I just love New Zealand.
People are so friendly here. I cannot leave the house without someone striking up a conversation about my accent, cowboy boots, or general American-ness. And it's always welcoming.
But it goes beyond simple conversation. It goes into business.
For example, the mattress in our University-provided house is not comfortable. I don't want to bite the hand that feeds me, or seem ungrateful. However, both Chris and I had limbs falling asleep because the mattress was too hard.
So, we went to a mattress store in search of something like a Thermapedic topper to soften our mattress. The saleswoman showed us everything she could possibly sell us, but instead of trying to convince us to buy them, she did something weird. She said, "Why don't you go buy a cheap foam mattress topper?" She then directed us to the Target-equivalent store where we could by something for 1/6 the price of anything she had to offer. And it solved our problem.
Can you imagine that service in ANY mattress store in the US?
Then, yesterday afternoon, we drove up to the Waipara wine region. A short 40 minute drive north of Christchurch brings you to the Mudhouse winery. We often buy Mudhouse Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlborough region in the US, and it is certainly a favorite. But this outlet of Mudhouse is in Waipara - a smaller region that mostly grows Pinot and Riesling grapes.
We got there 15 minutes before they closed, and the woman who hosted us did not rush us at all. For $5 each, we ended up tasting 16 different wines from both the Mudhouse and Waipara Hills label. Our hostess tried to focus on things we could not get in the US. And it was great. Waipara Hills, as it turns out, only makes winners. Major winners. With a very expensive (for New Zealand) $20 price point. We might have to become importers ourselves, because it usually only goes to Europe.
Our wine-serving hostess stayed open an extra 30 minutes for us to finish tasting. Then she asked where we were going for dinner. Because she was concerned that the brew pub we had picked might not be open on a Monday, she called ahead for us. When we arrived, our table was already set and they had two baskets of toys sitting out for the kids.
Oh, and the food was exceptional. Among other things, a venison carpaccio with shaved beetroot cooked in mulling spices and a chocolate oil garnish that hits a top 10 most memorable dishes.
Does it get much better?
I'm telling you, I love this country!