after a few weeks in a new zealand, i'm starting to wish they had a "brochure for clueless americans" which is handed out on arriving flights along with the immigration cards and customs declarations.
sure, i expected the usual differences that you find in the course of international travel -- driving on the left side of the road, the way cars will painstakingly stop for you at zebra crossings (and not give too much of a damn about avoiding you when you're not in one), and removing the "0" when calling a NZ phone number from overseas.
the thing which threw me off at first, and then proved to be a source of fascination as i learned more about it, has been the postal system. new zealand has opened up their mail system to private competition, which evidently means that any company can start offering mail service, but the NZ government mail service (New Zealand Post, who owns a bank called Kiwibank and has them operate out of their post offices, which also double as bank branches) is still around as well. in practice this means that there are (at least) three main brands of mailboxes -- DX Mail, Universal Mail, and New Zealand Post. (and the actual list of authorized postal operators is far longer) all of these companies issue their own stamps, which are carried by different stores, so when buying postcard stamps it's always a bit of a surprise to see which brand of stamps you'll get.
none of these mailboxes indicate that they will do anything with mail stamped with another company's stamps besides chuckle, shake their heads at the futility of man, and then throw the mail into the roaring fire keeping them cold in through the oncoming kiwi winter. however, i've been informed that the mail put into the wrong company's mailboxes DOES eventually make it to its destination (my last round of postcards were proof of that), but that it usually adds about a week to the delivery time.
my favorite part about this is that the list of postal operators apparently includes some indivduals and very small companies who are a fully authorized postal serivce in themselves... now if i can just find someone from "New Zealand Farm Show Limited" to deliver my next postcard home!