People and Language

New Zealand

People & Society

There can be marked differences between Maori and NZ European (Pakeha) societies and culture. This is particularly apparent when moving in tribal (Iwi) circles. Due to colonisation and tribal differences, there can also be subtle but important variations in protocols. The following sections outline aspects most likely to occur when doing business with tribal groups but can also equally apply to any group that includes Maori.

Kiwi Demeanour

  • New Zealanders are friendly, outgoing, somewhat reserved initially yet polite, and enjoy extending hospitality.
  • They are quite easy to get to know as they say hello to strangers and will offer assistance without being asked.
  • Because they do not stand on ceremony and are egalitarian, they move to a first name basis quickly and shun the use of titles.
  • Kiwis dress casually, but neatly.
  • Most restaurants do not have dress codes and except in business, dress is decidedly casual.
  • Business dress is conservative, although jackets may be removed and shirtsleeves rolled up when working.

Maori demeanour

Maori are generally friendly and reserved and place great value on hospitality. . They will generally offer (often to the point of going without) assistance to their guests and will attempt to hide the inconvenience as much as possible. . Maori will spontaneously launch into speech and song. Even though they may not have met each other, they will know many songs they can sing together and often use these to close or enhance speeches. They will often call for visitors to do the same and it would be wise to have 2-3 practised songs from your own country to reply with.


  • Kiwis are environmentally concerned and have a strong desire to preserve their country’s beauty.
  • One of the major local issues is the importing of predators.
  • Border controls are very tight and there are huge fines for importing food or other natural products such as wood, cane etc.
  • The local attitude towards the environment is largely influenced by the viewpoint of the indigenous population, the Maori.
  • They believe that all things have a ‘mauri’ – a life force.
  • Damage to this life force, or human attempts to dominate it, result in the mauri losing its energy and vitality, which affects the lives of people as well as the resilience of ecosystems.
  • Maintaining the mauri of the environment and ecosystem resilience are equally important for sustainable development.


  • The country has no formal class structure.
  • Wealth and social status are not important to Kiwis.
  • They take pride in individual achievements and believe that opportunities are available to all.
  • As a ‘welfare state’ unemployment benefits, housing and access to health is all available free of charge to those who can’t afford it.
  • Maori have a hierarchy especially apparent in formal situations.. For example, the elder (male or female) is seated in a specific area and will be asked to open or close a meeting.
  • Mostly they are men but not always.


The three official languages of New Zealand are English, Maori and NZ Sign Language. English is the language of day-to-day business within New Zealand, a remnant of ties to the British Commonwealth. Maori is a Polynesian language similar to the languages of other Pacific Island cultures, such as Hawaiian, Tongan, and Samoan. Over 157,000 people in New Zealand speak Maori (2006 Census).

The Maori language has been part of New Zealand and its culture since the first people came to the Islands. However, Maori has only been recognised as an official language of New Zealand since the Maori Language Act of 1987. English-Maori bilingualism and the development and use of the Maori language is encouraged by Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Maori-the Maori Language Commission.

Maori and English are used throughout the country in various television and radio programs. As with other regions in the world where two cultures have been mixed, English has influenced Maori and Maori has influenced English. A number of words in each language have crossed in to the vocabulary of the other. English has introduced motuka (car) and Maori has replied with taboo (tapu).

Many treks in New Zealand have been christened with two names – one English, one Maori (the original Maori name and the adopted English one). And, in some cases, these names are used interchangeably