United States vs. New Zealand: The Breakdown

We’ve been in the US of A for about 5 months now, and we’ve noticed some stark differences between here and our home country of New Zealand. Some are funny, some are weird, and some are downright annoying! Here’s the breakdown…

Crossed flags

United States vs. New Zealand: the breakdown



USA = corks

NZ = screw caps.

Opening bottles of wine with a corkscrew instead of my hands was a new challenge… but we are happy to report that we are now experts at opening any bottle of wine! It’s weird that the US hasn’t adopted the screw-cap technology, but I guess most of the wine we buy here is from Europe, and their wine bottling practices are unlikely to change any time soon…

USA = can only buy beer in supermarkets, have to buy wine and spirits in liquor stores

NZ = can buy wine and beer in supermarkets (but spirits are only sold in liquor stores)

This is seriously annoying – when you go to the supermarket to pick up something for dinner and you fancy a nice tipple, you have to make an extra stop at the liquor store! What’s that about huh?

USA = tipping

NZ = no tipping

This has definitely taken a bit of getting used to! We sometimes forget that a meal actually costs 20% more than what’s on the menu – ouch! But considering the somewhat pathetic wages that servers generally get, we understand the whole tipping thing. The minimum wage in the US differs by state, but in New York it’s something like $5.50/hour. We’re lucky in New Zealand to have a minimum of $14.25/hour (and we still complain!).



USA = calorie counts in big numbers on EVERYTHING (including on the boards at Macca’s etc.)

NZ = small calorie counts on the back of the packet

This is good in a way as it definitely makes you more aware about what you’re eating, but sometimes I just don’t want to know how many calories I’m consuming (I am well aware McDonald’s is bad for me, I don’t need it pushed in my face even more!).

USA = ‘contains no high-fructose corn syrup’

NZ = what’s high-fructose corn syrup?

This super-baddie of the sugar world is a bit of a buzz word here in the States. Every food item that doesn’t contain it makes it very obvious that it doesn’t, but the products that do contain it have it in very teeny tiny letters on the back of the packet. To be honest (maybe I’m ignorant) but I’d never even heard of it before we got here…

USA = bread (and other food items) are in about three layers of plastic

NZ = one bag will do

The amount of plastic waste from food packaging here in the US is ridiculous. Why does bread need to be triple-bagged?! Why does everything need to be individually wrapped in a multi-pack? What’s the point in teeny tiny water bottles that hold three sips of water? We are constantly astonished at the amount of rubbish we throw out each week. Our weekly rubbish load in New Zealand wasn’t that great, but it was nothing compared with what we have in the US. And recycling isn’t a big thing here yet, either. Come on, America, get with it!

USA = heat and eat frozen meals are a big thing

NZ = it’s getting bigger in NZ, but still nowhere near as crazy

Heat ‘n’ eat cheeseburgers anyone (with lettuce already in the burger)? Seriously, that CANNOT taste good. And they’re full of salt (not to mention fat). Most of the heat and eat meals here would take less than 20 minutes to cook from fresh. That’s sad. No wonder there’s an obesity epidemic in this country…


On the road

USA = the first person who got to the intersection goes first

NZ = give way to the right

We’ve almost been caught out by this rule a few times… eek!

USA = 3-way stop signs at a T intersection (including on big main roads)

NZ = give way on the side road

I get the logic of this one, that the traffic on the side roads may never get out if the main road is busy, but when you have to screech to a halt on a busy main road for the stop sign, that surely can’t be safe?!

USA = free right turn at red lights (sometimes)

NZ = red means red, green means green

This is a great rule (most of the time). There’s none of that annoying waiting when nobody is coming and you just want to turn right (left in NZ) around the corner! But it’s not a standard rule at all intersections (especially in big cities) – we’ve been careful to look out for cops before turning.



USA = everything is just a click away

NZ = getting there with online shopping!

You can buy anything online and get it shipped to you overnight, if you want to. Most retailers also offer free shipping above a certain purchase price. We were amazed when we ordered stuff from Wal-Mart including mountain bikes, camping gear, etc., and it arrived within a few days and the shipping was free! NZ is definitely getting there in terms of online shopping and deliveries, but I guess a smaller market and being surrounded by ocean doesn’t help.

USA = the shopping is really too good, it’s dangerous

NZ = not having stores like H&M and outlets like TJ Maxx is a very good thing for my wallet when at home

Americans LOVE to shop. So do we, and this is definitely a bad thing since we only have 55L backpacks to take with us! The outlet malls are ridiculous. Someone needs to restrain us from going near them!

USA = sales tax not included in the ticket price

NZ = GST included in the ticket price

This has caught us out on more than one occasion. So annoying! Especially when I have the perfect amount of cash for a $20 item and it comes to $22.64 or something equally inane. Get it sorted America!


There are heaps more differences between USA and NZ – way too many to list here. It’s definitely interesting and enlightening living in a different country with different expectations, rules, and customs. It has definitely made us value some things in NZ that we would have never thought to value highly, such as the healthcare system and the car ownership system! As our time in America comes to a close, we’re enjoying the good things this country has to offer (Chipotle!) and being forgiving of the not so good things (how hard is it to make a good coffee – seriously?!).

P&S xx


    • Petra

      Thanks! Yup, from what I gather NZ and Ireland are very similar. We haven’t been to Ireland yet but we’d love to one day – it looks like a beautiful country! 🙂

  1. Haha! I loved this! Thank you for telling me about your post! 🙂

    It is annoying you can only buy beer in some stores right?! However it actually depends on which State you’re in! Each state has different laws on liquor…some States can’t even sell BEER in the grocery store, then others sell everything from hard spirits to wine coolers. 🙂 The midwest seems to be the most lax on the rules.

    And you’re so right about the high fructose corn syrup. Gross. Living outside the US for three years has been so wonderful! I feel like EVERYTHING back home has it in there. It’s a disgusting processed sugary crap ingredient that’s cheap to sweeten things…and is so bad for you!

    MAN I miss the outlet malls! <3

    • Petra

      You’re welcome 🙂 Thanks for taking a read!

      It’s SO annoying! I’m in Canada now and can’t even buy beer at the grocery stores. So frustrating!

      Food in New Zealand is so much better than in the US – I watched the doco Food, Inc. recently and was pretty horrified…

  2. As an American currently living in your beautiful country, I enjoyed this post! It’s always interesting to see what others think about your home country.

    Speaking of high fructose syrup, I checked the label of an A&W root beer and cherry Coke the other day, and sure enough the stuff was on the label. So it’s definitely in certain things, especially any American products (naturally).

  3. As a Kiwi from NZ, when we visiting the USA, we found the sales tax not included on products very annoying, as you forget to add it on top of the total. Love the free turn on red light though! and the four way stop took a bit of getting use to. Tipping is defiantly a strange idea for us kiwis too. One other factor is petrol is defiantly more expensive here. Also it is measured in Research Octane Number here in NZ and the Anti-Knock Index in the US. We normally buy 91 in NZ, and when we first drove in the US we were buying the premium fuel, were in fact US 85 is the same as NZ 91.

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