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Comparing Family Life In New Zealand And The U.S.


We wished Dan Kois and his family bon voyage back in January. They were embarking on a year-long trip to check out how families operate in several different cultures to see if there were, perhaps, some tweaks the Kois could make to their own family unit. We promised we would check in along the way. And today we've caught up with the voices at their first three-month stop, Wellington, New Zealand.

Hey you, Dan.

DAN KOIS, BYLINE: Hello from all the way on the other side of the world.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Indeed. You've been in Wellington about two months now. How have you been fitting in?

KOIS: We fit in very well in that we, like Wellingtonians, enjoy nice weather and good beer. We've been fitting in badly in that, unlike Wellingtonians, we don't like hiking or being outside really at all.


KOIS: But we're adapting.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. I think you've gone to the wrong country then if you don't like the outdoors.

KOIS: We're trying to teach ourselves.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK. So I understand there's been some drama. It centered around a certain trampoline. We've got a bit of tape here of your kids playing on it. Let's give it a listen.



GARCIA-NAVARRO: That sounds like a whole lot of fun. What could be the problem?

KOIS: Well, so, you know, here in our neighborhood, the kids just really run around in packs. It's been quite astonishing to see, in a way that reminds me of my own childhood but doesn't remind me of my kid's childhood in Arlington, Va., where they've been growing up. You know, 9-year-olds walk together into town to buy ice cream together. And everyone uses the trampoline, this neighborhood tramp, as it's known. You know, some family got a cheap trampoline from a relative. And they installed it in someone else's front yard for the express purpose of having neighborhood kids jump on it whenever they want.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What about liability laws? This is like - I'm just hyperventilating being in America thinking about this.

KOIS: Right? Well - so that's what happens when we tell Americans this story. They all - they ask about liability. Right? That's the immediate American response. Surely some kid would break his arm on the neighborhood tramp, and then his parents would sue the parents who have it in their yard. And that would be it. That'd be the end of it. But in New Zealand, personal injury lawsuits are essentially nonexistent thanks to this government-run accident compensation board, which pays for any injuries stemming from any kind of accident, no matter whose fault it is. So no one's...


KOIS: ...No one's going to get sued over the neighborhood tramp. And our next-door neighbor, Gary, characterized this kind of parenting style as benign neglect supported by an entire community that also believes in benign neglect.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So this sounds like the opposite of helicopter parenting as we know it here.

KOIS: Yeah. It's not even - it's not even like drone parenting.


KOIS: It's a parenting sort of as the sun that your children orbit around and occasionally touch in on.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What are you taking away from this? Do you think that you just need to take a backseat sometimes?

KOIS: Sometimes. I'm also trying - I'm grappling a little bit with New Zealanders' sense that childhood should be an adventure of sorts. Sometimes that means facilitating hikes or other outdoor things for them to do. But sometimes it means letting them get out into the world and cause a little trouble.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So where are you going next? And, you know, what do you expect to find there?

KOIS: Next stop is the Netherlands. We expect to ride bikes a lot. We expect to have a house that is much more messy than any of our neighbors' houses and to be looked down upon as a result. And we really, really hope that our kids will pick up a little Dutch in their bilingual English-Dutch primary school because I'm definitely not picking up any Dutch.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Writer Dan Kois, thanks so much for speaking with us.

KOIS: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.