Here’s a story from when I first moved to New Zealand. I’m interested to know what people think about it. Am I making something out of nothing, or is it representative of an underlying issue in Kiwi culture?
First of all, let me say that I love New Zealand. I love living here; I want to grow old here. I genuinely believe that it’s one of the best countries in the world in which to live.
Last week, I had an article published on the New Zealand news site Stuff:
‘Bring a Plate’: Settling into life in New Zealand
In it, I share some of the experiences I had moving to New Zealand at the age of ten, in (what I hope comes across as) a light-heartedly humorous manner. I also state that fifteen years on, as I never lost my English accent, I’m still seen as an outsider and, as such, can’t say a single bad thing about New Zealand – even in jest – without being called a whinging pom and told to go home.
I went on to say that while New Zealand has its problems, every country has its problems, and, comparatively, New Zealand has it pretty damn good.
This sparked a rather interesting debate in the comments section.
You see, there are some New Zealanders who are so fiercely patriotic that they’re blind to New Zealand’s faults, and fall upon anyone who criticises any aspect of their country like a pack of angry wolves. These are the New Zealanders who have been fully brainwashed and indoctrinated into the Cult of New Zealand Infallible. The New Zealanders who comment with over the top smugness on the steady stream of articles aimed at massaging the New Zealand ego. (More on that later.)
And there are some New Zealanders who, possibly in an act of rebellion against the Cult, fall like a pack of angry wolves upon anyone who dares to suggest that New Zealand can actually be quite a nice place to live in.
(I’ve had my fair share of both commenting on this blog, but I usually the delete ones that stoop to nasty personal attacks, because fuck ’em. Don’t worry – most of the comments and private messages I get are from lovely people saying lovely things.)
Now here’s where my story comes in.
When I first arrived in New Zealand, I was placed in a combined Year Five and Six class at the local primary school. I remember having to learn all the songs the class was regularly made to sing.
The New Zealand national anthem was sung at the start of every assembly, which I found strange because, at my primary school in England, we’d never sung the English national anthem. I didn’t even know how to sing it.
I found the songs we sang in class even stranger.
Did anyone else sing these songs at primary school? Do you remember them? Songs like this one:
Christmas on the beach
Christmas on the beach
Pack your picnic hamper up, we’re going to have a feeeast
Underneath the huuuge pohutukawa tree
Chriiistmas on the beeeach…
And this one:
New Zealand is cool, man
New Zealand is choice
New Zealand is the place to be for all the girls and boys…
And so on.
A lot of songs about how wonderful life in New Zealand is. Songs that drill into the heads of the nation’s children just how lucky they are to live in the best country on God’s earth.
Sounds almost sinister when you put it like that, doesn’t it?
At my primary school in England, we never sang songs about how lucky we were to live in England.
(If you went to an English primary school and you did actually sing songs like that, tell me in the comments section below. I’m genuinely interested. Maybe you sang Jerusalem at assembly or something? Bear in mind that I didn’t go to a posh school. I’ll also take this opportunity to pre-empt any “that’s because England’s so shite everyone already knows they’re not lucky to live there” jokes.)
But it’s not just primary schools. There’s always stuff in the New Zealand news about how great New Zealand is. You get lots of adverts that rely on stroking the Kiwi ego to sell you stuff. Whenever there’s an interview with, say, a big American actor, there’ll be questions like, “Have you ever been to New Zealand? It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” And if they awkwardly reply, “Yeah, I’ve heard it’s beautiful,” there’ll be a whopping, bold headline:
BIG AMERICAN ACTOR SAYS NEW ZEALAND IS BEAUTIFUL
We’re always being told we don’t know how lucky we are to live in New Zealand.
Why? Does New Zealand have some sort of massive inferiority complex? Do we have to continuously pat each other on back, because if we don’t we’ll just look at the rest of the world and go, “Oh, we’re so small, what’s the point in even trying to compete on the world stage?” We’re lucky the rest of the world even notices our existence sometimes. We’re tucked so far into the bottom corner of other countries’ world maps that heaps of them miss New Zealand out entirely.
Seriously. There’s a whole website dedicated to it. Very funny.
So, anyway, here’s my question: are those songs my classmates and I were made to sing at primary school a cynical attempt at cultural brainwashing? At indoctrinating Kiwi kids into the Cult of New Zealand Infallible? At teaching them to believe that New Zealand is a perfect country and we don’t need to question anything about it? We don’t need to improve things? We’re all really happy here and our chocolate ration has definitely gone up compared to last year?
Or are they nice, little songs about the importance of valuing what we have? Life is good. Relax. Be what you want to be.
That’s the Kiwi way.