10 Things I Don’t Miss About Britain

Living in New Zealand, there are lots of things I miss about Britain. This sort of thing, for example:

RocheAbbey

Roche Abbey, near my childhood home

New Zealand doesn’t have anything like that.

Expat bloggers always write about what they miss from their home countries. (Here’s an article I wrote called Top 20 Things a Brit in New Zealand Misses.) But what about the things we DON’T miss?

Below, I’ve compiled a list of ten things I don’t miss about Britain. See what you think.

1) Stinging nettles

stinging-nettle-141508_640My British childhood was blighted by these buggers. The alley behind our house was overgrown with them. You often had to sidle along the wall with your stomach drawn in to avoid their touch. Then there was that time when I was three years old, riding my bike and wearing nothing but a thin leotard, (because it was summer and I was on my way to a dancing lesson,) and next-door’s enormous dog chased me and knocked me off into a towering patch of them! Every inch of my skin was stung!

When I was seventeen, when I’d been living in New Zealand for seven years, I went on a school trip back to England with some Kiwi classmates. One girl, who’d never seen a stinging nettle before, brushed past a clump thinking they were ordinary plants… I was too late to warn her and could only watch in horror. Unfortunately, I’d been away from England long enough to forget what dock leaves looked like, so I couldn’t do anything to help the pain. I remembered rubbing a dock leaf on my stung knee many golden summers ago, just like my friend Becky showed me…

2) The rain

rain-122691_640Obviously. It rains a lot in New Zealand too, but really not as much. And it’s not the grey, relentless, oppressive rain you get in Britain. And I haven’t experienced any sleet since moving to New Zealand. Or had to wade through any of that awful, brown slush you get up the streets in winter. New Zealand’s weather is just better.

3) Dog shit

There’s hardly any on the streets in New Zealand. When I went back to Britain last year, I had to re-train myself to watch out for it.

4) Chavs

CHAVEverywhere has groups of young people from rough backgrounds trying to have a good time in ways that many would perceive as misguided, and New Zealand is no exception. The Kiwi equivalent of the British chav – the bogan – seems nowhere near as crass, however. Perhaps this has to do with the fact that New Zealanders as a whole are more laidback than Brits.

5) Everyone moaning all the time

complaining-154204_640It’s common for Brits to communicate in complaints. The shared sense of disgruntlement creates a warm camaraderie that other nationalities often don’t quite understand. It can be difficult to take when you’re not used to it. When I went back to Britain last year, after thirteen years of living in New Zealand, I actually felt a bit oppressed by the constant moaning. Everyone was bringing everything down all the time. I mean can’t you just appreciate the good things and not let the bad things worry you? They’re not that important anyway. That’s the Kiwi way – the “she’ll be right” attitude – and to those that criticize it for creating a nation of complacent people, I say it’s better than the miserable alternative. No wonder Kiwis call us ‘whinging poms’!

6) The traffic

Only Auckland’s traffic comes close to the nightmare that is Britain’s. You actually can’t blame ’em for complaining about that.

7) Those trashy tabloid newspapers

yyycatch-people-biz-male-sadNew Zealand has a few fatuous celebrity gossip magazines, but it doesn’t have anything like The Sun or the Daily Mirror! Returning to Britain last year and having endless headlines like ‘ROYAL SEX SCANDAL SCOOP’ and ‘CELEBRITY SNORTS COCAINE OFF OWN TITS’ blasted in my face really made me despair for the state of the nation.

8) People so xenophobic they won’t even try spaghetti Bolognese

Perhaps because New Zealand is a country of immigrants, everyone’s just more open-minded.

9) Tories

Not even Tories, just snobbishness in general. New Zealand has more of an egalitarian attitude than Britain does.

10) Pavements black with chewing gum

You get splotches of gum on the pavement in New Zealand too, but it wasn’t until I went back to Britain that I realised just how bad British streets are. In the centre of my home town, there was more gum than pavement! It was revolting. (Chewing gum’s just one of my pet hates. Grr.)

Any fellow British expats have anything to add? What about my readers currently living in Britain – what wouldn’t you miss about it?

Why I Love New Zealand

It’s easy for a young person to feel suffocated in New Zealand. I, like so many before me, couldn’t wait to get out and see the rest of the world. I spent three months travelling through eight different countries last year. Yes, it was exhausting and yes, we really needed more time in each place, but it was exactly the breath of fresh air I needed. By the end of it, I had a new appreciation for New Zealand; a new understanding of why I love it so much.

