The Laid-back Attitude of New Zealanders

In two weeks, I’m leaving New Zealand for six months. I’m flying with Tim to Switzerland via Singapore, before visiting his family in Germany; then flying to Ireland and visiting my family in England. We’re going to explore Scotland and Sweden; Spain and Italy. We’re going to spend a fairytale Christmas in Germany, before returning to New Zealand via Malaysia.

Will I miss New Zealand? I’m not sure. I feel like I’ll miss the attitude of its people more than the country itself, but time will tell. I’ve been craving a “proper” European Christmas for eighteen years. The sort of Christmas with snow flurrying through medieval villages, leaded windows glowing with amber light, markets infused with the aroma of roasted chestnuts, and church bells ringing with melancholy joy.

Maybe I’ve idealised it. There are some things New Zealand just can’t compete with. I’m looking forward to being surrounded by historical buildings once more. I’m looking forward to savouring the food of my childhood. I am, however, almost dreading returning to Edinburgh, the place in which my parents told me we were moving to New Zealand, and I threw the largest tantrum of my life.

I can still picture it, the Italian restaurant with the bright windows; the dark street gleaming with recent rain; the red-and-white-checked table cloths. My dad complaining that his pasta was “pap” whilst my sister fed hers to her imaginary dinosaur. The big reveal followed by me dashing into the ladies’ room and punching the hand dryer. I put the hand dryer on thinking no one would hear my sobs.

But anyway. I think I will miss New Zealand. I’ve lived here nearly two-thirds of my life and I love how laid-back the people are. It’s difficult to imagine the sorts of political scenes we’ve seen coming out of Europe happening here, purely because New Zealanders are less prone to being whipped into extreme states. New Zealand crowds are sometimes awkwardly apathetic.

They’re notoriously difficult to get a cheer out of. I’ve witnessed British and American entertainers trying and managing to elicit only a half-hearted “yay”. One American celebrity cried, “I love you guys!” in that fake way that American celebrities do, and you could almost hear the crowd thinking, “Bullshit. Now do what you’re here to do and you’ll deserve some applause, but don’t go thinking you’re better than us.”

The laid-back attitude of New Zealanders is no better exemplified than by a recent address by our prime minister. It was made from her couch, a few days after she’d given birth, holding her baby. Her voice was croaky and she wore no makeup. When she goes back to work – running the country – her partner will be a stay-at-home father.

Even if you didn’t vote for Labour, you have to agree that it’s a cool image for New Zealand, and I’ll miss being a part of it. I mean don’t get me wrong, New Zealand has its problems. There are still those that believe that our prime minister, as an unmarried mother, should not be celebrated. Just the other day, a friend of mine with a foreign accent was the victim of a shocking xenophobic attack.

On the whole, however, the voices of hatred seem quieter in New Zealand. How much of that is due to manipulation by the media, I don’t know. It will be interesting to compare for myself the general atmosphere in Britain, in Germany and in other European countries to the general atmosphere in New Zealand.

But now I must go. I must get back to working, packing up the house, cleaning, preparing for the trip AND being involved in my theatre troop’s latest show. We open in three days. Yes, life is hectic. Yes, I shall be very relieved to get to Europe and relax. We’ll be taking our trip a lot slower than we did last time!

To read more about our previous Euro trip, see A New Zealander’s View of Britain and European Stereotypes: Confirmed or Busted?

To read more about my infamous tantrum in Edinburgh, see Last Night of the Poms: The Story of Our Move to New Zealand.

To find out more about the show I’m involved in, see The Meteor Theatre.

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10 Strange Things I Found When I Moved To New Zealand

POMS AWAY!

I moved to New Zealand when I was ten years old. Before that I lived in a small town in England, so while moving to New Zealand wasn’t a total shock to the system, there were still some things I found strange. Here’s a list of ten:

1) Houses without stairs

family-home-153089_640As someone who grew up surrounded by tall, narrow houses with pitiful gardens, the fact that New Zealand’s houses are mostly single-storied and set apart from one another threw me at first. The ten-year-old me actually started missing stairs. I was delighted to find that one of my new Kiwi friends lived in a multi-storied house! Of course, this was in a small town in New Zealand. The new houses going up around Auckland all have stairs, being built tall and narrow to save space.

