New Zealand social values

Helpful information about social norms in New Zealand for international students.

New Zealanders have a way of life that’s similar to most Western countries, but there are some special characteristics. Kiwis are passionate about sport and have a firm belief in social equality. The social welfare system prevents extreme poverty, and the nation has neither a strong class system nor major social tensions. Some minor ethnic tensions exist, but are low by international standards. Goodwill between races is usually evident.

Informality and friendliness

New Zealand people dislike formality and tend to see each other as equals. Neighbours and people in the workplace are normally on first-name terms. However, it’s still common to speak more formally to people in authority. For example, a doctor might be called “Dr Smith” rather than “Mary” or “Bill”.

It is also standard to address all correspondence, and particularly job applications, formally to Mr or Ms or Mrs.

Social relations at work

In the work place, relations between the sexes are egalitarian. Requests from male staff for their female colleagues to “get a cup of tea” or “wash the dishes” and patronising or sexually-motivated remarks about women or girls are not acceptable. However, old fashioned courtesies such as opening doors for female colleagues, although no longer standard, are still generally appreciated.

Everyday behaviour

Many New Zealanders praise new migrants for their good manners and politeness, and you will probably find that New Zealanders are mostly similar to people everywhere when it comes to the types of behaviour they like and dislike. For example, they like people to wait their turn in queues, to ask if it is acceptable to smoke and not to make uninvited sexual advances.

When walking down pavements, it is normal to keep left so that people do not have to dodge each other, it is considered rude for groups of people to take most of the pavement width when walking together. It is not considered polite to spit in the street or to clear your nose onto the pavement. All types of personal violence are frowned upon. It is now against the law to smack or otherwise physically discipline children. Serious instances of family violence are criminal offences.

Visit the New Zealand Government's guide to Customs and Communication