Who sees New Zealand culture and values most starkly? Migrants do. From the way we make eye contact or thank bus drivers to the things we expect of our leaders and citizens, our culture hits them in the face. They either adopt these values wholeheartedly, select only the ones they like or reject them and [hopefully, for their sake] leave.
It’s all relative of course. Migrants come from places around the world with quite different values and expectations – so they’re looking at us through a different filter. Add to that, the fact that today’s migrants have to score lots of points to stay in New Zealand, which means they are likely to be better educated, more highly skilled than most of us. And they’ve moved half way round the world to be here, so, like our ancestors, and those of us who do extended big OE’s they clearly have a double dose of gumption.
What Attracts Them To New Zealand?
So why do they come here and what do they see?
Some see business opportunities – often in property development, hospitality or import-export, but most of the people we have interviewed have been employees rather than business owners.
Moving to New Zealand from the faster-moving parts of the world is a bit like an Aucklander moving to Hawkes Bay. It’s lovely, but you’re getting off the ladder. As one migrant said:
“If you want to work with world leading technology or make your first million by the age of 30 you stay in China. You don’t come to New Zealand.”
But there are advantages to being here: less time at work or commuting, more time with family. They’re here because they don’t like the rat race. Not anymore anyway. They want better for their children and they see New Zealand as safe, close to nature and a great place to bring up kids.
In other words – many migrants value the same things about this place that we New Zealand born value. In fact they often value what we value so much, they really don’t want too many migrants to come and dilute our core NZ values. [Ironic, much?].
Both the land and the people attract them. The land is clean, the air is fresh, the scenery is beautiful. But it’s the people that make it easy to live here. The people are so friendly.
How Friendly Are We?
Do you know why we’re seen as friendly? Because we think we’re friendly. Or rather, we think that we should be friendly. When you ask New Zealanders to describe themselves, friendliness is one of the most commonly mentioned characteristics. In my most recent Lay of the Land study over three-quarters of us said they took pride in getting along well with others.
Friendliness is strongly encouraged and supported across many cultures in this country. Māori manaakitanga, Pacific hospitality, Pakeha sociability: each provide their own social underpinning. I remember in a project years ago, being astonished to find how very widespread the belief was among parents of all cultures, that a key role of primary school was to teach children to get along with others.
Of course it doesn’t always work like that for migrants – casual racism is also prevalent. Almost every non-British migrant experiences that – and quite a few of the Brits as well. But there seem to be enough smiles and hellos from strangers, enough random acts of kindness and neighbourly neighbours to tip the scales strongly in favour of a perception of hospitality.
What Don’t They Like About Us?
Well prepare yourself – there’s quite a common belief amongst migrants that NZ born people are a bit slack. Still “too much ‘laid back’, not enough ‘can do’” as someone I interviewed said once. Near enough is good enough. Or as Peter Jackson once quipped [on a Lord of the Rings DVD actually] : “typical Kiwi – a day late and a dollar short!” He’s from a migrant family.
They may not be actively seeking enrichment and glory, but the migrants we’ve interviewed are very focused on doing a good job. It’s a strong part of their identity. Ours? Not so much.
We might describe ourselves as hard-working, though we often don’t. But we rarely, if ever describe ourselves as being results-focused or very good at what we do. Being funny, down-to-earth or honest are more likely to be top of mind with us – that’s what our culture values.
What Difference Will Migrants Make?
The thing about these migrants and this more cosmopolitan New Zealand they offer is that they will almost inevitably help us to expand our horizons . Taking the Peter Jackson experience as an example, you would predict that these motivated people will rise in organisations and take on leadership positions where they can instil these values more and more. We will tend to like the results so a virtuous circle will result.
But they’re not here to turn us into a Singapore or San Francisco – even if that were possible. The most common view expressed by the migrants we interviewed was that they want to do a good job and then go home at a reasonable hour to spend quality family time or meet up with friends. They value effectiveness and efficiency more than office politics or social climbing. And they don’t like skites any more than we do.
So – especially if you’re a person who likes change and sees themselves as a bit of a global citizen – it’s beneficial for you to welcome migrants and help them get established here, because they’re going to be a big asset to our society and our economy. They will add to the demand for better services and they do have an international frame of reference.
We shouldn’t feel threatened when they complain about the cost of everything and the lack of public transport and great shopping – because it is true and we have just put up with it. Nor do we need to reflexively point out that H&M and Zara are here now – so that’s something. . . because until we get IKEA we’re not really part of the top tier of nations are we? [They’re probably waiting for us to build more houses that ordinary people can afford.]
[This blog post was originally a newsletter to the Windshift Network. To join the network and get my monthly newsletters, well in advance of publication on this website, please subscribe below.]