Here are just 10 reasons why I love New Zealand:

heartwellington

1) It’s relatively safe.

New Zealand came in third on the latest Global Peace Index, after Iceland and Denmark. Also, you don’t have to worry about pickpockets, which was a relief after travelling through Europe.

2) It’s relatively uncorrupt.

New Zealand came in second on the latest Corruption Perceptions Index, after Denmark. Yes, some of our politicians might occasionally get involved in something ‘dirty’, but – face it – you’re not in danger of having your family shot if you speak out against them.

3) It’s relatively uncrowded.

New Zealand has a population density of just 17 per square kilometre – compare that with the UK’s 257, or Germany’s 235. It was actually a relief to get back here after being in Europe; relaxing not to have to queue for ages everywhere, or fight through traffic.

4) It’s got EFTPOS.

For me, Electronic Funds Transfer at Point of Sale was something I never thought about until I missed it. Most people in New Zealand use it as a matter of course; we have become a population unused to carrying cash around, which, thinking about it, is probably why we don’t tip.

5) It’s got grass verges.

My family all come from the sort of working-class, Victorian-built areas of England that have narrow pavements crammed between brick houses and grey roads, with no sign of greenery to be had. That’s only romantically nostalgic up to a certain point.

6) It’s unpretentious.

You may remember – or not, seeing as it was over thirteen years ago – that New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Helen Clark, was treated rather rudely by the British media for daring to wear trousers to a state dinner in honour of Queen Elizabeth II.  This miffed me somewhat, even though I am British and don’t at all mind the royals. Seriously, anyone who thinks like that can f**k off. I love that New Zealanders aren’t snobs.

RotoruaWhakarewarewaGeyser

7) It’s laidback.

New Zealanders live life at a peaceful pace. There are fewer “jobsworths” here.

8) It’s got a temperate climate.

New Zealand is neither too hot nor too cold. It’s got less of the miserable, chilling sort of rain than the UK, but still enough rain to keep it green. It’s a climate that smiles on the great outdoors.

9) It’s got bloody good food.

I still thought this after eating the best pizza of my life in a small family restaurant in Tivoli, near Rome. What’s so great about New Zealand’s food is it’s an absolute fusion of European, Maori and Asian cuisine, with the freshest of seafood and the finest of wine thrown in.

Beach 2

10) It’s got an astonishing amount – not to mention an amazing range – of incredibly beautiful scenery for such a small country.

“Is it true that in New Zealand you can go skiing in the mountains and swimming at the beach in the same day?” a guy in Germany asked us. Why, I suppose it is.

Last Night of the Poms: The Story of Our Move to New Zealand

The streets of Edinburgh were strange. Alien. I felt disconnected from the world as we walked, hardly aware of my mum holding my hand. Something was wrong. They hadn’t said anything, my mum and dad, but my stomach was attacking itself in warning. That, and I was hungry.

Dad was on edge. Every time we crossed a road he glared left and right as though it was the city’s fault that he wasn’t where he needed to be. A conference, they’d said. ‘Daddy has to go to a conference.’ Apparently, he didn’t know how to get there. He’d started using car-words. (Words that only Daddy was allowed to say and only in the car.)

My little sister was oblivious to this developing turmoil. She kept running ahead and shouting, “PACHY!” – much to my mum’s embarrassment. (She didn’t realise she was being racist. Her imaginary friend was a pachycephalosaurus.) She didn’t even know what a conference was. I only had a vague idea. It was something frightening.

My family in Retford, the year before we moved to New Zealand

My family in Retford, the year before we moved to New Zealand

Eventually, sick of my whinging, Dad told Mum to take ‘the girls’ to get some food – he’d find the conference on his own. I was relieved we no longer had to hurry after him, but still confused. Why did Dad have to go to a conference? What was the conference for? Weren’t we supposed to be on holiday?

It had been quite a nice holiday so far. We’d driven from our home in Retford, up through Yorkshire, and visited Lindisfarne before arriving in Edinburgh. I’d never been to Scotland before, so I was all excited. Then the conference. The conference that I had yet to receive a straight answer about. ‘It’s something for teachers’ was all I’d managed to glean. (Dad was a teacher.)

