Browsing "New Zealand Studies"

Auck’ward: The Burning Daystar

The sun in New Zealand is not messing around.

That seems like an absurd thing to say, but it’s absolutely true. The sun isn’t that friendly yellow circle on kids’ drawings. It’s a vicious predator that will not be stopped.

It’s not the amount of sun we get. It’s the intensity. Once, I sat outside with my book, and I propped my feet on another chair. Five minutes later, I could feel my shins scorching. My shins.

Look at the sun attacking this poor ginger guy and his mate.

Peak UV levels here are 40 percent higher than at the same latitude in North America, and New Zealand has the highest rate of melanoma in the world. Folks take sun exposure very seriously here. Rash guard shirts and full-on wetsuits are for sale in every swimwear section. Homes often have a pump bottle of SPF 50 the size of a mayonnaise jar in Iowa. Long-sleeved shirts and pants are common at the beach. And lots of people wear brimmed hats–you can even buy them as part of kids’ school uniforms.

Okay, skin protection isn’t THIS over the top here.
(The Swim Reaper is a character in a Water Safety New Zealand ad campaign.)

The atmospheric conditions cause the severity of UV radiation here. There’s still a major hole in the ozone layer, but it’s over the continent of Antarctica. That said, “plumes” of ozone-depleted air can wash up over New Zealand, thinning the atmosphere so more UV rays get through. The lower concentration of air pollution here actually lets in more UV rays as well.

And try as I might, no matter how well I SPF it up or cover up, the sun is determined to leave a mark. As a person with the approximate skin color of a recently drowned person, I feel targeted. I know it’s coming for me. And when I let my guard down? It will attack with extreme prejudice.

Jan 9, 2019 - New Zealand Studies    1 Comment

Auck’ward: I’m Lovin’ It

A typical red McDonalds sign with yellow arches that reads "Macca's" instead.

I thought, “How should I show my New Zealand assimilation? I’ll write about McDonalds!” Obnoxious American powers, activate!

Say what you will about global fast food chains, but they accomplish a paradoxical feat: they’re all gloriously the same, and they all differ to fit the culture where they find themselves, at the same time. Videos exploring those regional differences are fun to watch, and I always find a new variation I wish was widely available (McD’s chicken katsu burger from Japan, people). But when you want a taste of America, there’s nothing like crappy food from an international corporation.

I bring glad tidings from New Zealand, though. McDonalds here is so much better here.

Bilingual Maori/English McDonalds menu with six most famous burgers.
Menu in Te Reo Maori from Hawke’s Bay.

A couple of factors are at work here. First and most importantly, corn syrup is banned here. Everything is generally less sticky sweet. Coke is made with cane sugar, so it tastes more like MexiCoke. (Do a taste test if you’ve never experienced the difference.) Tomato sauce (a.k.a. ketchup) is more savory. Peanut butter is hardly sweet at all. You can get these things American-style, but you’ll have to go to a specialty international foods store.

At McDonalds, this manifests in some interesting ways. First, the french fries are paler. They don’t get that sugary spray before freezing that caramelizes in the fryer and makes them look golden brown. So fries here are a little floppier and a little whiter, but the potato flavor is stronger. Sauces are better too. The sweet & sour dipping sauce tastes more like orange chicken. I’m sure these things are still a nutritional disaster, but they taste more complex than just pure sugary syrup.

Regional menu items are pretty great. New Zealand has this thing about beets (that’ll be a whole different post down the line), so the Kiwiburger has a big slice of beet and a fried egg in addition to your basic toppings. There’s the Big Brekkie burger, which has a fried egg, hashbrown, bacon, BBQ sauce, and cheese on top of the burger patty. The lime shakes are a huge hit with my kids. Ice cream cones come dipped in chocolate if you want, or with a piece of Flake chocolate bar.

Finally, and I find this weird and hard to explain, but you can customize your sandwiches to an absurd extent. Sure, it’s cool when you can swap out beef patties for Filet-o-Fish patties on your Big Mac. But do you want four beef patties on your Big Mac? Easy. Do you want a grilled chicken breast on your Quarter Pounder? No problem. Do you want alternating layers of fish and chicken and fried eggs? Here you go. This blows my mind, especially in contrast to the fact that all other portion sizes are small (no super sizing here).

It is absolutely no help to anyone that the back gate of our yard, toward the bus stops and grocery and library, opens into the parking lot of a McDonalds. It’s going to get worse when the kids start coming home from school. But it’s a taste of home, both in America and right here in New Zealand.