Kiwis, Kiwis and Kiwis: The People of New Zealand

He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata! He tangata! He tangata!

What is the most important thing in the world? It is people! It is people! It is people!

Maori Proverb

Korubrighter

A koru I found while walking in the bush

One of the most important, fundamental differences between England and New Zealand is one that is often overlooked when juxtaposed with the landscape, wildlife and weather: it is the people.

The people of New Zealand are called kiwis. This can cause a certain amount of confusion among tourists, as there are two other distinct entities in New Zealand that also bear the name kiwi:

1)      The endangered, native bird that is a symbol of New Zealand, the equivalent of Australia’s kangaroo.

2)      The fuzzy, green fruit also known as the Chinese gooseberry, the growing of which is an important industry in New Zealand.

Despite this, kiwis (the people) are in no way confused about their identity. They are a proud nation of do-it-yourselfers, tough and laidback at the same time. They embody the spirit of adventure – a relic, I suspect, from the colonial days of old, when you had to both help and accept help from your neighbours to survive. Above all, it is their attitude – their niceness – that sets them apart from their distant cousins in Mother England.

To illustrate just how different New Zealanders are from the English, I’d like to tell you a story, something of my personal journey since immigrating to New Zealand at the age of ten. You see, I was first awakened to how different kiwis are on my first day of school here. As usually happens when a new kid shows up in class, the teacher introduced me by getting me to stand up in front of everyone.

“This is Abigail. She’s from England. Abigail, why don’t you tell us a bit about what England’s like?”

So, shaking under the scrutiny of thirty pairs of eyes, I tried desperately to think – what was England like? For me, it was just normal, a more overcast version of New Zealand. It was August at the time this was happening; I’d just taken a plane ride from the middle of summer to the middle of winter, but the weather hadn’t changed. It was hot in New Zealand. Well, not hot for New Zealand, but hot to me. I was sweating, yet somehow frozen. My throat was stuck.

“I know,” the teacher said, gently. “How about the class asks you questions – would that be easier? Does anyone have a question about England?”

Of course, I don’t remember everything they asked me, but how could I forget these four questions:

 “Is there grass in England?”

 “Do you speak English in England?”

 “Do you have a butler?”

 “Have you met the Queen?”

I had come to a country of morons.

I suppose they were only ten, and New Zealand is rather cut off from the rest of the world. Some of them must have only seen England on the news, or in American cartoons. They must have thought my home country consisted of the brown and grey streets of London stretching from coast to coast, populated purely by toffs… Not that they were familiar with the word toff. I’d grown up physically and culturally so far away from the world they thought I’d come from! They all thought I was posh, not realising how ridiculous the idea was, or quite how much it offended my Northern, working-class roots.

Me

A younger me looking not quite at home in the New Zealand bush

I soon found that what kiwis lack in general knowledge, they make up for in moxy.

The first break time of the day, or, as kiwis call it, morning tea, arrived. When I’d entered the classroom, I’d seen that most of the other kids had bare feet, which I’d thought was strange, but maybe it was the custom to remove shoes inside wherever you were, so I’d taken my sandals off, leaving my socks on. Now I hurriedly put my shoes back on, realising as I did that no one else was. They were actually going outside in bare feet!

You see, kiwi feet are like hobbit feet – though in most cases less hairy – with thick, rubbery soles. My classmates were not just walking across grass and smooth concrete, but across gravel and bark chippings! One of them had a bit of broken glass stuck in the ball of their foot and, when I asked if they were all right, they responded, “Yeah, it’s been in there a while.”

After a few days, some of my classmates coaxed me into taking my shoes and socks off outside. They ended up having to carry me, as my soles were as delicate as a baby’s bottom. They haven’t improved much in the last eleven years.

Another thing I discovered during those first few days of school is how confusing the kiwi accent is. My classmates decided to play a game of hide-and-seek, but, as I wasn’t yet familiar with the layout of the school, one girl offered to team up and hide with me.