It wasn’t until that evening that I’d learn our whole holiday was a sham. That we wouldn’t have come at all if it hadn’t been for the conference. The sense of betrayal the nine-year-old me felt at that realisation, however, was nothing compared to what was to come.

The nine-year-old me

The nine-year-old me

We were in an Italian restaurant. All the tables had red and white checked tablecloths and candles in bottles that were obscured by many layers of hardened dribbles. My dad was angry with the food. He thought it was ‘pap’, but my mum thought it was fine. My sister was ‘feeding’ Pachy. Then my parents looked at each other and looked at me, and they told me the truth.

The conference was for British teachers who wanted to teach in New Zealand.

“New Zealand?” I said. “You mean that little, triangle bit at the bottom of Australia?”

“No, Abby, that’s Tasmania,” Dad said.

“But you were very close. Well done,” Mum added.

“But…” I was engulfed in a rising tide of dread. “But you can’t teach in New Zealand. We live in Retford.”

“Abby –”

“Unless you get a really fast plane every morning –”

“Abby. We are going to live in New Zealand.”

Bam. My eyes and lips were trembling. The implications of moving were stuck in my throat, all pushing to get out and blocking the way in the process. “H-how far away is it?”

“About twelve thousand miles,” Dad said.

“Tw-tw-” It was no good. Tears were starting now. My world was falling apart and my heart was breaking. The restaurant was spinning. I remember the red and white checks blurring together. “But what about my friends? What about Elizabeth?” My voice got shriller and shriller. People at other tables were staring. “What about dancing? And Grandma?”

“Sit down, Abby,” Mum said. (I hadn’t realised I was standing.)

“No!” I cried. The idea of having everything I knew and loved torn away from me… my best friend… my dancing lessons… and to be replaced with New Zealand. New Zealand was a wasteland!

“Abby –”

“I’m not moving to New Zealand!” I shrieked. “You can’t make me!” And with that I ran into the toilets.

I kept running until I was in a corner by a hand dryer and then I screamed. Conscious of the noise, I slammed my fist into the hand dryer to turn it on. Accompanied by the roar of hot air, I sobbed and sobbed.

Mum came in and put a hand on my shoulder. I flinched. “We are going to New Zealand,” she said.

I couldn’t take it. I ran away again, this time out onto the dark Edinburgh street. At least I had the sense not to stray far from the illuminated restaurant window, tempted as I was to get myself lost. When I went back inside, it wasn’t because I’d forgiven my parents; it was because I was cold.

Mum and Dad didn’t want Grandma to know that Dad was applying for jobs in New Zealand. They didn’t want to worry her. They’d only tell her if – when – he actually got a job. It was a pretty big secret for a nine-year-old to keep.

Grandma lived just round the corner from us. Ours was a neighbourhood of Victorian terraces, quite depressing compared to what we’ve become used to in New Zealand, but I’ll always remember it fondly. Grandma was short and plump, and she always wore cardigans and stockings and called me ‘duck’. She died last year, but at least she’d been able to visit us in New Zealand twice. She’d never even been out of Britain before that, (well, except to Jersey,) and she hated anything foreign.

Last Day 002

The alley behind my gran’s terrace

Across the street from my gran, there lived a girl who always wanted me to come out and play with her. I did, even though I would have often preferred to have stayed at home on my own, reading or writing. One day, I was sitting in the alley behind my gran’s terrace when she found me. Her cheerfulness intruded upon my artistic misery.

“’Iya, Abby,” she said. “Wanna go play on the railway bridge?” When I didn’t respond, she tugged my arm. “Oh, come on! The nettles aren’t bad. You just have to step on them.”

“We’re moving to New Zealand.” That stopped her dead.

Her face slackened. “You’re… you’re moving? Like… away?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“But you can’t! I mean… Where’s New Zealand?”

“You’ve never heard of New Zealand?” I asked, taking a nine-year-old’s delight in her ignorance. “Duh – it’s in Australia.”

“Australia?!” she cried. “But that’s full of kangaroos and aberrations and… and it’s the other side of the world!”

“Yeah. Me dad said it were twelve million miles away. Or summat like that,” I said.

“Wow,” she said, sinking back against the wall. “I’m really going to miss you.”

“No, you’re not,” I said.

“Yes, I am!” she whined.

“No, you’re not,” I said, “because I’m not going.”

