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.]

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