland better the farther away I get from Queen Street.

1) I'll assume you've already done the stuff like walked around Queen Street and the Viaduct.

2) Explorer Bus $40 a day; I thought it ran for 14 hours, but it's only until around 4PM. It will probably stop at your hotel, or you can pick it up at the ferry building (across from the hotel). Feel free to make as many stops as you have time for. I'd highly recommend the following: Stop at the Auckland (War) Museum ($10 suggested donation). Walk across Auckland Domain (park) to the Winter Garden (or whatever it's called in German). Stop at Parnell Village (one of many Auckland suburbs, worth a walk around). From the satellite bus (which you pick up at the Auckland museum: Haven't been to Eden Gardens, but the description looks promising. Stop at Mt Eden (very good view of the city, and no walking required), You might enjoy a stop at MOTAT (museum of transportation and something--$14 eeeh...)

3) Auckland Discovery Pass. $15--good until 5AM the day after you buy it; You could do most of the Explorer Bus with this pass, but it would require a whole lot more planning. You can buy the pass at the Ferry building, on any bus, or probably a bunch of other places. (Buses are one of the few places that will need cash, but they do make change.) For starters, go to the I-site (information centre, they're all over NZ) in the Ferry building. Pick up a free "walking tour" guide for Devonport, then jump on the Ferry to Devonport, an old (and expensive) town on North Shore (which is the city across the bridge from Auckland). They leave about every half hour and run until midnight. The pass is good on the other North Shore ferries, but I don't know what there is to do once you're there (the ferries are for commuters who work in Auckland); the island ferries are more expensive, and not free with the pass. Walk around Devonport...the guide includes a trip up Mt. Victoria (more of a hill, really) for the best view of Auckland possible. Visit the free Navy Museum if you're not bored of Devonport yet. From the Devonport ferry station, you can take the 813 bus to Takapuna (which is the down town of North Shore), take a quick walk around, it's not very impressive. Catch one of the many Hibiscus Coast buses (looks like 893, 895, 898, 899 all stop there; about every 30 to 60 minutes). If it's been raining, it's a beautiful and green ride. We've been as far as Orewa Beach (about 50 minutes from Takapuna); this far north looks a lot like Hawaii. There's a very long beach with a hardened (dirt) path, and a few blocks of town (good place for a lunch break). There are several beaches farther up if you want to keep riding, but I haven't been to them. Probably a good idea to go back on the bus you came on (to get back to Takapuna), but anything going south will get you back to Auckland without more than one transfer (the bus driver will help you). From Takapuna, you can retrace your steps to the Devonport Ferry, or just catch a bus to Auckland CBD (central business district). I have not ridden any trains in Auckland (and some are currently under construction). They leave from the Britomart, which is almost across the street from the Ferry Building. Most of the Auckland buses also stop here. If you want to get somewhere from downtown, this is where to catch the bus. Another nice [and very short ride] is out to Mission Bay. This leaves from the Britomart (stop 7010 D3) every 15 minutes (buses 745, 756, 757, 769). The route is along the water, and Mission Bay is a nice place for a meal.

4) If you still have a day to kill, consider one of Auckland's many islands. They all require ferries to get to (circa $30 return trip), and the bigger ones require some form of land transport. Waiheke, well known for its wineries, is best seen by bicycle, but it does have a real bus service at around $8 per person. Don't forget Rangitoto Island, Auckland's newest volcano. You can walk to the top (takes about an hour), or there's a tram (pulled by a 4WD tractor) that will take you mostly to the top--there are a couple of hundred new stairs (with handrails) to get to the summit from the tram stop. Highly recommended for the best view of Auckland possible. The ferry is in the neighborhood of $25 round trip...I think around $45 with the tractor.

5) There's a lot more to see, but probably prohibitively expensive if you don't have a car. People will ask if you saw the glow worms. There are tour companies that will take you there from Auckland, but you're probably looking at $200 per person. Consider renting a car...

6) Nightlife: There's not a whole lot in NZ. Aside from drinking and gambling (Sky City Casino--by the sky tower), how about catching a show at the Classic Comedy Club. I think they're closed on Tuesday. $5 to $10 for most shows...don't sit in the front unless you want to get heckled.
It's been so long since I've posted, my blog is starting to look like Nico's. Does Nico even have a blog anymore?
Anyway, not much has been happening not related to baby pictures, and if you really want to see those, they are much, much easier to load on facebook...

But if you must have some pictures, here are a couple of my favourties.

Photo 1 is Jancie in her crib (taken with an ipod touch using natural light)

Photo 2 is Jancie in her rocker (taken with a Pentax K20D using natural light)