“What do you mean you’re not going?” she asked. “How can you not go when you parents –”

“I’ll run away from home before I go!” My voice echoed around the alleyway.

“Wow,” she said. “Where’re you going to go?”

“Grandma’s,” I said.

“But int y’ grandma’s just round the corner?” she said.

“Exactly.” I grinned smugly. “It’s the last place they’d ever think of looking for me.”

A photo of our house, taken from the railway bridge

A photo of our house, taken from the railway bridge

I’m not sure how long I seriously entertained this notion. I seem to remember wanting to run away then realising that it would soon be tea time, and, of course, there was no sense in running away before having tea. Anyway, my friend and I did end up going to the railway bridge. (It was right next to my house.) As we sat there, legs dangling over the tracks, she asked, “Are there trains in New Zealand?”

I didn’t know. I didn’t think so. There probably wasn’t electricity either.

After a while, my friend sighed. “I hate it here,” she said.

“Why?” I asked.

“Everything’s just so… grey. I bet New Zealand isn’t grey.”

“No,” I said. “It’s green.”

“How do you know?” she asked.

“Mum and Dad keep saying so.” I shrugged.

When we got bored of playing on the railway bridge, we went to sit against ‘our’ wall. It was the wall of an alley that ran in front of a row of bungalows out the back of my house. In one of the bungalows, there lived an old lady called Betty. (She was a bit gaga so we called her Batty.) She often saw us and brought us sweets, which we ate even though they were years out of date.

Now, this next part of the story is a bit of a guess. You see, at some point, Betty told my grandma that my mum and dad were planning on jetting off to New Zealand without telling her. This, understandably, made my grandma very upset, and there was a lot of explaining to do. What I think happened is that Betty overhead my friend and I talking and jumped to conclusions.

So it was that my parents’ plan about not telling Gran that we were moving to New Zealand until my dad actually had a job was ruined. As it happened, we were at my gran’s house when Dad got the call on his clunky ’90s cell phone. My mum screamed and hugged him like an excited teenager and my gran burst into tears.

I was scared stiff. It was happening. It was confirmed.

We were moving to a place called Waiuku. Waiuku, my dad explained, was a Maori name. It meant ‘muddy waters’.

“But that’s stupid!” I said. “Who’d name a town ‘muddy waters’?” (Later, I realised with a surge of satisfaction that the name of the town I wanted so desperately to stay in, Retford, means ‘muddy waters’ too! It comes from the Anglo-Saxon ‘Red Ford’ – when cattle were driven across the ford, they churned up the mud at the bottom, turning the water red. How cool is that? It was like fate.)

My last Christmas in England

My last Christmas in England

The next few months went by in a blur. Dad’s job was to start at the beginning of the coming year, 2001, because school years in New Zealand start in February, not September. This presented a problem for my sister and I, because we were still halfway through our school year. (I was in Year Five; Lucie was in Year Two.) In the end, Dad went to New Zealand six months ahead of us, leaving Mum to sell our house.

Saying goodbye to Dad at Manchester Airport was horrible. It was the first time my family had been separated. It didn’t hit me that I should be sad until we were hugging him at the gate, and everyone else was crying. I suddenly realised that six months was a long time. I howled with the rest of them.

School was weird for me after that. Knowing I was leaving soon made everything seem a bit meaningless. I remember my class did an Aboriginal art project, and I got all excited and asked Dad to send me some pictures of Maori art, figuring they’d be similar. (How wrong I was.)

Then the time came for all our stuff to be shipped off. The men from Britannia Movers International arrived. I liked their logo – the classical goddess Britannia with her Union Jack shield – but it took great restraint for me not scream at them, “Put that back!” My life was literally disappearing around me.

Abigail croppedI felt like I was fading away. Like Marty McFly at the end of Back to the Future. My last day of school, I sat on a side bench in Mr Lilley’s classroom and watched the rest of the class as though from under water. The headmistress, (ironically named Mrs Britain,) approached to offer me luck and words of comfort. Unfortunately, I can’t remember what those words were, only that they seemed significant and grownup at the time.

Then the school day was over. I panicked. It had come too fast. Never again would I have a lesson at this school, or see any of these people. I had a few photographs with various groups. (A good delaying tactic.) Then everyone started drifting away. Only my best friend, Elizabeth, was left. I knew I’d miss her far more than she’d miss me. I just wanted to cling to her and never let go.

