WordPress Facebook LinkedIn Twitter Instagram YouTube @cal Pinterest

What's for tea?
Special Report from New Zealand

By Breidi Truscott Roberts

Spring 2013 I-House Times

Share this page


I imagined cultural adjustment in New Zealand would be easy since I speak English like the majority does in this country (English, Maori and NZ Sign Language are the official languages). Or so I thought. Surprisingly, one of the main challenges—in addition to learning how to drive on the other side of the road—has been deciphering a new set of vocabulary. Swimsuits are now 'togs,' friends are 'mates,' flip-flops are 'jandals,' and a 'plunger' is actually a French press for coffee. The kiwi that I know from home is called a 'kiwifruit' here and Kiwi actually refers to a native bird as well as the people who live in New Zealand.

I recently went to a BBQ at the house of a new 'Kiwi mate' of mine and wanted to learn more about this thing called 'tea.' Certainly I know what tea is—but it was more the concept of a meal named 'tea,' about which I inquired. Like the British, New Zealanders call 'tea' a break from work for mini-meals. However, the main meal of the day is often called 'tea' and eaten around 5-7pm. I asked my friend, "So, it's like dinner?"

"Yes," he said, "it is the same as dinner. And you might be confused when ordering an 'entrée' because in New Zealand 'entrées' come before the 'main,' even though I know in the US you know them as appetizers.'"

"OK let me get the meals straight. You have breakfast, morning tea, lunch, then 'tea' in the evening?" I clarified, "Do you also have something called 'supper'?"
"Supper comes after 'tea' and involves some sort of 'pudding.'"

"You mean to say you have pudding every night?"

"Well, 'pudding' can be any kind of post-meal treat even though you probably think of it only as a sweet dish with a custard-like consistency," he replied.

"So 'pudding' means any kind of dessert?" I asked, and he confirmed. "Does anything else come with this dessert course?"

"Why, tea, naturally!" he said, just as I thought I was beginning to understand.
It goes to show, cultural differences can be confusing–and a reminder for us all to have patience with visitors unfamiliar with our culture. An outsider's perspective can shine a light on our own humorous idiosyncrasies. Please pass the pudding!


Breidi has a Masters in Intercultural Relations from the School for International Training, is certified in Emotional Intelligence and Diversity instruction and the Cultural Detective methodology. A fellow at the Institute for Intercultural Communication's annual summer institute (SIIC), she serves on the Board of the Society for Intercultural Education Training and Research (SIETAR).