Māori etiquette for everyday life in New Zealand

If you’ve moved or you’re planning to move to New Zealand, you’re no doubt aware of the unique culture of this beautiful country. With a mixture of traditional Māori culture, British colonial roots and now a large diversity of other cultures that have immigrated here, they’ve all been mixed together to create unique traditions that are present in our everyday lives.

As an expat moving to New Zealand, they’ll be Māori traditions and etiquette you will need to follow, as you immerse yourself into workplaces and social outings.

We have listed the top three things you need to be aware of taking on the New Zealand culture in everyday life.

1. Formal greetings

In New Zealand, formal Māori situations can occur at work, universities and in the community. If you work for a public organisation, such as a council or District Health Board, usually the staff orientation will include a traditional Māori welcome. During these situations, it’s normal to shake hands and hongi (press noses briefly) and sometimes women will kiss the person on the cheek. If in doubt, look to see what others are doing and usually the host will guide you on the appropriate actions to follow. In a casual setting, just shaking hands or a kiss on the check for women is appropriate.  

2. Prayers (Karakia)

The most common aspect of traditional Māori practices you’ll come across in your everyday life in New Zealand is Karakia (prayers). Māori are very spiritual with the true essence of a karakia being a chant to invoke spiritual guidance and protection. Before meetings, a karakia will be said to ensure a favourable outcome and again at the closing of the meeting. A karakia is always said before eating, which is a blessing of the food and those who prepared it. No matter your religious background, it’s courteous to remain silent and don’t start eating before a karakia has been said.

3. Haka

During special occasions, like an award ceremony or a graduation, as a sign of respect, it’s traditional for a Māori family to do a haka (war dance). This is best understood by the haka our national rugby team The All Blacks perform at the start of every game. The haka performed by The All Blacks is a challenge to the opposing team, whereas the haka’s you will see in everyday life will be as a great sign of respect. When the haka is being performed, you may see people sticking out their tongues and rolling their eyes back into their heads. For a first time seeing this, it may be shocking, frightening or even funny. If you’re ever faced with a haka, being performed directly in front of you, it’s respectful to be expressionless. It’s gravely disrespectful to laugh or joke about the performance.

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