I hugged her and hugged her, but all too soon my mum pulled me away. It was time to go. We lived in opposite directions from the school. We started walking down Bracken Lane in those respective directions. Then I looked back. She didn’t. I watched her back get smaller and smaller. She was wearing a light blue jacket. I know because the image was burned onto my mind, and I recalled it so often during my lonely times in New Zealand that now I’ll remember it until I die. When I realised that she wasn’t going to look back, I started to cry.

Not just cry. I had a full-on tantrum whilst walking home from school. My mum wanted me to be quiet – it was shameful – but I didn’t care. I had so much grief inside me that I just had to get out. I think that was the last tantrum of my childhood.

The horrible goodbyes weren’t over. Next we had to say goodbye to Grandma, and we didn’t know if she’d be able to visit us, as she was terrified of flying. Then Uncle Damon drove us to Nana’s house in Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, and we had to say goodbye to Uncle Damon. My nana, who now lives with us in New Zealand, had prepared something very special for us.

Chester

Chester

It was our last night in England – the last night of the poms, as my dad later joked – and Nana had hired a limousine to take us on a tour round Chester, and then to our favourite restaurant. It was wonderful. I felt like I was famous in my blue, fringed, ’20s-style dress, drinking from a champagne flute on velvet cushions.

The windows were tinted, so no one could see who was in the limo, and people on the street started taking photographs of us. My nana wound her window down a bit so she could do a regal wave. What a way to spend our last night, in true Britannia style!

Then, of course, it was our turn to fly out of Manchester Airport. I don’t envy my mum’s task of getting herself, two little girls, and all three sets of our luggage across the world in one piece, but she did it. We even had a night enjoying the sights in Singapore on the way. Then we were in New Zealand…

My first impression? I was kind of zonked out from the flight, so I didn’t notice much. New Zealand seemed pretty much the same as Britain, rather boringly. At least it wasn’t the backward wasteland I’d feared. The light was different, though. New Zealand was bathed in warm light. I can still see it, what I saw from the back of Dad’s car as he drove us from Auckland Airport to our new home. It was a strange light, the light of an alien world, but it was comforting nonetheless.

That was twelve years ago. Nearly thirteen.

561 Porirura-River 173

Sunny New Zealand

I’m twenty-two now. I remember what happened then in such great detail, not only because I replayed the events over and over – clung to them rather sadly – but because I wrote the story of what happened at the time. The conversations above are exerts of that story, not made up. It’s funny looking back at what a melodramatic brat I was! (And how I thought New Zealand was pretty much Australia. Sorry!)

Of course, I’m glad now that we moved to New Zealand. I wouldn’t have it any other way. New Zealand is a far better country to grow up in than England. At the time, though, I thought I’d never forgive my parents. The move undoubtedly had a massive psychological impact – you can read about that in The Existential Crisis of the Immigrant Child – and, although I still don’t consider myself a true Kiwi, I love New Zealand and want to grow old here.

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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Top 20 Things a Brit in New Zealand Misses

This is the article I entered in the 2013 Expat Blog Awards. It ended up winning Silver for New Zealand. You can read it by clicking the link below:

Top 20 Things a Brit in New Zealand Misses

173 Back in Sheffield

10 Reasons Living in New Zealand is AWESOME

I moved to New Zealand with my family twelve years ago. At first, I hated my parents for wrenching me away from Mother England, but now I wouldn’t have it any other way. New Zealand is a great country to live in and here’s why:

1)      Nice weather

Somewhere Over the RainbowIt is common for New Zealanders to complain about the weather. The phrase ‘four seasons in one day’ is used annoyingly often, yet while it can be gloriously sunny in the morning, fooling you into leaving your jacket at home, and then bucket it down in the afternoon, it is rarely bad for long. Coming from Britain, I can confidently say that New Zealand’s weather is better. It is warmer, drier, sunnier and generally more cheerful. There’s a reason New Zealand’s famous for barbecues and Britain’s not.

2)      Beautiful beaches

Beach 1Nearly three-quarters of all New Zealanders live within five kilometres of a beach, most of which are ten times more beautiful than any beach that Britain has to offer. They are less spoiled for starters, boasting not only pristine sands of the yellow and white variety, but luxurious soft, black volcanic sand. They range from wild, rugged surfing beaches to relaxing swimming and sunbathing beaches, all with picturesque geological features. In Britain, going to the beach was a rare treat; now I can walk to one whenever I want. New Zealand’s beaches are truly a wonder.

