The New Zealand Identity Crisis

What is a New Zealander?

Warning SheepAccording to the television, it’s a tough, stubby-wearing, beer-swilling, rugby-mad sheep farmer with the emotional capacity of a teaspoon, (except in the event of All Black victory/defeat,) that subsists on Weet-Bix, Wattie’s, pies and Pineapple Lumps.

New Zealand television is scary. I don’t know about other countries – not even England, as I was ten years old when I left – but, in New Zealand, a great deal of advertising seems to be along the lines of ‘you’re not a true Kiwi if you don’t consume this product’.

The news is no better. We’re constantly being told what we should be, as though there’s a national identity paranoia. You’re unpatriotic if you’re not passionate about rugby. If you’re a girl, you have to play netball.

mountain-310155_640Certain enforced stereotypes do hold true. Lots of Kiwis are, for example, friendly and laidback. Kiwis love the great outdoors because, let’s be honest, the great outdoors is the best thing New Zealand’s got going for it. As for the rest, it’s hard to find someone who actually fits this supposed ideal.

It’s scary that such an ‘unintellectual’ image is constantly put forward as the paragon to aspire to. It makes people afraid of standing out. Fourteen years of living here has made me fearful, in certain situations, of enunciating words properly! (There’s a danger of people thinking that you think you’re better them. This danger is made more dangerous by having an English accent.)

new-zealand-654980_640Why am I rambling about this now? The flag, of course! The bloody farce that is the ongoing saga of New Zealand’s new flag vote. Debates on the nature of the New Zealand identity are raging, and what’s become clear is that the rugby-mad sheep farmer is no longer in vogue, except for comedy purposes.

Yet a completely democratic panel, from the thousands of flag designs submitted, came up with a final four that included three silver ferns, (two exactly the same except for a different colour in one of the panels,) and a koru that, instead of looking like the Maori symbol of new life that it’s supposed to be, resembles a sinister, hypnotic spiral. Kiwi actor Sam Neill, (the main guy from Jurassic Park,) tweeted, “New NZ flag designs? Three look like logos for a new sportswear franchise. And one – a tidal wave of despair. Let’s just forget it now…”

Pretty much sums up my entire Facebook wall.

I’m not actually against a flag change. But not like this. Not like this.

kiwi-309620_640Kiwis are about more than just rugby, something that the media and the Prime Minister apparently fail to grasp. I mean yes, when I first moved to New Zealand I was shocked at just how much of a national obsession rugby is, but just because someone loves a sport, that doesn’t have to be their defining characteristic.

The New Zealand character is diverse. We have Maori, Pakeha, Pacific Island, British, Indian, Chinese, South African – people and cultures from all over the world. We aren’t just sheep farmers, we’re dairy farmers too!

big-wave-helloBut seriously.

I think my point is that we shouldn’t let the media, or John Key, tell us who we should be. We should be who we want to be and – who knows? – maybe New Zealand will forge new symbols of collective identity.

How I Adopted My Kiwi Identity and Never Looked Back – A Guest Post by Matt Hetherington

In September 1995, at the mere age of 5 years old, I left my country of birth, England. A country I would to this day never set eyes on again. My parents had decided it was time for a fresh start, we left our life and our family behind and ventured to what seemed like the end of the world.

Before long my accent was gone, I began school and I started my life in New Zealand. Memories of the UK fell into the distant past and I quickly began to discover that New Zealand wasn’t a bad place at all.

Probably most fortunate of all was where my parents decided to settle. After a year in Auckland and it’s traffic and average weather, we relocated to Tauranga.

To this day Tauranga has remained to be one of my favourite places. It’s just incredibly peaceful and pleasant. There are around 2400 hours of sunshine in a year and enough sand and surf for any keen beachgoer. Summer in Tauranga made me quickly adopt the city as my home, and despite not having lived there for some time now, I still see it as my favourite place in New Zealand. I enjoyed walking on the beach in the summer and hiking up The Mount, especially when I had friends from other cities and places with me.

MattHetheringtonMountMaunganuiView

View from Mount Maunganui / Matt Hetherington

So What Is It I Love About New Zealand?

