Monday, October 23, 2006


When friends from the homeland make an extended visit, it’s an opportunity to see things all over again. It could be noticing things you haven’t before, or it might be seeing them again.

Like toilets.

Americans are always fascinated by New Zealand toilets. I know I was when I first saw them, and my friend commented on them when he arrived here, too. Our toilets have two flush buttons, one for “half flush” and the other is “full flush”.

It’s probably pretty obvious, but half flush uses less water, and it’s for when you only wee. The full flush is for when there’s more to get rid of, like when you crap. But the water saving doesn’t end there: American toilet bowls are usually half-filled with water—why? The more water in the bowl, the more you need to introduce to flush it all out. That’s why typical American toilets can’t have a half flush option.

New Zealand toilets, by contrast, have very little water sitting in the bowl, so not much is needed to completely flush the thing. It’s a simple concept, but the water-saving implications are obvious. Still, I’m guessing this is a relatively recent change, within the past decade or two, since there are still houses in NZ with single flush buttons on their toilets. But even those old fashioned (by NZ standards) toilets use a fraction of the amount of water used in typical American toilets of similar age.

These days, I take this all for granted, which is a good thing. It just wouldn’t do to sit around all day thinking about toilets.

Another thing that Americans notice: New Zealand pies. Similar in some ways to “pot pies” in America, these are so much better. They’re sized for one person, have flaky pastry, and are typically filled with things like mince (ground beef), steak, chicken, mince and cheese, steak and cheese, vegetables, or something exotic. A relatively decent pie can be bought at nearly any petrol station or dairy (local convenience store, but not a chain store, more like a mini grocery store).

There used to be a home-grown fast food chain called Georgie Pie that specialised in low-cost pies and pie meals. It was run by a mostly Australian-owned supermarket company that panicked when the company’s overall profits weren’t as high as they wanted, so they closed down the Georgie Pie chain and sold the locations and intellectual property to McDonald’s. Maccas, in turn, closed all the restaurants, converted some to McDonald’s and sold off the rest. By buying the intellectual property, McDonald’s also saw to it that no one could revive the Georgie Pie competition.

So now our pies come from petrol stations, dairies, bakeries, some cafes, a few small pie shops and frozen ones sold through supermarkets (including the one that killed off Georgie Pie, of course). Nevertheless, Kiwi pies are well-worth the hunt—so much so that, on average, each year a couple dozen pies are consumed for every man, woman and child in New Zealand. Personally, I don’t know anyone who eats that many pies in a year, so it must be the tourists.

I don’t mean to suggest that there’s a connection between pies and toilets, apart from the obvious. It’s just that they’re two things in New Zealand that Americans seem to be very interested in. There are others, of course, like our money being easier to use than America’s: One and two dollar coins, not notes, plus small, light coins of other denominations, and NZ paper money (actually, plastic) has different sizes and colours for the different denominations.

There are plenty of other things American tourists notice, of course, but they’re not nearly as much fun as pies and toilets and money.

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