3)      Lots of green countryside

In Britain, one of the main things you hear about New Zealand is how green it is. Mostly, this is meant in the sense of the ‘clean, green’ environmentally friendly image, but New Zealand is also green in a literal sense: there is a great deal of protected, unspoiled countryside. Kiwis seem to have an innate appreciation for nature – the great outdoors; God’s own – and pursuits such as camping and tramping are very popular. New Zealand’s native bush is incredibly special and the ‘bush walk’ is something you cannot escape if you come here.

4)      Unique wildlife

New Zealand Tour 2003 003Contained within New Zealand’s bush is a collection of endangered birds that exist nowhere else in the world, the most famous of which is the kiwi. I have never encountered a kiwi in the wild, but seeing a mating pair at Auckland Zoo was an enchanting (and highly amusing) experience. I’ve seen plenty of other examples of New Zealand’s unique wildlife actually in the wild, though. My two favourite native birds are tuis – songbirds with shining plumage adorned by a duet of white baubles at the throat – and keas – alpine parrots with devilish intelligence and barefaced cheek. New Zealand is also the best place in the world to swim with dolphins.

5)      Exotic volcanic activity

White Island 018Depending on your point of view, an abundance of volcanic activity may not seem like a reason to live in a country, but everything – the threat of natural disaster included – is relative, and I for one love living within easy driving distance of the utterly magical sights of geysers, hot pools, mud pools and lava flows. Britain seems boring by comparison. There’s something mysteriously exciting about the eggy smell; the steam rising around you; the thought that the hidden underworld is close at hand. Places like Rotorua and White Island are literally on the edges of the earth.

6)      Small population

Culture 3New Zealand is famous for being a small country – its population has only recently broken the four million mark. Compare that with Britain’s excess of sixty million. But what many people don’t realise is the actual land area of New Zealand is larger than the land area of Britain. No wonder it seems like Brits are perpetually elbowing each other out of the way to get to where they want to be. The people of New Zealand actually have space to breathe. To be individuals. To live.

7)      Friendly people

armageddon 13 001croppedKiwis are an undeniably friendly race. When I first moved to New Zealand, it was almost disconcerting how interested in me strangers were. 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 no class system. People from all walks of life end up here. To me, it’s always felt like a safe place, but I didn’t realise how much I’d come to take that security for granted until I returned to England for a visit a few years ago. Kiwis smile at you in the street. If there’s anywhere in the world you can rely on the kindness of strangers, it’s New Zealand.

8)      Laid-back lifestyle

I was a child when my family immigrated to New Zealand, so while I can confidently say that school in New Zealand is easier than school in England, I have never experienced the demands of working life in any country other than New Zealand. However, every adult I’ve talked to who has tells me that life in New Zealand is far simpler than elsewhere in the western world. The wages may be lower, but the quality of life is definitely higher. Life is lived at a slower pace. There is a healthier work-life balance. In New Zealand, expectations are lower – in a good way. There is less pressure. Good enough is good enough. Go with the flow. She’ll be right.

9)      Multicultural society

Montana walkNew Zealand is a country of immigrants – even the Maori, the native inhabitants, are relatively recent arrivals. It is nice to live in a place where tribal culture and the values that go with it are still in evidence. The presence of Maori names, art, customs and tourist experiences make New Zealand unique in the world, not just another European/Americanised western country. Of course, New Zealand is a Europeanised country, but it has so many influences from so many places around the world, especially Asian countries, that it’s a complete melting pot. It has an abundance of wonderful and, compared to Britain at least, relatively cheap restaurants that serve delicious fusions of tastes. Since moving here, I’ve become a real foodie.

10)   It’s already the perfect place for a holiday

dunedin3 027New Zealand is the ultimate holiday destination – even if you already live in it. The country is so varied you never tire of exploring it, which is why I think it’s important to get your hands on a campervan. Motorhomes have become part of the fabric of society in New Zealand – you can’t drive anywhere without passing at least one on the road – and it’s easy to see why. You cannot experience New Zealand from one spot. The North Island is so different from the South, the east coast so different from the west, and it’s down the side roads that the special places lie. So my advice would be to hire a campervan in New Zealand when you come, be it to live or just for a holiday. One thing is guaranteed either way: you’ll never want to go back. Life in New Zealand is AWESOME.

