With beautiful weather, numerous outdoor activities, and a laid-back, egalitarian lifestyle, New Zealand is a popular destination for people looking to work abroad. The people are generally warm and welcoming, but it’s always wise to pay attention to local customs and etiquette. Here’s what you need to know.
The people of New Zealand are a mix of European, Maori, Pacific Island, and Asian cultures. About 69 percent are of European descent. The second largest cultural group is the indigenous Maori population at about 15 percent, and most remain faithful to their cultural heritage. As a rule, New Zealanders are very proud of their heritage and don’t appreciate being considered an offshoot of Australia. Your conduct should demonstrate that you’re aware that New Zealand is a separate country with its own people and culture.
The three official languages are English, Maori, and New Zealand Sign Language. English is the language most commonly used for businesses. Most New Zealanders will come across as reserved when you first meet them but will become much more relaxed as you get to know each other. It’s a good idea to use titles and surnames until you’re invited to do otherwise. Written communications tend to be more formal, and it’s considered good manners to open with “Dear” and the person’s surname and to close with “best wishes” or “kind regards.”
Business relationships in New Zealand tend to be relaxed and informal (that is, once they get to know you). It’s a very egalitarian society, and everyone is seen as being equal regardless of title or status. In a meeting, it may be hard to identify the “boss” because everyone will be speaking freely and contributing, and the group is unlikely to show deference to any one person. One thing to keep in mind in your relationships with New Zealanders is that, while they may be informal, they’re rarely boisterous in public. Keep your public behavior quite reserved, even if you’re out for drinks after work.
The first time you meet your new contacts, expect them to be friendly, but reserved. Make eye contact, offer a firm handshake, and use a more formal greeting, such as “How do you do?” rather than “Hi.” On subsequent occasions, eye contact and a handshake are still appropriate, but it’s OK to switch to a more casual “hello” or “hi.” Women sometimes hug after they’ve gotten to know each other, and the Maori exchange their traditional greeting of touching noses.
The first rule of business meetings in New Zealand is to be on time – there is no such thing as “fashionably late.” Lateness is considered a sign of rudeness and unreliability and could cost you your business deal. Once the meeting starts, expect a small amount of small talk, especially if you’ve met your hosts before. Finally, it’s important to get to the point. New Zealanders have little patience with hyperbolic spiels on how wonderful your product or service is. They want facts and figures: what it will do for them, and how much it will cost.
Always dress conservatively for a first meeting. Men should wear suits with a white shirt and a tie, and women should wear suits, dresses, or skirts with jackets. Be safe and stick to conservative colors. For subsequent meetings, you can follow the lead of your hosts. When in doubt, however, always opt for a more formal, conservative form of dress.
New Zealanders view business cards in a practical manner. If they’re exchanged at all, it’s for a reason; no ceremony or special treatment is expected.
There is no ceremonial gift-giving in New Zealand. However, if you’re invited to your host’s home, bring a small hostess gift, such as flowers or chocolate.
New Zealand is a wonderful place to live and work. Most people from western cultures should find their customers and etiquette quite familiar, but it’s always a good idea to brush up as a sign of respect for your hosts.
Image: Auckland Newzealand, by Amaconda Management Group, via Flickr