“Come on,” she said. “Let’s go and get on the dick.”

I blinked. “On the what?”

“The dick.”

I looked around, bewildered.

“That dick over there.”

She was pointing, but I still couldn’t see what she meant.

“The big dick! The big, brown dick!”

My mind reeled.

“All that wood! It’s right in front of us, by the school hall.”

And before the unintended puns could get any worse, I clicked. “Oh, you mean the deck.”

Skimming Stones

Two friends, one a kiwi and one a British immigrant like me, skimming stones on the shore

I got used to the accent fairly quickly, and could soon tell it apart from the Australian accent, something you need to learn fast if you want to survive in New Zealand. Kiwis are very touchy when it comes to Australians, like us Brits with the French, I suppose. Except Brits are nothing like the French, whereas Australians and New Zealanders are practically the same people. ***Ducks a volley of ANZAC biscuits*** (ANZAC biscuits are what the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps were given as rations in the First World War, and it was said they were so hard it was better to lob them at the enemy than eat them.)

My nana, who now lives in New Zealand with us, once met a kiwi on the London Underground. By this point, she’d visited us enough times to recognise the person’s accent, and the person was so grateful that Nana hadn’t assumed they were Australian!

Speaking of the London Underground, let me fast forward my story a few years. I was now seventeen years old, in my final year of high school, (or college, as kiwis call it,) and my drama class was going on a very expensive field trip to England, to perform a show at a performing arts school in Devon, to watch a few musicals at the West End, and to take in the sights. I hadn’t been back to England since leaving it seven years previously, and I’d got used to how safe New Zealand is – you don’t have to be paranoid about locking things or walking through parks on your own at night. Well, in most places, anyway.

After travelling around the southwest of England and encountering mysterious, new wonders like squirrels and stinging nettles, my kiwi classmates and I made it to London. We were on a tube train, packed in like sardines in the middle of this sweltering, July rush-hour, when the train stopped and a dry announcement came on:

“We apologise for the delay, as a body is being removed from the line.”

Immediately, the kiwis began to freak out. The Londoners, on the other hand, didn’t bat an eyelid; they remained engrossed in their newspapers, or the Underground map opposite them. There were so many pairs of eyes around, but none of them would move in case – horror of horrors – they ended up crossing paths with another pair. I had been living in New Zealand long enough to find this unsettling.

Then, when the train got going again, the motion sent me stumbling into a middle-aged woman.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said.

“WATCH IT!” she growled, turning her back on me.

That moment shocked me. A kiwi would never do that. They’d smile at you and say, “That’s all right.”

I needed reassurance. I needed some kindness. I tried to catch someone’s eye and smile. They weren’t having it. I realised I’d changed. In this aspect, at least, I’d become a New Zealander.

A sneaky photo of my grandpa relaxing like a kiwi on our driveway

A sneaky photo of my grandpa relaxing like a kiwi on our driveway

I used to be like those Brits on the tube. Cold, isolated, mistrusting of every stranger I met. I remember when I was a child – quite a young child, like four or five – my family and I were walking over a hill in the Lake District. Whenever we walked past fellow hikers coming in the opposite direction, my dad would greet them, and they’d politely say something back. I didn’t understand.

“Why did you talk to them, Dad? You don’t know them!”

Dad explained that there was an unspoken truce amongst mountaineers. Everyone on the mountain was your friend. I found it very strange and quite uncomfortable. Then we moved to New Zealand and it turned out that kiwis are like that with everyone they pass on the street. It’s just nice. If you drop your shopping, you know that someone will stop to help you pick it up, and they won’t nick it. If you’re waiting for a bus, people will ask you how your day’s been. I’ve noticed it is changing in the busy centre of Auckland city, which is unfortunate, but in general it’s far nicer to step out of your front door in New Zealand than it is in England.

Maybe kiwis are so nice because there are so few of them. They aren’t elbowing each other out of the way to get to where they need to be. The population only exceeded the four million mark a few years ago, and the landmass of the country is larger than the whole of Great Britain, which has a population of sixty-something million. When my family was travelling around the South Island in a campervan, we kept bumping into people we knew from the North Island, on holiday just like us.