P.S. – This is a list from my new website, NZ Top List. Check it out to browse more lists about life in New Zealand and the many fantastic places to go.

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The Existential Crisis of the Immigrant Child

A couple of years ago, when I was in my third year of uni, I was crippled by anxiety and depression.

I was terrified of everything, even descending the stairs to leave my flat. I actually sat crying at the top of them, shaking and gasping and clinging to the banister, certain I would slip and break my neck if I stood up. Totally alone.

I started sweating whenever someone talked to me, avoiding eye contact, convinced I wasn’t worthy.

mirrorlightblackMy heart was perpetually agitated. I couldn’t sleep and when I did I had such nightmares that I woke up with my heart racing, feeling like I hadn’t had any rest at all.

Things that I used to enjoy – acting chief among them – now made me miserable. It wasn’t fair. Throughout high school acting had been my escape from the misery, not just experiencing someone else’s emotions, but the adrenaline of performing. Now there was no refuge left.

All I could do was wrap myself up in my duvet in front of my laptop and watch endless episodes of some TV series or other in an effort to distract my brain from berating me, if only for a while.

Eventually, sick and tired of being relentlessly miserable, I gathered what little courage I had left and went to the university health centre. The doctor immediately prescribed anti-depressants and sleeping pills and referred me to a counsellor.

It was hard opening up to the counsellor – I don’t like “bothering” other people with my troubles – but she pieced together my problems, deducing that they probably arose from the awful bullying I’d received between the ages of ten and fifteen, and the fact that I didn’t feel I belonged anywhere.

She went on to say that it was very common for the children of immigrant families to experience what I experienced. Immigrant children are often bullied when they first arrive in their new country, bullied for being different – perhaps their accent or way of dressing – and for reasons that have nothing to do with inherent xenophobia and everything to do with ten-to-fifteen-year-olds being nasty, peer-motivated adolescents who like to put each other down.

I sometimes wonder if I was bullied because some New Zealanders still see English people as rich, imperialistic, “you ignorant colonials belong to us” royalists, but, despite the fact that when I first arrived my classmates assumed I had a butler and drank tea with the Queen, I never really got that impression. As for the feeling that I don’t belong… well it goes deeper than your typical young person angst. Deeper than not having many friends.

The fact is I have lived in New Zealand for over half my life and I still don’t feel like a New Zealander. Maybe this is because, not having many friends, I spent more time than the average teenager with my parents, watching DVDs of British comedy series. I have not lost my English accent, and of all the qualities that the New Zealand media proudly boasts are Kiwi – such as the do-it-yourself attitude, the love of rugby, the hatred of Australians, and general toughness – I have none.

I am English. I glory in our history, our countryside, our multitude of hilarious accents and our sense of humour! But that’s just it – do I have the right to say ‘our’ anymore? I’m not up with the current trends in England. I’ve set foot there once in the last twelve years. English people think my accent sounds slightly Australian.

When I was talking to some English people I was friends with at primary school, I mentioned going to the dairy to get some milk. From that, they thought that in order to get milk New Zealanders walked down the road to a dairy farm and got it directly from a cow. I had to explain that in New Zealand a dairy is a corner shop, or convenience store. I had said dairy automatically.

I’m not really English anymore, but I’m not a New Zealander either, and that sense of not belonging anywhere is really depressing. In fact it can shake you to the core.

Not to sound overly dramatic, but when my parents decided to emigrate, they destroyed my life.

All my friends, my hobbies, my other relatives, my culture – the only place in my life I would ever fit in because I was born to fit in there – it was all ripped away from me.

I don’t know if I can describe the total loneliness I felt without sounding whiny, but, according to that counsellor, it was the sort of loneliness that can fester and manifest itself years later as clinical depression.

To be fair, my parents must have felt lonely too. We all clung desperately to our Englishness, be it with BBC DVDs or watching the football in the middle of the night. I remember when the English comedian Bill Bailey came to Auckland with his Tinselworm stand-up show: he asked the audience whether they’d heard of ASDA, (a massive supermarket chain that doesn’t exist in New Zealand,) and every expat Brit in the audience, including us, cheered, to which he responded, “You’ve been away too long.” We should not have been cheering for ASDA. Even if it does sell such a variety of food that we can only dream of in New Zealand…

So desperate were we for a little piece of home that when we were travelling around the South Island in a campervan, for example, and we came across a sign for a place called Sheffield, we pulled over excitedly, clamouring for a photo.

