Let me start by saying that I fell in love with New Zealand.  Since returning, people often ask me which country was my favorite on the 30/40 World Tour.  It’s such a difficult question because I had different goals and experiences in each place.  Sometimes I was staying in a hostel, and other times in a 4.5 star resort.  Sometimes I was looking for adventure, and other times I sought relaxation.  But I do find myself answering that my overall favorite destination, and the place I could most envision savoring my half empty cup of coffee for life, is New Zealand.

Yet, New Zealand is not a utopia.  Yes, it’s gorgeous with great food and friendly people.  But like all countries,  New Zealand has it’s fair share of issues.  As a tourist, signs of social problems are constantly in your face  — advertised all over!  From reading billboards and watching TV, it seems like the issues that garner the most Kiwi advertising dollars are alcoholism, domestic violence, and driving behavior.


Alcohol will not be served to anyone who is intoxicated.

The sign that greeted me in New Zealand restaurants.

I saw government signs in every establishment that served alcohol stating that they cannot serve intoxicated people. In the United States, this seems like something I might see in a bar, not a Chinese restaurant.  Since we ate out for almost every meal, I saw the sign daily.

I wonder if the restaurant signs were a proactive measure, or if alcoholism was a such a pervasive problem that the government (who legislates from the “beehive”) created these signs.  I suspect the latter.

Mac's Brewhouse

Ms. HalfFull didn’t find any drunks at Mac’s Brewhouse in Wellington, but did find a delicious pear cider!

But over three weeks, I never saw a drunk.  Even though we did cultural immersion training at a frat house in preparation for our trip, we did not frequent such environments in New Zealand.  Kiwis are deservedly proud of their wine and beer culture, but even when we went to bars, things didn’t seem out of control.

NZ Parliament

The “beehive” or home of the modern New Zealand Parliament in Wellington.

The other indication of an alcoholism problem was a rather amusing commercial on TV where a woman confronts her friend about her drinking problem.  They’re chatting about the previous Friday night in a gossipy manner and the woman says, “Some of the girls you are bringing along are kind of becoming a drag.”  The girls she is referring to are her friend in various stages of drunkenness.  I thought it was quite a clever commercial because the motive wasn’t immediately obvious, but I couldn’t really see anyone confronting their friend in the office over coffee.  As we all know, coffee breaks are a sacred time!

The Alcohol Advisory Council of New Zealand has a whole series of Ease Up on the Drink commercials, including the one above.  I also saw a similar one on TV with two male friends where one tells the other not to bring along his “friends” next time.

Domestic Violence

New Plymouth

Ms. HalfEmpty enjoys another violence-free moment along the coast of New Plymouth.

When walking around various parts of New Zealand, I would often see family centers.  I think these may have been shelters for abused people, as well as counseling centers.  In the small town of New Plymouth, I saw a huge banner hanging outside a community building that read, “Prevent Family Violence.”

But New Plymouth was one of our favorite cities and was named one of the best places to live in the world in 2008.  The main street was extremely pedestrian friendly, there seemed to be a cultural buzz, and there were lots of great restaurants.  I never observed violence, but the sign did put me on heightened alert and made me wonder about people suffering in the community.  I didn’t really expect to see violence in the street since family violence is often concealed in the home.  But I suppose that violent people could resort to violence anywhere.

I’m sure alcoholism contributes to domestic violence.  Kiwis have also experienced almost non-stop war for the entire life of their young country.  On top of that, the native Maoris were known for their fierce warrior culture before colonialism, and some of that fighting spirit clearly lingers today.  Perhaps this background also contributes to a hidden subculture of violence.


Stay in Mantrol

NZ Transport Agency billboard campaign features an unkempt man — perhaps the angriest Kiwi you may ever see!

We spent a lot of time driving around New Zealand, so I had ample time to observe roadway signs.  Many signs on the smaller highways warned people to take a break if they were fatigued.  Others warned against speeding.  These were both quite prevalent and legitimate considering the roads and distances across New Zealand.

The driving sign that I found most amusing was on billboards in cities warning guys to “Stay in Mantrol.”  What the heck is mantrol???  I suppose they were trying to tell men not to drive aggressively, but I must admit it was funny each time I saw it.  I would turn to Mr. HalfFull and ask him if he was in mantrol.


Perhaps the Kiwis are enlightened for addressing social problems through their variety of extremely public advertising campaigns, but as an outsider it really made me wonder about the state of these issues.  If I was moving to a new neighborhood and saw lots of community signs with reminders to throw your trash in the dumpster or pick up after your pet, I might be deterred from moving to such a seemingly crappy place.

Flight of the Conchords Poster

Maybe we should have visited Old Zealand first.

Could these advertising campaigns be some sort of elaborate plot to avert coffee-loving Americans from emigrating to the land of the long white cloud?  At the risk of sounding insensitive, perhaps it’s just a beehive contrived work program for unemployed Kiwi advertisers.  After all, they can only design so many posters for Flight of the Conchords.

  • Have you ever seriously considered moving to a country you’ve visited?
  • What signs have made you wonder while traveling?
  • Are you in mantrol?
  • Do you think advertising campaigns are an effective way to bring awareness to problems?  Or do they merely emphasize the negative?
  • Is New Zealand more self-aware, open, and advanced in their approach to social problems?  Or are their problems bigger than elsewhere? 
  • Is the fact that I never witnessed any of these social problems evidence that the campaigns are working?  Or is it evidence of a conspiracy to keep outsiders from moving there?
  • Is it better to air dirty laundry via advertising or address it in another way?

Ms. HalfEmpty is a 30-something introverted realist, perhaps a pessimist. But she’s trying to see the world half full on halfempty4now.com, which she started in February 2011. Her worldview may not be all bad, as it probably helps keep her husband, Mr. HalfFull, grounded and out of trouble!