Accurate Body Language Interviews New Zealander Deb Kinvig regarding the Hongi, Haka, and Other Cultural Aspects

Deb Kinvig Headshot

Hear the Words; Understand the Body Language!

Originally from New Zealand, Deb Kinvig grew up in a multi-cultural community, near the capital of Wellington. As a registered psychiatric nurse, former police office, and professional executive coach, Deb developed excellent body language skills to accurately read people.

Throughout her career, understanding nonverbal communication helped Deb to accurately access situations, safety, and danger when:

  • policing
  • working in mental health with forensic psychiatric clients
  • managing maximum and medium secure units in the Provincial Hospital for the government of British Columbia.

The Body Always Tells the Truth.

Listen to the words; but, more importantly, understand the body within the cultural context.

Accurate Body Language invites you to listen to Deb’s interview, as she shares cultural and body language information about her native New Zealand and her current home in Vancouver, British Columbia:

Where in the world is New Zealand?

New Zealand

New Zealanders / Kiwis / Maori People:

Citizens of New Zealand are multi-ethnic and are known as the indigenous Māori or Kiwis from European descent. New Zealanders are warm, friendly, soft-spoken, and welcoming people. Initially, they may appear shy or reserved. They are gracious people and enjoy hosting guests and tourists with excellent customer service. The three official languages of New Zealand are:

  • Māori (Polynesian language)
  • English (day-to-day business)
  • New Zealand Sign Language.

Māori language and expressions intermingled with English can be very confusing to visitors.

Māoris are natural performers with a rich history that can be trace back many generations. The Māori heritage represents important connection and traditional lineage back to Māori royalty. The Māori culture is extensively expressed by all New Zealanders.

New Zealand HAKA:

The ancestral Māori haka is a fierce, pre-battle, warrior chant, and challenge performed by the Māori tribe to proclaim unified alpha-male power and to intimate the enemy. In loud cadence and vigorous synchronized fashion, the Māoris shout out the haka words and display powerful expanded body postures, slapping of the hands, pounding of the chests, and stamping of the feet.

In modern times, New Zealanders continue the traditional haka performance:

  • before sporting events (e.g., All Blacks rugby team)
  • to welcome distinguished guests
  • to acknowledge great achievements
  • in school performances
  • and on special occasions or funerals

Deb Kinvig offers the following cultural and body language tips when visiting New Zealand:

Tip #1:
When conducting business, dress in traditional, conservative (i.e., darker colored suits and dresses) business attire. Bring your umbrella and raincoat for rainy weather conditions. Dress casually when not attending to business related work. Arrive on time for scheduled meetings. Understand that the concept of time being fluid and that meetings can often be late starting and concluding.

Tip #2:
Māori people have an traditional, endearing, and extremely close nose and forehead touch with eyes closed upon greeting one another, called the HONGI. This greeting may also be accompanied with a handshake.

Americans are not accustomed to the Hongi greeting, and its physical nose-to-nose touch may be considered too intimate and uncomfortable. 

Males should wait for females to initiate the Hongi greeting or extend her hand for a firm handshake with good eye contact. Women shake other women’s hands.

Tip #3:
Initial greetings may include surnames and titles, “Hello, Mr/Ms/Mrs…,” Once rapport has been established, follow the Kiwis’ lead to less formal conversational tone, and let the Kiwis initiate an invitation to address them by first names, rather than titles or surnames.

Tip #4:
In New Zealand culture, family and interpersonal relationships are very important. Therefore, upon greeting and getting to know them, ask politely about their family. Once they trust and accept you, you are accepted until behavior is shown to be untrustworthy.

Tip #5:
Greetings between friends is a tipping of the head in an upward nod of acknowledgement.

Tip #6:
Common social greetings and phrases include:

  • Pakeha (New Zealanders of European heritage) use greetings of:
    • “Hello, how are you?” for formal
    • “Hello or Hi” for informal.
    • “Gidday (Good day),” “Yeah, Gidday,” or “Gidday, How’s it going?”
  • Māori may use the following:
    • ceremonial greeting, “Kia Ora (Welcome).”
    • “Tena koe,” and “Tena koutou” are polite “Hello” greetings to one, two, or many people, respectively.
    • Goodbye, “Haere ra (Farewell),” “E noho ra (Stay well),” or “Ka kite ano (See you later).”

Tip #7:
If you have been invited by New Zealanders for a dining meal, consider “bringing a plate” of food, side-dish, or desert to share. 

As the native hosts, let them indicate to you where you should sit at the table.

Traditionally, elders may bless the meal before eating. Meals are often served ‘family-style.’ 

Keep hands above table, and elbows off table. Do not sit on the dining table. Eating and table manners are European / Continental with fork in left hand and knife in right when cutting food. When finished with your meal, place knife and fork parallel with handles facing toward the right on your plate.

Tip #8:
In business interactions, good eye contact is acceptable. However, when interacting with an elder, show respect with less direct eye gaze.

Tip #9:
Māoris shy away from being the center of attention. However, the youth love extroverted American culture, especially African American culture.

Tip #10:
In both the American and New Zealander cultures, the ‘thumbs-up’ and ‘OK’ hand gestures are considered positive hand gestures.

Tip #11:
It is offensive to give New Zealanders a backhanded “V” victory gesture, so do not make this mistake.

Tip #12:
It’s important to note that New Zealanders are generally soft spoken, gracious, people. Match and mirror their voice qualities. You may need to slow down your speech, and soften your voice volume. Fast, loud talkers are not appreciated, so don’t be too loud, brash, and overbearing. A sense of humor is often part of the New Zealand communication style.

Bonus New Zealand Tip:
Once you have earned their trust and friendship, New Zealanders have an “Open-Door” neighborly attitude. Guests are always welcomed to stop by (without telephoning or making an appointment) for a cup of tea!!

Although Deb now resides in Vancouver, British Columbia Canada, she keeps close family and business ties to New Zealand, her country of heritage returning home on a regular basis.  Deb specializes in supporting companies to grow people and successful business, with a focus on supporting excellence in leadership, and culturally safe business practices.

To contact Deb Kinvig, visit her website:


From Head-to-Toes, the BODY Always Shows…the TRUTH!!

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