173 Back in Sheffield

(In England, the town we lived in was quite close to Sheffield, but, unlike Sheffield, it does not have anywhere else in the world named after it. Either nobody ever left before us, or they were so glad to leave it behind that they never wanted to be reminded of it. Either way, extremely sad.)

So there you have it: my personal existential crisis, and the crisis of all immigrant kids. I wonder how many children of immigrant families actually develop depression as a result, but at the end of the day I’m still glad we moved to New Zealand.

You might be happy to know that in the last few weeks I’ve managed to wean myself off the anti-depressants and only occasionally start sweating when someone talks to me. Or you might not care. But I’ve learned that you shouldn’t be ashamed of taking anti-depressants – they work, and it’s better than being miserable all the time.

UPDATE: It’s been two years since I wrote this. Recently, I’ve written a more detailed account of what it’s actually like living with depression and anxiety. You can find it on the The Writers’ Labyrinth.

The Great Kiwi Barbecue

Here’s another difference between Britain and New Zealand: barbecues.

Before my family moved to New Zealand, I’d only ever been to one barbecue, and we didn’t spend much of it outside. (I remember we were actually forced outside by our friend’s elderly golden Labrador letting one off in the lounge.)

We’ve spent much more time outside since moving to New Zealand, and had barbecues beyond counting. Of course, the weather is to thank. (As I write this, in the middle of winter, I’m sunbathing on my parents’ deck, and the sunlight is glaring off the pages of my notebook, and the cats are sprawled out next to me, and I hear a tui in one of the trees… I suppose, to be fair, Tauranga is one of the sunniest places in New Zealand.)

If I ever go back to Britain, I’ll miss Kiwi barbecues. They’re awesome.

You’ve got the smell of the oil, the smoke, the caramelising meat, the citronella to keep the mozzies at bay, the waft of the cool potato salad as the cling film is lifted off; the cats darting towards us when they realise dad’s firing up the hotplate. And the steak. The STEAK. It’d better be done no more than a minute on each side or so help me!

IMG_1078The wine, the lager, the ginger beer for the kids, the kebabs, the sauce, the corn on the cob oozing juices down your chin… I know I’m just listing now, but there’s so much to a great barbecue, and not just the food and the aromas. There’s the sitting around talking as the sun goes down, lighting the candles and the brazier and letting the darkness place a comfortable blanket around us. We feel warmly full and slightly drowsy, drinking and talking and not wanting it to end. Perhaps there’s ice-cream; there’s always laughter.

The barbecue is a very typically New Zealand thing, although it is one of the ways in which New Zealand is similar to Australia. (Sorry, Kiwis.) When a Brit does an impression of an Australian, they’ll invariable call people Bruce and say, “Throw another shrimp on the barbie.” No matter how culturally accurate or inaccurate this is, it shows how the act of barbecuing is a very laid back form of cooking, perfect for both Australians and New Zealanders.

It’s great for bringing people together: everyone can contribute with minimal effort, just bring a pack of something to slap on the hotplate. The common expression here is, “Bring a plate,” an instruction that often confuses recent immigrants, us among them. We, and so many others before and since, thought it meant, “We don’t have enough plates for all our guests, so please bring your own.” So, much to our new friend’s amusement, we showed up to their barbecue with an empty plate each, only to be told that what they actually meant was, “Bring some food for everyone to share.”

Of course, we don’t just have barbecues in each other’s gardens. It’s common in New Zealand to have a barbecue on the beach – indeed; a barbecue on the beach is the traditional image of the Kiwi Christmas Dinner.  The barbecue is such a Kiwi icon that many beaches, parks and New Zealand campgrounds have permanent barbecues that are free for the public to use. Sometimes there is a small fee, and sometimes you have to book ahead, but it’s a fantastic idea and one that tourists should take advantage of more often.

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If you ever have a holiday in New Zealand, you absolutely have to have a barbecue. I’ve found it’s a brilliant way to eat when you hire a campervan – it gets you out of the tiny campervan kitchen while retaining that important quality of self-cooked meals: cheapness. You can find a recipe for a Great Kiwi Barbecue here.

And it really is the best way to eat steak.