Now that I’ve gotten my sea legs and can see without a jet lag haze, I’ve come to really appreciate Wellington. In a week, I’ll take my first real venture outside of this beaut of a city, but it’s been important for me to spend some quality, uninterrupted time in the city I’ll call home until the season of Santa hats and jingle bells. The following list includes the little things that have touched me about Wellington. And even though they are little, I think they speak volumes about what I’ve noticed about the culture as a whole.
Note: I recognize that these could apply to other cities in New Zealand or even the country as a whole, but because I haven’t seen other cities, I don’t want to make any assumptions!
1. The grocery store
Now, keep in mind that my only routine experience with grocery shopping is at New World because it’s right on my way home (although I love Moore Wilsons, which is their equivalent of Whole Foods). Almost every day I’ll pop in to get something, partly because of how much of a kick I get out of shopping here.
The first thing I love about the store is that when you first walk in by the flowers, there will be an 80s or 90s music video playing. As you travel through the fruits and vegetables, you’ll see another screen with the same display. And then there will be another one above the meats, etc. And whatever video is playing, that song will play throughout the whole store. Yesterday, I was serenaded by Whitney Houston’s “How Will I know?,” Backstreet Boys’, “I Want It That Way,” and Technotronic’s “Pump Up the Jam,” for example. It makes figuring out what the heck a kumura is an experience when you can hum along to some “Mmm Bop.” (kumura is sweet potato, by the way).
The second thing I love is that at all times of day you will see several people working in the aisles making sure that each and every label is perfectly straight. I don’t know why I find this so amazing/humorous/endearing, but sometimes I’ll catch myself staring at the employees fixing each and every soup can, box of cereal, and soda bottle. A weird side effect of this love of this aspect of the grocery store is that when I put something back, I will now stand there until the label is fixed just right. I want to make sure that, like the rest of Wellington, I show that I care about how things are presented.
2. Bus rides
I’ll tap my Snapper card and make my way to the first empty seat. Most of the time, the bus will be completely silent. Even if you see a couple who have just picked up groceries or a few old friends who have formed an impromptu reunion on the bus, most people will remain quiet. In Chicago, on the other hand, it’s common to hear groups laughing over a recent event, someone blaring a favorite track over his cellphone, and sprinklings of people talking on phones or watching YouTube videos.The only times I’ve experienced quiet buses is when the second city is either waking up for a new day or turning down for the night.
So I noticed right away how quiet these Wellington buses are. But it’s not the quiet that I love so much, it’s the juxtaposition of this quiet and what happens each time the bus stops. As each person leaves, he or she will punctuate the silence with a “thank you driver!”
Now, for some reason when I try to imitate this gesture, I sound like Oliver! the musical by Lionel Bart. But it’s only because imitation is a form of flattery. I love that the Wellingtonians, as quiet as they can be (seriously, I often can’t hear them when they speak to me), will suddenly yell out from the back of the bus to thank the bus driver as they exit.
It feels like this should be a natural thing–you thank a server when she fills up your water glass, and you thank the clerk when he gives you the movie tickets you just purchased. Why wouldn’t you thank your bus driver for getting you to your destination safely? Wellington does this right.
3. The public bathrooms
Now I know this one is kinda strange, but one of the things I love about Wellington is that there are public bathrooms sprinkled all throughout the city. These are stand-alone little huts that make this city truly backpacker friendly (You can check out the toilet map). I counted yesterday that on my walk home there are four sets of public bathrooms, so I never need to worry if nature calls.
But it’s not just that there are toilets, it’s the experience of the toilet. It’s lovely. If you go to the ones on Courtenay Place, for example, you push a button and the big silver doors will open. Once inside, you push the button to lock. Once you do so, the bathroom comes alive. It will greet you and give you directions. And it sings to you. Uh huh. A full serenade. While you are doing your business, it will play a jazz rendition of “What the World Needs Now is Love.” And it’s delightful.
When you’re finished, the toilet won’t flush until you wash your hands. Yep. The toilet encourages good hygiene by waiting until after the washing to activate the flush. Then, you wave your hands at the door, the bathroom thanks you, and you are on your way. And to top it all off, they are pretty dang clean.
It’s such a weirdly pleasant and futuristic experience that sometimes I find myself wandering into them just to be in a talking, singing bathroom. Even the bathrooms here are friendly and it highlights how hospitable Wellingtonians are to their out-of-town or out-of-country guests.
4. The coffee
This is probably no surprise. Wellington, and New Zealand in general, is known for its coffee. But I wasn’t prepared for my sudden romance with the dreamboat that is The Flat White (cue the string section of the orchestra). I can’t get enough of it. It’s the most velvety deep espresso with milk that is frothed in a way that makes you feel like you are sipping summer clouds. I know that it seems like I just described a latte, but compared to a flat white, a latte is pretty much a wimp.
And as a result of this to-die-for coffee, I’ve become a total addict. I’m up to two cups a day of these heavenly drinks, and the guys at the Kaffee Eis next door now recognize me and give me tips on what to do in Wellington while they grind the coffee beans. Note: Kaffee Eis is genius because the name means both coffee and ice cream in German, and this shop sells both of those things. So I can even get my beloved Affogato on special occasions!
So yes. Wellington coffee. I love thee.
I am swooning over here, can you tell?
5. The Markets
I love the Wellington street markets. On the first Friday night that Tricia, Amy, and I wandered down Cuba Street, we followed some amazing smells to a side street that was filled with food from all over the world. Every so often along the street, there would be a live performer or band, adding to the music of people enjoying the night. After getting a lamb rosti and a cup of mint tea, I was relieved to hear that I could come back every Friday night to enjoy this scene.
The following Sunday, I met up with my new friend Lisa to check out the food markets next to Te Papa, which is only a short distance from my apartment. This market, much like the Friday one, had food trucks brimming with delicious food, enthusiastic live music, and produce from local farmers. The best part? The food is sooo much cheaper than the local grocery store (as much as I enjoy the shopping experience there). Tricia and I’ve decided that we’ll get our fruit and vegetables for the week there each Sunday.
In general, I love the contagious happiness that seems to float in the air at these markets. We’re in the fresh air next to the sea, enjoying simple but important community builders–the sharing of food, talent, and good cheer. Can’t wait until Sunday!
So those are five little things I love about Wellington so far. If you’ve been or lived here, comment below on the little things you love that I should keep a big eye out for.