Kiwis are generally outdoorsy-types: they like hiring campervans and sleeping in tents. They like doing silly, adventurous things. They are responsible, for example, for the invention of commercial bungee jumping, jet-boating and zorbing. Of these, I’ve only done jet-boating, but I’ve done it a few times in various locations because it’s so incredibly fun. My favourite jet-boating experience was when we were on our Great New Zealand Campervan Holiday, on the Shotover River, which was one of the locations Peter Jackson used for the River Anduin in The Fellowship of the Ring. Not only was this the fastest jet-boat ride I’ve ever been on, I kept expecting to see the Argonath looming up on either side of us!

So anyway, that’s kiwis for you. Not fruit or birds, but a genuinely nice ilk of people. Completely mad, of course, but wonderfully mad. Caring and relaxed, yet hardy and adventurous; fiercely independent, yet always happy to help. Perhaps the difference in attitude between Brits and kiwis can be summed up like this:

Something bad happens. The Brit thinks, ‘At least it’s something I can complain about later.’ The kiwi thinks, ‘It doesn’t matter.’

A New Zealand sunset

A New Zealand sunset

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18 thoughts on “Kiwis, Kiwis and Kiwis: The People of New Zealand

  1. Jaden says:

    Maybe it’s also the spirit of the island .. I don’t know. But regarding my life experience you could, in your story above, switch NZ with Java and England with Holland. Holland is crowded but Java is twice as crowded as Holland is. It’s something in the nature, and or in the nature of the people. Who knows?

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  2. LucytheKiwi says:

    I’m a New Zealander and my family has been here since I dunno, a few hundred years give or take? But I’m so pleased to read this. It kinda shows how my everyday lifestyle is so much nicer that most places in the world! And I can’t believe that Brit kids wear shoes outside at school!!! And thanks for the fun fact about our lanass being larger that Great Britain. How do they fit 60 million people in such a small place!!! And we say deck not dick hahahaha!! And I know your not all posh but Brits do all sound like it. And your right, never confuse a Kiwi with an Aussie! It is the most offensive thing ever!!! Great read! Thank you

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    • kiwipom91 says:

      we don’t just wear shoes outside at school, we wear them inside at school. you’d go barefoot in your own garden, or at the beach, but definitely not on street! (too much dog muck and glass, for starters. it’s also too cold most of the time.)

      it’s hilarious that you think all brits sound posh – even brummies and scousers! (that would be people from birmingham and people from liverpool respectively.) it would be like someone here thinking a poor westie was the height of sophistication and had been taught manners fit for having tea with the queen.

      posh people are ridiculed in britain – just watch the monty python sketch upper class twit of the year!

      you really do have to get tuned in to another country’s accent. i mean for the first few weeks, “deck” honestly did sound like “dick” to me, and it still does occasionally when someone with a ridiculously strong kiwi accent speaks.

      as for the lifestyle… wherever you live in the world, you’ll complain about the government and things being too expensive. there’s good and bad in every country and comparatively, looking at everything, new zealanders have it good.

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      • Ana says:

        Yes as a kiwi I pretty much agree with what you have said. I live in the US now and the other day walking bare foot, I complained my soles had become to soft and needed to toughen them up. Only one thing to say is I have never minded being called Australian and was often ask if I was when I lived in England. So some of us don’t mind. Enjoyed this article. Thanks.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Mysty says:

