New Zealand Eating Etiquette
ETIQUETTE & CUSTOMS
Meeting & Greeting
Greetings are casual, often consisting simply of a handshake and a smile.
Never underestimate the value of the smile as it indicates pleasure at meeting the other person.
Although New Zealanders move to first names quickly, it is best to address them by their honorific title and surname until they suggest moving to a more familiar level or they callyou by your first name.
Maori Meeting & Greeting
Maori stand on ceremony and have distinct protocols regarding how visitors should be welcomed and seen off.
If the business dealings are with a tribal group (Iwi) the welcoming protocols may be practiced through the process of Powhiri – a formal welcome that takes place on a Marae.
A Powhiri can take between 30 minutes to 2-3 hours depending on the importance of the event. It begins by calling the visitors onto the area infront of the traditional meeting house. Visitors should walk as a group and in silence expect if they have a responding caller to reply to the home peoples’ caller (usually an older woman).
A Powhiri dictates where people sit, in what position in their group, and who speaks.
In most cases, but not all, you will notice the men are seated forward and only males speak. There is a tension between the men and women on this matter and in a few places this has been resolved and you will see both genders stand to speak. In the interests of not causing friction in your business dealings, always follow the lead of the home people.
The welcoming speeches are given by the agreed speakers of the home people and always end with the most revered speaker or elder.
Speeches are given in the Maori language and each one accompanied by traditional song. You may not understand what is being said but you can rest assured it is likely to be from the best orators in the group and often very complimentary.
The visitors are expected to have at least one speaker reply on their behalf.
If possible, the speaker should prepare a learned opening in Maori – it is critical that he/she focus on the pronunciation. Mispronounced words often result in whispers and sniggers and is considered disrespectful. It is better to have a very short opening said well, than a long one said badly.
The speaker’s reply should never be about the detailed purpose of the visit nor should it be to self-promote as this would be considered arrogant.
The speaker should use the opportunity to briefly show respect to the place that they stand (ie. the location), to the houses (the traditional carved meeting house and dining room are named after ancestors and so are greeted accordingly), to greet the home people, and to explain where his/her group have come from (place is important to Maori). This should be followed by a song from the visitors’ country that the visitors’ group should sing together.
The Powhiri can be daunting to visitors and can be fraught with traps that may offend. This is why most visitors seek the assistance of a Maori person to ‘guide’ them.
Once the last elder of the home people has spoken, they will gesture the visitors to come forward in a line to shake hands, kiss (once) on the cheek or hongi (touch noses) with the home people.
Following this the kitchen is ready to call people in to eat.
Following the food, the meeting proper can begin.
While this seems to be a set routine, there have been many a Powhiri where variations of this occur. It pays to be vigilant and to follow the lead of others, or to discreetly ask questions if unsure.
Gift Giving Etiquette
If invited to a Kiwi's house, bring a small gift such as flowers, chocolates, or a book about your home country to the hosts.
Gifts should not be lavish and are opened when received.
New Zealanders are casual as is reflected in their table manners.
The more formal the occasion, the more strict the protocol.
Wait to be told where to sit.
Meals are often served family-style.
Keep your elbows off the table and your hands above the table when eating.
Table manners are Continental - hold the fork in the left hand and the knife in the right while eating. They will not look askance, however, if you adopt American table manners.
Do not chew with your mouth open.
Do not belch.
Turn off all your devices.
If leaving the table before the meal is finished, say "Excuse Me".
Indicate you have finished eating by laying your knife and fork parallel on your plate with the handles facing to the right.
Maori Dining Etiquette
Following a Powhiri, the visitors will be asked to the dining room (a separate building to the carved meeting house) to sit to eat at long tressle tables.
They should not eat until the food has been ‘blessed’ or an acknowledgement said by an elder of the home people even if the food is getting cold.
Visitors should try to enable the home people to sit amongst them to chat and get to know them while eating.
Often, younger people will be serving and older people will be working in the kitchen. It is important to realise that in most cases they are working voluntarily and it is appropriate to formally and publicly thank them near the close of the meal before leaving the dining room to begin the meeting. As a result of this, the visitors may be light-heartedly asked to sing.
To sing a song from your home country would show respect and thanks.