Sense/Senseless

Life as an expat is amusing. Some days it’s ecstasy – biking down an ocean road to a wine tasting. Other days it’s confusion. Why does the toilet flush so aggressively it splashes on your clothes, while a bottle of water costs five bucks? In our first few weeks in New Zealand, I’ve observed some aspects of the kiwi culture that make sense … and some that leave me scratching my head. I’ve decided to start documenting these observations in a series called sense/senseless. A look at one aspect of life in NZ that gets it right and wrong.

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Today, bars.

SENSE: Tipping is not expected at bars (or restaurants). And tax is included in the price. So when you see $12 beside the whitebait fritters on the menu, that’s the price you pay out the door. New Zealand is considered a true merit-based tipping culture, and yet despite excellent service pretty much everywhere, I’ve not seen a single person tip. Waiters and bartenders instead are paid at least the minimum wage of $14.25, meaning their salary is not passed on to the patron as it is in America. Which makes sense!

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SENSELESS: Bars are called hotels. Weird right? Not all of them, and it’s more prevalent in Australia, but it’s here too. As I discovered, the reason dates back to late nineteenth century when, after pressure from conservative Christian groups, new liquor legislation were implemented with a lot of restrictions, one of them forcing pubs to also provide accommodation. The presence of a few rooms (rarely used) and the “hotel” name then gave some impression the rules were being followed. Now, with more bars per capita than NYC, the laws have changed for the wetter in Wellington. Calling your bar a hotel is cool, but it’s also sort of senseless. Especially for us confused Americans keen to plunk down $12 for a blue moon.
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