2) People going around barefoot

pedicure-297792_640No one goes around barefoot in England, except at…

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The Stars Are Upside Down

POMS AWAY!

When I was a child my dad took me into the backyard one clear night to show me some constellations. He’s a science teacher, my dad, and he really likes astronomy. He pointed out the Big Dipper, Canis Major, Gemini and others that I can’t remember, but my favourite was the Hunter, Orion.

The Orion Nebula The Orion Nebula

To this day, Orion is the only constellation I can identify with complete confidence. I particularly like the little stars that make up his dagger, hanging from that distinctive belt.

We lived in England when my dad first showed me the stars. (He showed me Halley’s Comet as well, and the rings of Saturn through a telescope.) When we moved to New Zealand, one of the first things the ten-year-old me noticed, gazing up at the night sky, was that Orion was upside down.

Orion The Orion Constellation (as seen from New Zealand)

This scared me a…

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Our First Year in New Zealand

POMS AWAY!

I’ve been going through Dad’s old photographs, watching my sister and I grow up. The photos from 2001, our first year in New Zealand, brought back so many memories: places I’d forgotten we’d visited. I thought I’d share them with you now.

I was ten years old when we moved to New Zealand; my sister was seven. Dad emigrated six months before us, so when we finally arrived with Mum, he was bursting to show us the places he’d discovered. He couldn’t even wait for us to get over our jetlag!

It was the middle of winter, but the weather was still nice. Dad immediately took us to buy wetsuits and surfboards. I’d never been surfing before, as we’d lived nowhere near a beach in England, but I took to it at once. It was like riding a rollercoaster!

My sister enjoyed it too, at least until we realised her…

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Slanging Match – British vs New Zealand Slang

In three years, I will have lived in New Zealand for two thirds of my life. You’d think, therefore, that the days of hearing “deck” as “dick” and being laughed at for calling jandals “flip-flops” would be long gone.

Nope.

Just last week, I confused a room full of people by referring to a bottle of Coca-Cola as “pop”.

It never ends. My family immigrated to New Zealand when I was ten years old. I should, by now, be comfortable calling cossies “togs” and crisps “chips”. (And chips “hot chips”.) I simply can’t. I call lollies “sweets”, lollipops “lollies” and ice blocks “ice lollies”. (Or, weirdly, “lolly ices”, which I’ve just read is a Scouse thing. My mum’s from near Liverpool, so that makes sense, I guess.)

I call gumboots “wellies”, kindie “nursery” and sammies “sarnies”.

There are some Kiwi-isms I’ve picked up. I usually, for example, say “dairy” instead of “corner shop”, “college” instead of “high school” and “uni” instead of “college”. Some slang words are the same in New Zealand as they are in Britain. Ta, for example. Some, I honestly can’t remember whether they’re Kiwi, British or both.

“Is that a thing New Zealanders say?” I’ll ask my partner.

I’ll never forget the time I told some English friends I was popping to the dairy to get some milk. I ended up having to explain that a dairy was a corner shop and that, no, most New Zealanders don’t get their milk directly from the nearest dairy farm.

But that’s the vision the rest of the world has of New Zealand, isn’t it? We all live pure, bucolic lives free from traffic, tabloids and crass commercialism. When my partner went on an exchange to France, his host family asked him if he would like a glass of Coca-Cola. When he requested a glass of water instead, they replied, “Oh, of course, because the water is so pure in New Zealand. You’ve probably never even heard of Coca-Cola!”

Ha.

Ha.

If you want to read more about New Zealand slang, see 10 Silly Things Kiwis Say.

The Glass Ballerina

My skin crawled with sweat as I wrestled the tinsel around the tree. I was only wearing a slip, but summer had come hard. I sighed and dug through the bag of decorations: relics of my childhood in England. Every year, Grandpa would take my sister and I to a special shop heaving with the spirit of Christmas; every year, we were allowed to choose two new tree ornaments each. The result was a wonderful, eclectic mess.

