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Guest of the Week: Marie Hagén, expatriate in New Zealand

Marie Hagén and her husband have always enjoyed travelling and have long dreamed of living abroad, preferably in an exotic country. About six months ago, they moved from Sweden to New Zealand with their 6-year-old son Caesar. The family now lives in Auckland, where the husband has a job and the son has started primary school.


New Zealand is geographically as far away from Sweden as you can get, with a completely different nature and culture. We asked Marie eight curious questions about everything from culture clashes to her best travel tips for those who want to visit New Zealand as a tourist. If you want to know more about life in New Zealand, you can follow Marie's blog. Travelling family in New Zealand.

Can you first tell us a little about yourself and your family?

My name is Marie and I work in my own company as an economist. My family consists of Niklas who is an IT specialist in the aviation industry and our son Caesar who is 6 years old. Our family are passionate explorers who love travelling.

You live in New Zealand now - how did you end up moving there and what do you do there?

Nicke and I have talked for years about how we both wanted to live abroad more than we did when we were younger, as we both studied abroad for periods of time. We've also been aware that Niklas's work makes him attractive for international airlines to hire because of his specialised expertise in airline staffing.

In recent years we have talked from time to time about going abroad when I had gained more experience in my current profession, but before Caesar had become too big and rooted in Sweden. For some years I have felt ready to see something new, live a new life somewhere else, preferably somewhere warmer than Sweden and preferably a little exotic too.

Over the years we have talked more and more about New Zealand, a country we have holidayed in before. Just as we were about to start our search, a golden opportunity came along. It can hardly have been a coincidence.

What is the best thing about living in New Zealand?

The nature here in New Zealand is just wonderful. Within 3 hours of Auckland, we have an incredible amount of hiking, extremely many and varied beaches, oceans, the Bay of Islands, the beautiful Coromandel Peninsula, Rotorua with all its thermal attractions, a variety of hot springs to bathe in, Waitomo with large caves with lightworms, Hobiton, surfing, snorkelling and more. The climate here in the northern North Island is just wonderful. Now it is the equivalent of November in Sweden and I still wear short sleeves and summer shoes.

New Zealanders are incredibly friendly, as anyone who has holidayed here knows. The friendliness is not only on the surface, but it is really friendliness that goes from the inside out. If someone in our family is ill, my phone starts ringing with messages from friends if we need help with something, if someone tells me I need a lift I am offered it, an umbrella if it rains and so on. There is a very nice caring attitude here, which I appreciate very much.

People here are much more life-affirming, they clearly work to live and not the other way round. They don't stress as much, take time for each other, enjoy life and are much more playful. We Swedes are very Lutheran and when I tell people how stressful it is in Stockholm, they look almost shocked.

My friends here can't afford Thai food, new kitchens, holidays abroad and designer clothes in the same way as my friends in Sweden can. They prefer to stay at home with their children for longer and in my circle there are quite a lot of housewives and househusbands. In addition, New Zealand has a reputation for having many good schools, a very important aspect for us, as Caesar started grade 1 when he moved here.

New Zealand
New Zealand, photo: Marie Hagén

Do you miss anything in Sweden and if so, what?

I miss my family and friends, of course. It's not possible to come here for a weekend or even a week-long trip, as the flights are long. I love seafood and fish and the quality is fantastic here in New Zealand, except for one thing: prawns, which are rather bland and tasteless here. The Swedish prawns are so much better and the first thing I will do when I go home is to buy fresh prawns or a prawn sandwich, I think.

As a paradox to my answer to the previous question, I also miss the Swedish efficiency and the high minimum level of everyday services in Sweden. Here people are more unaccustomed to taking their own initiative. It could be a shop assistant standing around waiting for his boss instead of sorting out the situation himself, as we are used to in Sweden.

Can you tell us about any culture clashes you have experienced?

For the first few weeks we lived in a rented apartment and when the office for that complex opened I went there to get access to the internet and so on. I walked in to the lady in the office and quickly said, "Hi there, how are you, I would need the internet, the address of the complex to get our tax number" and I continued with the list of small things I needed her help with.

