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New Zealand Blog 8: Hobbit Culture vs. Men Culture

 Written by    June 15, 2018

I guess I should talk about work, because I am “technically” on a global project to “work”.

What I’ve observed the most is a stark difference in business cultures between the United States and New Zealand. American business schools, Fisher or anywhere else, breed a certain standard for work. Americans have the stereotype of living to work, putting business over all else, burning out after long weeks under the pretense of “getting ahead”.

Kiwis, however, are a little less aggressive, and a little more like, say, just off the top of my head, hobbits. The Kiwi culture is friendly, warm, and laid back, which bleeds into business culture as well. Kiwis prioritize life and family over work, but are still highly effective. Just like hobbits! Relaxed, but can also GET STUFF DONE. They love their bread and ale, but are surprisingly hardy.

Two main differences I observed:

  1. Work-life balance. Let me describe one particular interview my team and I conducted. We walked into KPMG, we were offered coffee, and we met with two men – precisely at 9 am – for the meeting. We spent about 15 minutes speaking about our experience in Auckland and at Ohio State. One of the consultants told me and my partner that he took a year off work when his daughter was born and another two years off when his son was born. Work-life balance? More like life-work balance! He mentioned that in New Zealand, no one would even think to judge him for not working. See, he was still effective and got his work done, but Kiwis work to live, not the other way around. Incidentally, both men we interviewed travelled frequently and casually.
  2. Modesty. Kiwis don’t boast. (Another reason they are hobbits, not men – Boromir is the mansplaining, cocky, quintessential man. Hobbits? Not so much.) Our boss – a totally chill, kind, and efficient dude – email introed us to a girl on the board for the American Chamber of Commerce (where we were working). She was very kind and replied quickly to the email and met with us the next day. Rather than sitting down, she cleared her schedule and drove us around the city and bought us coffee. In the conversation, she casually mentioned moving to Boston. Later in the conversation, we asked her where she was going in Boston. She mentioned Harvard. We all asked why she didn’t lead with that.
    That’s the thing about Kiwis – they’re rather self-deprecating and a little too modest (we asked the same girl about why she didn’t take pride in herself a little more, and she replied, “You wouldn’t have friends if you did that here. But I think I need to get better at it for America.” Very true!). Despite this, they’re often very effective. As Americans, we often lead with our accomplishments and sell ourselves high – sometimes failing to deliver.

I’ve found that the Kiwi business culture is much happier than that of the United States. While avoiding the stress and burnout typically associated with corporate America, Kiwis have still cultivated a strong economy. The tech sector is booming. The banking system is far less antiquated than that of the United States. And families don’t feel the stress as much, either.

It was a wake-up call to me that it was okay to slow down. It’s possible to still be highly efficient and have a great work-life balance and everything will still be okay.

Despite all of this, I still romanticize the American Dream. Someone told us in one of our interviews, “New Zealand is right behind the curve”. As in, right behind each revolution of innovation – just a step behind the forefront. But I crave being at the forefront. Maybe that doesn’t mean 80-hour weeks and neglecting myself from every other aspect of my life. But it still means grinding, and being inspired, and pushing for change.

Kiwis are hobbits, Americans are men. Americans can be a little pushy or brash in the workplace, but we are passionate and shoot for brilliance. The Kiwi culture is still alluring to me, too, though. A good metaphor for my mindset going forward is this: I match the size of a hobbit (<5’4”), but my feet aren’t big enough to completely be one.

Our boss posted this. Don’t worry, I retweeted this after taking this screenshot. I want this tweet to go viral.

Author, Study Abroad


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