As we enter our third week of Kiwi life the thing I’ve begun to appreciate about America now that I am outside of it is how everything there is convenient.
The first thing I noticed were credit card fees. I’m not generally one to use my card for casual, daily expenses, but it was a necessity here before we got our bank cards set up. I quickly discovered that it’s common for many places to tack on a convenience fee of at least 2% to a credit purchase – and, for small purchases it might be an automatic 30-40 cents. These fees are almost universally absorbed by the store in the US.
You might be thinking, “2% – what’s the big deal!” Except, are you the sort of person who puts big purchases on your credit card purely for the points or miles, only to immediately pay it off?
Suddenly you’re paying a $20 premium for every $1,000 you pass through your card that way. $20 isn’t nothing, and if you’ve got to buy a whole new set of appliances because rental properties don’t come with them, it’s several multiples of $20.
Yes, you heard me right: rental homes don’t come with the major appliances here. No washer, dryer, or refrigerator – which are collectively known as “whiteware.”
I still haven’t heard the full history of why this is the case. It seems utterly mad to me, because as a renter you are suddenly responsible for a few thousand dollars of appliances over their lifespan of a decade or more, and if you switch homes a few times there is no guarantee they’ll fit into each subsequent house!
That’s specifically the case with dryers, which just aren’t very common in New Zealand. We’ve seen tons of places that don’t even have a spot for one, and even if they do there’s no ductwork for venting. If you want a dryer in those houses, you have to buy a super-special, super-expensive “condenser” style dryers that suck the water out of your clothes just like Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru’s farm.
The majority of people here line dry their clothes. We went on a walk to the zoo yesterday while the weather was nice and nearly every house we passed on the way had clothes hanging out on a line or a rack!
This particularly amazes me not because of how much time you spend line-drying clothes and how it means you can’t bang through multiple loads of laundry. That’s not only because you’ll run out of space and clothespins, but because of the weather.
The weather is generally beautiful here, even on a comparatively dreary day, and there’s certainly a surplus of wind to whip the dampness out of your clothes. Yet, if the past few weeks are any indication, Wellington’s winter is particularly damp. Our temporary flat doesn’t have a dryer, and the first time E tried to line-dry her clothes it took about three days to do it – which included three repetitions of running outside to pull the clothes in after it started to rain.
The upshot is that doing your laundry is a function of checking the weather in New Zealand. You can’t just wash clothes whenever the basket is full, throwing them in the dryer before bed or when you head out to work. You need to check the weather before bed, if tomorrow might be sunny throw in the wash, and then wake up early and hang it before you leave for work – and hope no midday showers show up!
I had my turn today, which was beautiful. Yet, I too had an afternoon scramble to pull down clothes when a brief period of drizzle blew in from the sea. Half my clothes went from dry to wet again in the five minutes it took me to yank them down, and a second load is still hanging on a rack in our bathroom. All told between hanging, pulling down, and racking I spent nearly an hour on drying clothes.
Suddenly, the expensive clothes dryer seems less a luxury and more a necessity that will easily pay for itself.
I’ll be honest – I barely got my laundry done with a dryer when I was working full time! And I never ran an errand to pick up something like a car mount for my cell phone – I just had it shipped from Amazon to arrive the next day. I might get dinner delivered once a week, and I’d have my choice of any genre of food. If I ran out of something unusual or rare, the worst case scenario might be a 30 minute drive to the nearest “Whatever Widget It Was” franchise to get a new one. As for non-spoilable staples like cereal or toilet paper, I timed my grocery store trips so they could be weeks apart and bought things in bulk.
None of that exists here. It’s a modern country with all of the comfort and technology I’m used to but less of the utter convenience. I wouldn’t have made it week here with my “do it in the last possible minute” habits from before I was a stay-at-home-parent, considering at the time my boss used to worry that I didn’t even eat when I wasn’t at work.
I can’t speak for every American, but I took all of those things for granted even with the full knowledge that the convenience was a relatively modern contrivance. I remember my grandmother line-drying all of her clothes when I was a kid. I also remember thinking: Why? Why spend all this time and expose your clothing to dirt, pollen, varmints, and sunlight if you could just have a dryer.
The answer was that a dryer was a privilege at some point for my grandmother. By the time she had one, her habit was formed. She kept on line-drying anyway.
If you can step outside of your daily life long enough to see how many conveniences are getting you through your week, ask yourself: how many of them aren’t just time-savers or part of the onward press of modernity, but a privilege you have that other people in your country lack?
My grandmother didn’t grow up with a dryer and I’m complaining about going without one for three weeks. My mother’s credit was too bad for us to get a credit card but I’m averse to 2% fees. I couldn’t even get something delivered to my house until I was almost 30 because I didn’t live somewhere safe enough to have it left on my step, but I barely went a week without new books in our house in DelCo.
I’ve brought three generations of accumulated financial stability and privilege here with me to New Zealand. Even though some of my favorite conveniences are less common here, I can still obtain them if I want to. I can afford the fancy dryer, pay the 2% credit card fee in a pinch, and still get things delivered – albeit more slowly and at a higher cost.
However, I’m certainly going to think a lot more about what I have and what I expect from life every time I do.
Maybe it’s better that way.
Sandra Hanks says
Ah … that stuff! Kiwis, being more English than the English, must have all sorts of ‘airers’ … contraptions on which to hang laundry in every room of the house, giving your home a quaint Chinese laundry look everyone expects in a home. I had one that hung from the ceiling and could be raised and lowered with a cord on a pulley, in addition to those that made every radiator in the house like a summer day.
Here in Italy, I now have grown to know the oddness that is a dryer that requires regular dumping of the water in the collection vessel, and I’m not complaining.
Life in an African island nation for a couple of decades has me never again taking things like water from a tap and light at the flick of a switch for granted, and I’m glad of that.
I’m enjoying your revelations, Peter!
Sandra, I had a feeling you’d have some dryer stories to share! It’s eye-opening not only to have my own revelations, but to discover how many of my American friends share my habits (or DON’T share, as I’m learning from this one).
J. Dunn says
I’m curious as to whether pace-of-life and work demands are different there too? A lot of these conveniences basically exist so we can work ourselves to death while still at least attempting to have some semblance of a family / home life. And many of the conveniences (late store hours, Amazon warehouses, Uber, etc.) also require others to work themselves to death.
I enjoy them and would find it hard to live w/o at least some of them too, but the toxic work culture in the US probably drives a substantial portion of the market for convenience everything, and I suspect that taking that away would also take away much of my perceived need for such things.
That’s absolutely the case. From what we’ve witnessed and heard from people we’ve done business with, work/life balance is a serious line here. When work is through, it’s through.
That said, I think it’s hard to go backwards on convenience when you’re adjusted to it. For me, I’ve already optimized in my head for the “fast way” of doing the thing even without a work culture to drive me. I hate finding time to do laundry to begin with, and the idea of making it take longer due to all this hanging and pulling down of clothes is utterly horrifying to me.
However, the lack of work toxicity comes with its own conveniences. For instance, people here find a commute longer than 30 minutes to be distasteful, whereas that wouldn’t take me into Philly proper from our house in the closest possible suburb.