To my child’s mind, the shop had been truly magical. It was so filled with shiny things that time and space had seemed distorted within it. Choosing just two decorations was always a trial, but I’ll never forget the year I found the glass ballerina.

Back then, I dreamed of being a ballerina. (I wasn’t yet lonely enough to dream of being a writer.)

The glass ballerina had me immediately enchanted. She was beautiful. I made a stage for her on the palm of my hand as she hung from her display. She was delicate and clear, like ice sculpture, balancing on the point of one slipper.

She wasn’t actually glass; she was plastic, but I didn’t realise that at the time, and she was forever glass to me.

Every year from then, when we were decorating the tree, my glass ballerina was the first ornament I looked for. It was the first ornament I looked for now, sweating under the New Zealand sun. I found her and fished her out, only to see that the foot she balanced on had broken off.

I searched for it to no avail. Indeed, I found that many of the decorations we’d bought back in England were broken.

I wasn’t surprised. Plastic degrades, and they were all two decades old, give or take a few years. It was just more evidence of my life in England crumbling under the relentless onslaught of time.

I put them on the tree anyway. You couldn’t tell they were broken from a distance.

Of Calf Club and Culture Shock

lambs

I hadn’t long been in New Zealand when I was confronted by the sight of sheep on the school field.

And cows.

And goats.

Walking amongst them was a surreal experience. Adding to my surprise was the fact that none of the other children were wearing shoes. Neither did they seem bothered about stepping in the ever-increasing quantity of dung.

I’d found it strange enough that there were no uniforms at my new school, and that classes finished half an hour earlier than they had in England, and that there was no fence around the school, and that everyone had a meat pie and a chocolate milkshake for lunch, and that they all thought I spoke posh even though my Retford accent was as broad as a donkey’s backside.

Now the school field had become a farmyard.

It was Calf Club Day, an annual event that had been part of rural New Zealand primary school life since the 1920s. Each kid got given their own lamb, or calf, or – err – kid to raise, and then they’d bring them into school and show them off. Then they ate them.

I wasn’t against the killing of animals. I just wasn’t used to children my age being so blasé about it. Typical bloody townie, I suppose. Still, the experience did nothing but add to my impression that the plane which had brought my family to New Zealand had also taken us back in time.

It was as though chaos, the world of the animals, was encroaching upon order, the world of the school. I didn’t like it, but I knew I should have done.

Despite feeling a little left out, I had no desire to raise a farm animal of my own. At that stage, I had no desire to take part in any aspect of New Zealand life.

Those first few months in New Zealand, I felt like I was in a dream. I kept expecting to wake up back in England. I’d write and write until my immediate surroundings disappeared. I’d wish my characters were real, so I could be friends with them.

One day, I ordered a pie and a milkshake from the school tuck shop, but they made me feel sick. The pie was like warm, wet cat food and the milkshake was revoltingly sweet. I didn’t regret the experience, however. Ordering something from the tuck shop, rather than bringing sandwiches from home, seemed to me a sign of integration; of getting into the swing of my new life.

That was over half a lifetime ago. Surely, I’m fully integrated into the culture of New Zealand now? Well I was reading something about ‘being British’ the other day, nodding along as I conformed to trait after trait. Slowly, however, I realised that I was no longer British in at least one respect: I no longer gave a fuck about formality. That’s very Kiwi.

But I’m still not a Kiwi. It’s impossible to feel like one when every new person I meet assumes I’m on holiday, or I’ve just moved here and am therefore ignorant. (Or worse, depending on the individual’s prejudices regarding the English.)

“No, I’ve lived here since I was a kid,” I say.

“Oh, you’ve still got your accent,” they say.

But I haven’t. I no longer sound like a Retfordian. How could I when I’ve spent nearly twice as long in New Zealand?

So, what is my culture? I was thinking about it last night. (I couldn’t sleep.) I may not be entirely Kiwi; I may not be entirely British. I’ve agonised so long about not fitting in, but I have friends. I have lots of friends. And they’ve all got one thing in common.

I have a culture.

I am a nerd.

female tenth doctor cosplay

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