She looked at me, still polite as New Zealanders always are, but with a slightly harsher tone than usual and said: "You were all efficient you". The way she said it was polite, but had a clear undertone of criticism. I had done some reading before we left about the codes in New Zealand, so I realised that she perceived me as being rude.

What I should have done was to say something like: "Hello, what a beautiful morning. How are you?" She would have replied: "Thank you, how are you?" Me: "It's just fine, just about to enjoy a walk on the quay. My name is Marie and I am staying in apartment 1C for a couple of weeks. We are from Sweden and very much appreciate living in this nice complex. What beautiful plantings you have in the courtyard." She: "Thank you, yes our caretaker enjoys working with them and he is very good at it. So, what can I help with?"

And there we were at the first point on the list, one thing at a time, no stress. A lot more lull lull is required here, even when emailing about things or at your workplace. You say good morning when you meet someone on your morning walk and are happy to chat to strangers if you're hanging around a bus shelter. It's very different from the Swedish silence and seclusion you feel in Sweden. It creates a very pleasant climate to be in. I feel a greater sense of belonging here.

How has your son Caesar experienced the move and how does he feel about living in New Zealand today?

The early days were extremely tough for him. He had not even started preschool class in Sweden, but was thrown in here right at the end of grade 1. He didn't understand English and didn't understand what they were doing at school many times.

The children here are clearly ahead in terms of knowledge than in Sweden and most of his class could read and write well when they were 5 years old. After about 8 weeks at school we did something quite radical, when his teacher told us that he was becoming obstinate at school. We told Caesar that we didn't want to hear anything negative about school for a week.

During that week he was not allowed to complain, cry in the mornings or disagree with his teachers. Since we humans have a tendency to amplify what we express, complaining leads to perceiving something as even more boring.

At the end of the week I asked him how he felt about the last week and he said that he thought it was better and more enjoyable than any other week at school. Since that week things have turned around for him and he is now bouncing along, he has lots of great friends and is starting to catch up with English.

Because they have such a large number of immigrants, the schools are very used to having children who do not know English and Caesar still attends a specialised teacher a couple of times a week with other immigrants in the school.

However, he misses the snow and Sweden more than we do. However, we as parents notice that he is much more harmonious here and since he is extremely social, the social climate suits him better here. In Stockholm he often cheered or talked to strangers who didn't answer back or looked at him sourly. Here, that almost never happens and he is always greeted with a smile and a few friendly words.

What are your best tips for Swedes who want to visit New Zealand on holiday?

Have plenty of time. Many people come here thinking it's a small country that can be covered in a couple of weeks. You can do that if you never get out of the car... The distances are quite long, the roads are often small and winding and, above all, it's a country that's worth more time because it's one of the most beautiful countries in the world.

What's more, many of the best sights and scenery are often found at the end of some small dirt road in the wilderness. Travelling by motorhome is extremely common and is by far the best way to travel here.

What many people don't realise is that December and January is the industrial holiday season here, when most international tourists arrive. The country is small and the small cosy villages' hotel rooms can sell out almost 1 year in advance.

If we want to go away for a weekend when it is a long weekend here, the hotel rooms and campsites in the entire city we intend to visit can be sold out 4 weeks before departure, completely sold out. It pays much more to be out in good time with hotel and flight bookings here. Hotels and flights are also more expensive than we are used to in Europe.

Finally, a question we ask everyone we interview: What is your dream destination?

Wow, I don't even know where to start. Now that we live here, we have thought tactically and focus on the destinations that are most difficult and expensive to get to as a Swede, and that is the South Sea Islands. This year we are travelling to three real dream destinations actually.  

In a couple of months we are going to Fiji for a boat trip and later this year to Samoa. We end the year with a few weeks in a campervan on the South Island, which we haven't seen much of yet. Cook Islands, Tahiti and Norfolk Islands are other islands we hope to visit during our years here.

Nya Zeeland, foto: Marie Hagén
New Zealand, photo: Marie Hagén

Thank you Marie Hagén for sharing your experiences and thoughts!

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