We can tell a lot about a nation’s psyche by their approach to queuing.
In a nutshell
- Kiwis have an ingrained rule-based nature that relates to fairness and respect.
- While New Zealand is doing relatively well on the world-stage, Kiwis believe we can be doing better as a country.
- Individuals often feel powerless to enact real change. Traditionally this responsibility has fallen on the government, but increasingly people are looking for businesses to invoke change.
- There are some great examples of Kiwi businesses already playing a role, but there's potential to do more. It’s no longer enough for a brand to say it cares. People will rally around tangible actions not hollow statements, and they’ll reciprocate when they feel that something positive is being done.
The infamous British queue with all its unspoken rules and protocol is a hot bed of seething resentment against the class system, using the rules of queuing as a way of democratising access to good stuff.
The Germans employ their practical nature and get ahead of the queue by putting their towels on the pool chairs before most people have finished their breakfast. In the US queues are jolly events with lots of conversation and unsolicited advice on what to do when you get to the front of the queue.
So how do Kiwis queue? Generally politely, often generously, somewhat intolerant of queue pushers because that’s just not playing fair. But it’s not about fairness related to the injustice of a class system – instead it comes down to the ingrained rule-based nature of Kiwis, particularly around fairness and respect.
Playing fair means having a level playing field
We used the term ‘social equivalence’ to encapsulate Kiwi’s acute sense of fairness when describing this Kiwi Cultural Code. In a relatively young country which doesn’t have an historic class system, it’s been an important part of what has become embedded in the Kiwi DNA.
Kiwis believe in social equivalence and we beat ourselves up about our failings in this area, despite being well ahead of the rest of the world. Interestingly, new migrants to New Zealand see Kiwis’ making bigger strides towards social equivalence than born and bred Kiwis do. The new New Zealanders in our Listening Project study were blown away by their experiences in New Zealand, everything from not having to call their boss ‘sir’ to the generosity of strangers.
Our work with these new Kiwis was characterised by effusively positive reports of how they are treated by colleagues, employees, neighbours and government organisations. Of course, there are lots of exceptions and these are often the ones that get reported in the media, but the majority experience social equivalence at a level that they have never experienced before in their home country.
Empowered not entitled
Levelling the playing field for New Zealanders means empowering people to succeed and to share in the good life that our country provides. Yet this is tempered by not having a traditional old-world class system resulting in an intuitive resistance to entitlement at all levels of society. Talking to New Zealanders we heard many stories that reflect a desire to see people provided opportunities, for there to be equality and lack of discrimination, and that everyone should benefit from the prosperity of the country and of New Zealand business. But there is a but…
“Equality is good and getting better, but entitlement is a whole different kettle of fish. You still need to have respect.”
“You need to have a pecking order based on experience. They’ve still got their training wheels on but they want to be the boss. They need do their time.”
“There is a tension between having the right to a fair go and entitlement – particularly when we’re talking about young people. It’s fine to have a voice and feel empowered but you need to respect and listen to your elders.”
The ‘but’ stems from a tension between the underlying driver of the Kiwi social equivalence code – that everyone has the right to a fair go – and that doesn’t sit well when we feel that groups in society are disadvantaged. Yet people see that the country is doing well, business is doing well, there is growing support for Maori rights and equal pay for women, Kiwis give more to charity than most other OECD nations – all the indicators point in one direction. The ‘but’ is the evidence that not everyone is benefitting from our country’s progress – so whose fault is that?
Because people feel personally powerless to make significant changes to society they of course look to their Government to fix the problem. However, the tide is turning and there’s a growing murmur that it’s time for business to step up to the plate as an employer, a significant part of local communities, a driver of behavioural standards, and as a leader instead of waiting for Government to implement change.