New Zealand's Pandemic-Era Culture

Plus other 'Down Under' musings from the Daly Grind's embedded correspondent

The COVID-19 health crisis is thankfully approaching an end here in America. The vaccines have proven to be a huge game-changer, not just in our country but in other parts of the world. Though some regions (including India) are still going through a very rough time, there are a few countries that managed to successfully insulate themselves from the deadly virus early on, and have maintained surprisingly safe communities throughout the pandemic.

One of those countries is New Zealand. Since the beginning of the pandemic, they've seen less than 2,500 cases of COVID-19 total, and fewer than 30 deaths. That's among a population of around 5 million people.

It just so happens that I have a good friend who lives in Christchurch, New Zealand, who I checked in with a few times over the past 16 months to swap stories about how the pandemic was affecting our respective countries and each other. She had some fascinating details about how things were going down there, so I figured, for this week's 'Daly Grind' newsletter, that I'd interview her about her experiences since early 2020, as well as about some other uniquely New Zealandish things.

Hopefully, you’ll find it interesting. And if things go well, I'm considering naming her the Daly Grind's official 'Down Under' correspondent.

A little background: Nicola (I won't divulge her last name due to something about a federal warrant) and I met years ago, as teenagers and co-workers at a family restaurant in Lakewood, Colorado. After a couple years of wreaking havoc in the states, she moved back to her home country of New Zealand (I'm assuming because of the warrant). We've kept in touch ever since.

Has it really been over 30 years? Wow.

(Yes, I realize how terribly I’ve aged.)

Anyway, it’s always good to catch up with Nicola, and below is our email exchange. Enjoy.

John: Nicola, Thanks for taking the time to do this interview. I understand that you're typically very busy flocking sheep and wrangling kiwi birds, so it means a lot that you managed to fit me into your schedule. First off, can you please explain to my readers what exactly New Zealand is? Can you confirm that it is indeed a country (I think I have that right), and whether or not it is surrounded by water? Also, do you have electricity over there?

Nicola: Hi John, it’ll be my pleasure to answer your questions.

Well, if you listen to Australia, they will claim New Zealand as an island territory off their coast. Typical Ozzies; they like to steal everything, that lot. But yes, NZ is its very own country, albeit a small one — practically the same size as Colorado, except not a square. Yes... we have electricity... and even cars! Getting water from a well is becoming a bit old though… We should really work on that.

John: Before we get into the pandemic questions, I wanted to ask you something about pre-pandemic life. Up until early 2020, were you still getting a ton of international tourists coming to your country because it's where the Lord of the Rings movies were filmed, and were you growing sick and tired of hearing their Gollum impersonations?

Nicola: Yeah, we even built an actual city called Hobbiton to cater to them all. It’s great, plus it keeps them contained to one. Haha.

John: When the viral sh*t started hitting the fan at the beginning of the pandemic, your Prime Minister took some pretty drastic (but ultimately successful) steps to try and keep the coronavirus out of your country. Can you describe those steps, and what they meant for New Zealand citizens re-entering your country?

Nicola: Less than a month after our first Covid case was reported, our government made the decision to shut our borders to everyone except NZ citizens. A few days later, we were given 48 hours to prepare for a full lockdown and full closure of the borders. There was a great deal of panic for people to get home within those 48 hours.

John: Was there ever any talk from your Prime Minister about building a wall around New Zealand, and making Australia pay for it?

Nicola: Ha! I don’t think so, but I’d be pretty keen to keep them out, thieving bunch. They are all criminals, you know.

John: Seriously though, do you feel that you had a pretty big advantage over much of the world, in that you live on an island, and don't share a border with other countries?

Nicola: Correct. That was a huge advantage, and was pivotal in keeping the virus out.

John: How different was your everyday life during the pandemic, from what it was before? Did you have to wear masks or social distance? Were businesses closed down for safety reasons? How big of a hit did your economy take?

Nicola: The difference was shocking. You said before that the measures were drastic, and that's probably the best word to describe it. The strategy of our government was complete eradication. That’s very bold.

Only supermarkets and petrol stations were allowed to open. No coffee shops, butchers, bakeries, restaurants, fast food joints, libraries, gyms, malls... Nothing. Unless deemed an essential worker (i.e. police, medical), we had to stay at home. We couldn’t visit family that lived down the road, and were only allowed to exercise within one kilometer of our house. I watched my neighbour literally ride his bike round and round the block for hours at a time.

Social distancing was enforced, but masks were optional. The hit to the economy was huge. Many businesses have closed. The tourism sector is almost destroyed because our borders remained shut to anyone except NZ citizens, until one month ago, when we opened it up to the Cook Islands and Australia. 

John: Being isolated like that, was it hard to picture or get a good grasp of what was going on in the rest of the world, like in the United States (where you used to live)? I would think that hearing that over 600,000 Americans have died from the virus would sound surreal from your perspective.

Nicola: The only thing we could do was sit in our living rooms and watch TV — or the neighbour on the bike — so keeping up with current affairs from the around the world was pretty easy. Hearing the numbers of people dying was horrific. Only 26 people in NZ lost their lives, so 600,000 does seem surreal. I live in the second largest city in NZ, and that would be our entire population gone. 

John: Did you ever get tired of me whining to you in DMs about how many people at the grocery store weren't taking the health crisis seriously, even as infection rates and hospitalizations skyrocketed? Were you ever tempted to tell me to collect myself, stop my sniveling, and man-up?

Nicola: We had the complete opposite happening here. One guy drove a few kilometers out of his one-kilometer bubble to go sit on the beach, and the whole country wanted him thrown in jail! A politician went for a 20-kilometer bike ride, and was promptly fired by the Prime Minister. New Zealanders are real sticklers for following the rules.

