When Asa Duffy first moved to New Zealand from her native Sweden six years ago, she felt like she’d landed in a friendlier, more easy-going version of her homeland.
She’d fallen for a Kiwi while on holiday in New Zealand and, much to her own amazement, found herself willing to leave everything behind for him, including a well-paid job as a press secretary in the Swedish government and her two daughters.
“I moved for love, but I also moved very far away from my most beloved of all, my daughters now 25 and 28 years old.”
That new love feeling and the excitement of being in a country “reminiscent of Sweden or even better” kept her in a happy place for a while. But it wasn’t long before she began to see the cracks in New Zealanders’ typically affable, happy-go-lucky facade.
Despite having years of international experience in communications, she couldn’t land a job in her field.
“I felt that I was rejected because I wasn’t a Kiwi and did not have the so-called Kiwi experience,” she says. “I felt like an outsider and began to dislike the Kiwi attitude towards people from overseas.”
Talking to other new arrivals to New Zealand, she realised her situation was far from unique.
“This was and is the reality for many who come here from overseas and feel that our competence and experience doesn’t matter – as you are from overseas.”
Her dreams of leading a happy new life in New Zealand began to fade and she found herself thinking more and more often of Scandinavia and broader Europe, which she was now convinced were better than New Zealand in almost every way.
“I have understood now that that is a normal phase and happens to all of us who go abroad … This is the time when you only remember your home country as a wonderful place in which nothing ever went wrong for you. Of course this is not true, but an illusion created by your culture shock crisis.”
Living in Auckland, she has managed to find work but, aside from one short contract role, never in her field.
“I had to have jobs wherever I found them: hotel, receptionist, caregiver, jobs that Kiwis don’t want.”
She has accepted her work situation now and, as a natural optimist, prefers to focus on the benefits of life here. Of which she believes there are many.
In social situations, she has found Kiwis to be relaxed and easy to talk to – far more so than Swedes.
She was initially bemused when her husband struck up conversations wherever he went, wondering how he knew so many people.
“He then told me he didn’t know them, that’s just the way it works, talking to each other. As a Scandinavian, you normally never talk to strangers at all. They will think you are a bit funny or drunk if you do that.”
She also found it rather odd, and indeed intrusive, when supermarket cashiers asked her about her day. “I felt like I just wanted to be quiet, I didn’t like to be asked private things.”
Now, she loves the Kiwi propensity to chat with anyone and everyone – although she still finds our inclination to call our friends “darling” and “sweetie”, tell them we love them and sign off texts with “xxxoo” slightly embarrassing.
“We are very restricted with words like that – especially to friends. The words “I love you” are for us very serious … But I love to have those text messages from my dear Kiwi friends. I still struggle to answer back in the same tone.”
Many of the Kiwis living in Scandinavia Stuff spoke with for a recent article on life there said they had found the locals to be more reserved than New Zealanders – a sentiment Asa would agree with.
However, she believes, that once you get to know Swedes, they are actually “far more open”.
That said, she agrees with the general consensus among the Kiwis we spoke with that it can be harder to infiltrate friendship groups there.
No one would ever drop by to someone’s house unannounced in Sweden so Asa was surprised when people here turned up to her house on a Friday night “uninvited”. Her husband would ask what was wrong.
“And I would think ‘but I haven’t tidied up and we don’t have enough food and wine.’ No problem here at all. That makes you socialise so much more.”
The remoteness some Kiwis in Scandinavia attributed to locals can in part be attributed to the fact they spend a lot more time indoors during winter, Asa says.
“We love to renovate our house and most people make a new kitchen every fifth year. What else can you do during the long, cold and dark winter?”
She thinks Swedes are better able to laugh at themselves than Kiwis, pointing to Kiwi comedian Al Pitcher, who’s become hugely popular in Sweden by (affectionately) “taking the p… out of Swedes”.
“I would love to do the reverse here in New Zealand … but I do think no one would laugh about themselves here. Kiwis are very protective and if you say something negative they take it personal and would probably say ‘if you don’t like it go back to where you came from’.”
Asa says she is now very happy and positive about her life in New Zealand, describing her job as a part-time caregiver as “wonderfully rewarding”. She appreciates having the time to devote to the things she enjoys: writing, blogging and reporting to Swedish National Radio about Kiwi quirks (she still can’t get over how many people walk around barefoot here).
However, she does think New Zealand is “a bit old-fashioned” in some ways, particularly when it comes to gender equality.
She remember walking into a post office in Auckland and being struck by signs designating “books for girls” – mostly stories about princesses – and “books for boys” about dragons and adventure.
“If that was in Sweden it would be on the news the next day as a thing like that is opposite of what Sweden does – breaking down gender roles.”
Like the Kiwis we spoke to in Scandinavia, she also pointed to the generous parental leave policy in Sweden (480 days for both parents combined).
“Parents say it’s transformed national attitudes to childcare and gender.”
She also thinks it is unacceptable that many women in New Zealand cannot return to work after having children because childcare is so expensive.
“Politicians should look into this. I am happy to pay tax when it goes to this.”
On the other hand, she believes healthcare and education here are better than in Sweden.
She also likes that it’s easier to find rental accommodation, particularly if you are willing to flat with others – which many Swedes are not. However, home ownership is much more affordable in Sweden she says due to lower mortgages and interest rates.
All in all, Asa feels fortunate to be able to call two countries home.
“I have two cultures now… I have a very positive feeling about the future and understand that everything is possible.”
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