Kōrero: Manners and social behaviour

Whārangi 7. A guide to modern New Zealand manners

Ngā whakaahua me ngā rauemi katoa o tēnei kōrero

This is a brief guide to behaviours that are generally considered polite in New Zealand in the early 2000s.

Hello and goodbye

Formal salutations are relatively straightforward: ‘Hello’ or ‘Good morning’ (or afternoon or evening) in greeting, and ‘Goodbye’ in farewell, accompanied by some pleasantry such as ‘Nice to meet you’ is always acceptable. Informal greetings are much more various and include ‘Hi’, ‘How are you?’, ‘Gidday’ and ‘How’s it going?’ Informal farewells include ‘Cheers’, ‘See you’, ‘See you later’, ‘Spot you later’, or simply ‘Later.’ It is increasingly common for both Māori and Pākehā New Zealanders to say ‘Kia ora’ in greeting and ‘Ka kite’ or ‘Ka kite anō’ in farewell.

Face to face

  • It is usual to shake hands with both men and women when meeting formally, but is not necessary in casual situations. In a formal Māori situation, shake hands and hongi (press noses briefly). Sometimes, women will kiss the person they are greeting on the cheek. When in doubt, do as others do.
  • It is considered impolite to dominate the conversation, boast about your accomplishments, interrupt constantly, talk about what you or others earn, or make critical comments about New Zealand or New Zealanders.
  • Treat everyone you meet with the same courtesy, using ‘Please’ when making requests and saying ‘Thank you’ for any service, whether or not you are paying for it.

Phones and electronic devices

  • Do not text, type, listen to or talk on a mobile device while you are interacting with other people – including in a shop, during a meeting or at a meal.
  • Do not interrupt a conversation to make or take a long telephone call.
  • Do not talk loudly on a cell phone in a confined public space such as a lift or bus.

Out and about

  • If there is a queue for any service, go to the end of it and wait your turn.
  • If going through a door, hold it open for people coming after you.
  • On public transport, offer your seat to anyone who is elderly, pregnant or disabled.
  • Wait for people to get out of a lift, train or bus before getting in.
  • On a busy footpath, keep left and walk at the same pace as others.

At the table

  • Wait for other people to be served, and wait for any preliminaries such as grace or a karakia (prayer), before starting to eat.
  • Remain at the table while other people are still eating, or excuse yourself if you have to leave.
  • Do not talk with your mouth full, or make avoidable noise when eating.
  • It is rude to criticise the food, and you should eat at least some of it. If you really don’t want to eat something, leave it on the side of your plate.
  • Do not sit on any table, whether or not it is used for food.

Social situations

  • Respond promptly to personal invitations, especially if you are asked to ‘RSVP’, and be punctual.
  • If you are asked to ‘bring a plate’ to a social function, take a plate of easily shared food such as savouries or cakes.
  • If you are invited to dinner at someone’s house, it is usual to take a bottle of wine, chocolates or flowers.
  • If you are in a group at a pub where people are taking turns to buy a round of drinks, do not leave before offering to buy a round.
  • Do not talk during speeches or performances, including film screenings.

Bodily functions and attire

  • Do not spit, belch, break wind or scratch in public.
  • Maintain good personal hygiene, especially if you are mixing closely with other people.
  • While clean and tidy casual clothes are generally acceptable, for some occasions you are expected to dress up. These include weddings, funerals and formal events where a dress code is specified on the invitation.

On the roads

As well as observing the Road code, you should be courteous to other drivers.

  • When traffic is heavy on a main road and drivers are attempting to turn into it from a side road or driveway, let them in if practical.
  • Watch out for vulnerable road users such as cyclists and motorcyclists, or people crossing roads, and treat them with consideration.
  • If another driver makes a mistake, do not shout insults, gesture, or lean on the horn, and resist the temptation to respond to such aggressive behaviour in kind.


If you inadvertently break any of these rules (and everyone does occasionally), apologise.

Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Nancy Swarbrick, 'Manners and social behaviour - A guide to modern New Zealand manners', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/manners-and-social-behaviour/page-7 (accessed 15 June 2024)

He kōrero nā Nancy Swarbrick, i tāngia i te 5 Sep 2013