John: How has the vaccine rollout been going in New Zealand? Have you been vaccinated? Are any of you New Zealanders allowed to leave the country at this point, and are you making any plans to?

Nicola: I won’t be eligible to get the vaccine until later this year. They are prioritizing those at greater risk: the elderly and sick, etc. I think most people in NZ feel the ball has been dropped, and we are being too slow. We are hanging out to go somewhere! We typically vacation overseas at least once a year, so its been very weird to be stuck on an island. We can leave, but when we fly back, we would have to quarantine for two weeks at a facility guarded by the army… at a cost to us of over $3,000. So, that’s just not an option.

John: I visited you in New Zealand many years ago... I believe it the late 90s. I had a great time, and enjoyed your beautiful country. Can you explain why people there refer to napkins as "serviettes" and flashlights as "torches"?

Nicola: Hmm… Maybe it’s an English thing? Although serviettes sounds French to me, so I don’t know. You lot aren’t so perfect ...the way you pronounce aluminum is maddening, and don’t get me started on Imperial vs. Metric.

John: Can you confirm or deny whether KFC is a more popular fast-food restaurant in New Zealand than McDonald's is? And did I ever tell you how one of your old roommates asked me, when I was there, if I'd ever heard of KFC?

Nicola: KFC is very popular down here. The first store opened back in 1971, beating McDonald’s by many years. Did she ask you that? Oh dear, that’s as bad as me getting asked whether I drove or flew to the US from NZ!

John: Two of New Zealand's biggest international celebrities are Luke and Butch of the famed 1990's WWF tag-team, The Bushwackers. Part of their gimmick is that they would lick other people's faces. I don't recall you doing that kind of thing back in the day, so I'm wondering if this was a fabricated New Zealand custom, or if you had abandoned the practice upon moving to America.

Nicola: Yeah, that’s just strange. No licking, but our traditional culture is to hongi, which means we greet each other by touching noses (also strange). However, the pandemic has put a stop to that… which is probably a good thing.

John: Are you aware that the game of cricket makes absolutely no sense to people like me?

Nicola: Cricket is the best! It probably most resembles baseball, which is also a great game. Although, cricket lasts for five days and often ends in a draw, so I can see why you would think it makes no sense.

John: Do they teach driver's ed in New Zealand? I'm asking because another of your old roommates nearly killed me from the passenger seat of her car about five times on that trip. (I'm serious; I was genuinely worried I'd be going home to my parents in a casket).

Nicola: Are you sure you weren’t just freaking out that we drive on the opposite side of the road down here?

John: Also known as the “wrong” side of the road. 😉

Well, we'll go ahead and wrap things up.

Thanks again, Nicola, for your time and also humoring me. I'm glad you're safe, and I hope you'll consider accepting the official position of the Daly Grind's 'Down Under' correspondent, so that I can check back in with you periodically regarding lower-hemisphere issues.

Nicola: Thanks. It would be an honour (notice how I spelt that with a “U” ...otherwise known as the correct way haha).

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Do we have any other foreign Daly Grind readers out there? Some of the email addresses I’ve seen suggest so. Let me know how your country has weathered the pandemic.


Update on “Restitution” (Sean Coleman #5)

The book is currently in its final round of editing, and I’m being told by my publisher that it will be up for pre-order on the retail sites any day now. I’ll let you all know when it’s there.

The book’s video trailer, which I’ll be sharing on my social media accounts (and in this newsletter) once we’re in the pre-order phase, has been finalized! I love how it turned out, and can’t wait for you all to see it. It’s a big improvement over the one I created myself way back in 2013 to promote my first novel, “From a Dead Sleep.

Although, for someone without any video-editing experience, I suppose it was okay:

Video trailers have become a much more valuable book marketing tool over the years, not just with online consumers through social media, but also in capturing the interest of brick and mortar stores through distributors. We live in a video age, even in the book-selling industry, and my publisher highly encourages trailers for all of their titles, as well as personal video engagement from their authors.


In the Interest of Reality…

The other day, I listened to an enlightening episode of Jonah Goldberg’s “The Remnant” podcast. Jonah had on author Jonathan Rauch to talk about the public’s growing belief in conspiracy theories and other forms of misinformation… as well as how leaders and media figures from both sides of the political spectrum have used this to their advantage (and worsened the problem). I found the discussion very fascinating, and learned a few things.

You can listen to it here (things really get good about 23 minutes in).


Random Thought


Obligatory Dog Shot

Rocky Mountain high… in Colorado. 🎵


Obligatory Elk Shot

I took my parents up to Estes Park on Saturday. We had a good time, and as we were heading home, we noticed three elk venturing out into the south side of Lake Estes (which apparently isn’t as deep as the rest of the lake). It was a cool sight.


Featured Vinyl

I feel like Boston’s 1976 debut album doesn’t need much of an introduction. Just about everyone reading this knows songs off of it (“More Than a Feeling” being the most famous). It became the best-selling debut LP in the United States (up until that point), and still enjoys frequent airplay on classic rock stations across the world. It has sold over 17 million copies in the U.S. alone.

It’s notoriety is well deserved, and I’d even go as far as ranking it in the top ten rock albums of all time. Really! The long, winding instrumentals and Brad Delp’s vocals are nothing short of iconic, and I never get tired of listening to them.


That’s all for now. Thanks for reading today’s Daly Grind.

Want to drop me a line? You can email me at johndalybooks@hotmail.com, and also follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. If you haven’t subscribed to this newsletter yet, please click on the “Subscribe now” button below. Doing so will get these posts emailed directly to you.

Also, if you’re not caught up on my Sean Coleman Thrillers, you can pick the entire series up at a great price on Amazon. And if you’re interested in signed, personalized copies of my books, you can order them directly from my website.

Take care. And I’ll talk to you soon!