      I am from England, always have lived here, and I’ve been totally freaked out at the idea of going everywhere barefoot!!!!!! Please don’t misunderstand me – no negative criticism is meant, I’m sure it’s a good thing in New Zealand – but, as the saying here goes, I’ve been trying to “get my head around it!” I would have thought it would be something likely to get a person walking into A and E, (Accident and Emergency at the local hospital), within a day or two, with cuts gone bad or frostbite. It would mostly be too cold here, is the first thought which first comes to mind, whereas, I know NZ is generally significantly warmer, but wouldn’t the pavements and ground everywhere be too tough and scratch and hurt your soles? Here, there would be sure to be lots of glass and sharp stuff. But, I guess the answer to that is maybe that NZ is tidier outside, re glass and hurtables, and that anyway your soles toughen up if you’ve always walked about barefoot, whereas, we Brits go from baby bootees to shoes with nothing else so the soles of our feet are “as soft as a baby’s bottom”. Once, I got a blister on my heel from badly fitting new shoes, which quickly turned septic, and had my foot swell up to twice it’s size and go black with bruises – and I went to A and E – that was with one of only very few foot blisters I’ve ever had, so wearing no shoes at first seemed a dangerous idea to me. Even at home I’m never without covered feet – I’ve always adored the comfort of my home slippers, and have a treasured selection of warm yarn socks to wear with them at home too. Also, I always have to have a hot water bottle for my feet in bed during the colder months, (which have just started in the last couple of days). I guess, though, it must feel very comfortable to walk around barefoot – if your feet aren’t sensitively soft and providing it’s not too cold.

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      • kiwipom91 says:

        The town I lived in when I first moved to New Zealand was small and rural. People don’t usually go round cities barefoot. I never got used to going barefoot even in that small, rural own. My mum’s main objection to it was if you have dirty shoes, you can take them off before entering the house, but you can’t take off dirty feet!

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  3. […] Brits are so cold by comparison. They also whinge while kiwis maintain a more positive attitude. The people of New Zealand are not so judgemental – image is less important to them – and anything goes. New Zealand has […]

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  4. […] For the next part of the story, in which I recount my first day at my new school in New Zealand and my brief return to England years later, see Kiwis, Kiwis and Kiwis: The People of New Zealand. […]

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  5. […] Kiwis, Kiwis and Kiwis: The People of New Zealand […]

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    • Kate says:

      Bullying is allowed at schools and in workplaces.

      Like

      • kiwipom91 says:

        There were times at high school when I was being bullied right before certain teachers’ eyes, and still they did nothing. Maybe they thought they were doing me a favour – sometimes if a teacher punishes someone for bullying, that person will go on to bully the victim even more; maybe they thought they were helping me to “toughen up”. Still, it would have been nice to know that SOMEONE was on my side.

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      • Mysty says:

        I think bullying should always be challenged, both because it’s damaging to the victim and because otherwise the child bully will think it’s acceptable and probably grow up to be an adult bully, spreading misery and fear and blocking people from dignity, peace and self fulfilment. I feel for you Abbie. That was not fair on you at all, and bullying is AWFUL – it can affect children’s mental health, it often scars people pyschologically for life, and it can even kill, as far as I have seen, so it should never be ignored, I don’t think!

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  6. mancreject says:

    Lovely story. I too am a English Northerner and I spent time in New Zealand. I loved it and I loved the Kiwis. I live in Ireland now and it is so similar to the north island. I met a Maori fella over here and he moved in to my house for around a year. A very sound bloke, a good laugh and he taught me a fair bit of the Maori language! I liked New Zealand so much that I even watch Shortland Street every day (it’s crap but I love the accents!). If I could live in NZ I would go right now just with shirt on my back. You’re lucky, mate. I’m jealous of you but in a nice way. Well, good luck to ya and keep up the writing. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. […] stop talking about my chipolatas, about how we had them with cranberry jelly at Christmas… The first time I returned to England, (seven years after we had left,) I was most excited about tasting my chipolatas again. Mum warned […]

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  8. […] talked about this before, (in Kiwis, Kiwis and Kiwis: The People of New Zealand.) I met a kid who’d had a slither of broken glass stuck in their foot for the past few days. They […]

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  9. Jona says:

    Greetings! I’ve been following your blog for a long time now and finally got the courage to go ahead and give you a shout out
    from Kingwood Tx! Just wanted to say keep up the fantastic job!

    Like

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