A British Person who’s Never Been to New Zealand’s View of New Zealand
Three months ago, my boyfriend and I went to England. I was born in England, but have lived in New Zealand since I was ten years old. My boyfriend was born in New Zealand.
Despite having lived in New Zealand for over half my life, I still consider England home. I was surprised, therefore, to find myself feeling very protective of New Zealand. Whenever a British person referred to it or any of its sons as Australian, for example, I felt more than the mild stirrings of Kiwi indignation.
It’s strange. I’ve always laughed at the New Zealander’s desperation to be relevant in the wider world, but when I hear someone say that Lorde is from Australia…! I mean I’m not even especially fond of Lorde’s music, much as I admire her as a person, but she’s definitely from New Zealand. Which is not Australia. It’s a completely separate country.
Before I moved to New Zealand, I didn’t know it was separate from Australia. In fact, I thought it was ‘that little triangle bit at the bottom of Australia’ – Tasmania. I thought it was a swampy, Lost World kind of place with recently-surviving dinosaurs and a myriad of volcanoes constantly spewing rivers of lava. How all the sheep survived that, I didn’t give a thought to.
Now, you can forgive a small child for thinking this, but I didn’t realise that so many British adults still think New Zealand is part of Australia. They think it’s a backward place of rudimentary technology. One person I talked to was shocked when I told them that New Zealand was the first country to give women the vote.
“Oh, New Zealand, eh?” said another person, sitting on a park bench in York. “That’s full of dangerous animals, isn’t it?”
“No, that’s Australia,” I said for what felt like the thousandth time. “All we’ve got to worry about in New Zealand are orcs.” (I became apt at pre-empting the jokes. Good thing I like Lord of the Rings.)
At least Brits get some New Zealand stereotypes right. The weather is quite nice and the whole country is rugby-mad. And, yes, it is green – although, to be honest, Brits are probably better at recycling, actually.
To be fair, this view of New Zealand isn’t just held by British people. When we were in Germany, we stayed at a hotel that recorded our home address as ‘… Auckland, New Zealand, Australia, Oceania’.
We just so happened to be in Britain at the same time as the Glasgow Commonwealth Games. We watched the opening ceremony, not knowing whether to laugh or cringe at the devastation of the Proclaimers’ song I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles), and eagerly awaiting the entrance of New Zealand. What a proud moment. Lorde was played during Australia’s entrance, and New Zealand was treated as just another small, insignificant Pacific island.
That’s when it hit me: New Zealand kind of is just another small, insignificant Pacific island. Britain is in line at the front of the world’s stage; New Zealand is beneath its notice. Yes, it’s a dream holiday destination, and it does produce some very nice wines, but it doesn’t matter.
This realisation was a bit of a shock to the system. When you live in New Zealand, you’re constantly being told how great New Zealand is. The New Zealand media works to give the impression that the world takes more notice of New Zealand than it actually does.
At least when people do notice New Zealand, it’s usually with a benevolent eye.
“Oh, you’re from New Zealand, are you?” people in Britain would say to me. Then they’d say, “Why would you want to come back here?”