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Down under, above, and beyond

The next time you hear ‘love it or leave it,’ there is one place you might consider

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Attention, disheartened, disappointed, and disgruntled Democrats considering a move to New Zealand: If you go, you may have some adjustments to make, like learning how to smile at strangers, not tip in restaurants, drive without someone tailgating you, and get used to scenery that you usually find in postcards. My wife and I just returned from a month in New Zealand when the world heard that George W. Bush had won, and that thousands of Americans had flooded the New Zealand tourism web site with inquiries about relocation.

New Zealand is much like America, c. 1954, when common sense, courtesy, and trustworthiness had not yet been replaced by litigation, bureaucracy and political correctness.

So, let’s move to New Zealand and get away from all the mess in the U.S. No more politics, class warfare, all that stuff.

New Zealand for starters runs on money. Income tax is 25 percent minimum to 37 percent maximum. There is a 12.5 percent national sales tax on everything from shoelaces to sailboats, including food and medicine.

Property taxes go to the local government and pay for schools, but they’re under-financed so parents get a bill each year for the difference, and still there are bake sales and fund-raisers to fill the empty spots.

There is a government medical care plan but it is a long way less than Medicare or Medi-Cal. People die waiting for it, if they can’t afford private care. There is no unemployment compensation and job disability pay is tough to get. Social Security comes at age 65, and isn’t enough for a retiree to live on. And, no surprise that New Zealand is running a budget surplus of NZ$1 billion this year.

Politically, it has no president. It elects its own parliament; the winning party names the prime minister. But it is really a monarchy under Queen Elizabeth II, though it is edging toward declaring full independence, and there’s hot temper both ways.

The language is English, but not American. Vowels are sharp, and they speak fast: “What a mees� means “what a mess,� “the wailes� means “the whales,� and when someone says, “Ninifrt,� it means, “Nice night for it,� which in turn means, “Let’s have a beer.� It’s best to talk in person, but if you must use the phone, Kiwis are patient and will repeat the message if asked.

By the way, pay phones are everywhere and use prepaid cards that make cellphones unnecessary.

Numbers: They count in metrics, so it’s grams, meters, and liters, a far more precise way of measuring than our clumsy ounces, feet, cups, and quarts. Their money is in dollars, and they don’t have pennies.

Transportation: There isn’t a whole lot because there are only 4 million people to use it. That leaves the car, mostly four-door compact sedans with names you recognize but models you never heard of, like Honda Aspire, and you drive them on the left (pronounced “leeft�), at a highway speed limit of 100 kph (60 mph). When you see the roads, you understand: almost all are two lanes, one in each direction, with only a painted center line as a divider. Mountain roads there curve, twist, bend, and climb or descend, and there are plenty of places where 35 kph is all the faster you want to go. Gasoline (“petrol�) costs NZ$4.61 a gallon. New Zealanders use cars, but they don’t worship them they way we do. Plus, they walk a lot.

Generally, they have everything you need, but fewer varieties of it. New Zealand has supermarkets, with three kinds of apples, not six; four brands of shampoo, not a dozen, and within them no oily-straight, oily-curly, body-full, etc. There are also separate butcheries (meat markets) and dairies that sell butterfat-laden ice cream and candy along with an odd assortment of things like fly swatters, pencils, and postcards. A lot of stores are closed on Sunday. In small towns, even the one gas station is closed. The great shock will come in finding that you can get along without it.

Okay, let’s talk about toilets. Public toilets are everywhere, free, spotless, and with plentiful tissue. These are civilized people! However, they use separate faucets, and the hot is on the right, cold on the left (it must have something to do with being south of the Equator). To mix, put the plug in the drain and run a bowl.

How’s affordability? How about a family-size home on acreage for NZ$350,000? Okay, pioneers. Sell your San Luis Obispo house for US$600,000, pack your goods (but leave the appliances here because New Zealand runs on 220-volt current), and get your passport. Let’s go.

Free, you can stay three months. If you want to stay longer, you have to marry a New Zealander (some conditions may apply, as the warranties put it). Or you can put up NZ$5 million if you’re over 50 years of age, NZ$3 million if you’re under 50, and leave it with the government for two years.

If you’re under 30 and have a “wanted� skill, currently carpenters, welders, and machine operators because the country is in a building boom, you can get in free, if you have a job guarantee.

While your money is in escrow, you have to either get a job, or start a business with a minimum investment of NZ$500,000 — and one that does not compete with a current business. One couple started a movie theater in Akaroa, a bayside town that had none.

After two years, if it all works, you can apply for citizenship, if that’s what you want, or you can stay on as an alien. During the interim, however, you can stay in the country only 180 days out of every 360. New Zealand is two islands surrounded by the Pacific, so leaving it for a visit elsewhere is more than taking a ride into Mexico.

About marrying: when the two years is up, you’ll likely be asked a lot of questions, like what leg does your husband put in first when he puts on his pants, what kind of toothpaste does your wife use, because they don’t want “marriages of convenience.�

You can get through all of that, and learn the lingo, and find you really like living with a little less. But the biggest obstacle of all is understanding how different the U.S. is to other people. They look at America as a giant astride the world. While we voted on our own issues — gay marriage being the most local and vocal in many instances — they were looking for us to elect a world leader.

They can’t understand what we did. You may have a lot of explaining to do.

Marvin Sosna loves damn near everybody. He can be reached at mars2@charter.net.

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