Geographic Diversity

It’s really a unique place. It seems like a small country but the terrain is forever changing. In 2012 when I moved for 6 months from Hamilton (North Island) to Christchurch (South Island), I almost felt like I had moved countries again. Within one small pair of islands there is a horizon full of bush/forests, snowy alps, volcanoes on land, volcanoes at sea, hills, surf beaches, peaceful bays, glaciers and more.

I think one of the nicest things is that everywhere is so close to the sea or a large body of water. Sometimes surf and bays can be separated by a small spit of land like in Bowentown, Waihi Beach or Mount Maunganui. We used to spend the early afternoon swimming in the bay in the calm water and then after lunch head over to the surf beach with the camping ground square in the middle of both. It was perfect.

FOOD!

Foodstore DessertIt is as diverse as it’s population. Now on my trips home I usually reside in Auckland, one thing I enjoy there is the food. Now spending so much time in the USA I can say that the food culture in New Zealand is amazing. The large Asian population in Auckland city provides a really good standard of Asian cuisine, actually I would rate the Dim Sum in Auckland among some of the best I have ever had. The cafe culture here is just awesome, I think what I really like is the quality of the food. Even our fast food seems to have much better standards than other places.

The agriculture in New Zealand means that fruit and vegetables, meat, dairy and seafood are all really great quality and that makes the food outstanding!

The People

Native KiwiGenerally speaking I have enjoyed growing up with the people in this country and have, for a long time, identified as one of them, a kiwi. I became a NZ Citizen very late, in 2008 in fact, a long time after moving to New Zealand. I think New Zealanders have a sense of ‘chill’, they are laid back to the point of probably being seen as lazy by foreigners. The lifestyle is easy going, they are creative and fun people.

New Zealand was more than a home to me, it really is a beautiful country. Although I have spread my wings again and am basing myself in the USA very soon, I will be visiting home frequently (probably in the summer). I think one of the only disadvantages for travellers is that it is so far away and can cost a lot to travel to, but for me it’s coming home so it’s a necessary expense!

The more I heard about the UK and how it was changing the less compelled I felt to make a trip home, my family went on numerous occasions but I never took the opportunity to go with them. Perhaps someday soon I will make the trip but I don’t think it will change the fact that I’m a kiwi at heart 🙂

kiwi-309620_640Matt Hetherington is a 25-year-old travelling professional table tennis athlete from New Zealand. Born in the UK and now residing in the United States he operates two blogs, www.mhtabletennis.com for his table tennis fans and a new blog about his travel experiences, www.pongventure.com. He identifies as a kiwi and has represented New Zealand for his entire playing and coaching career.

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.

European Stereotypes – Confirmed or Busted?

Are Germans sausage-obsessed sticklers for efficiency? Are the French rude cheese-eaters? Are the English a nation of reserved, tea-drinking, perpetually damp people? Join a New Zealander and a British-immigrant-to-New Zealand’s voyage of discovery…

(Well, actually, it was a train ride of discovery. Many train rides. Through Europe. It was awesome.)

European Stereotype #1:

It’s always raining in England – BUSTED!

I Rule BritanniaWe were in England for three weeks and it only rained twice!

The rest of time it was glorious – so glorious that the New Zealander complained it was too hot. He’s been telling everyone ever since that England is warmer and sunnier than New Zealand, so there you go.

Ruuule Britannia… Britannia rule the waves…

European Stereotype #2:

Germans are a little too into sausages – CONFIRMED!

It was inevitable that I’d eat at least one sausage in Germany, as I’d already promised to try currywurst*, but I honestly expected to find that the whole German sausage thing was exaggerated. It isn’t exaggerated. There were sausage stands EVERYWHERE. Every restaurant had many types of sausage. We were served pea soup with a big, pink sausage in it. It was difficult to find a snack that wasn’t sausage-based. There were even several instances of marzipan made to look exactly like sausages. As if there weren’t enough actual sausages in the vicinity. This stereotype is definitely confirmed.

European Stereotype #3:

Italians are a little too into thievery – BUSTED!

colosseumEveryone we met, in every country except Italy, upon enquiring about our itinerary, warned us about Italy. “Don’t keep your wallet in your pocket,” they all said. “And don’t fall asleep on any trains,” some added. Apparently, Italy was swarming with thieves and gypsies and thieving gypsies. Except it wasn’t. We spent a week there and, despite being on high-alert due to paranoia, we didn’t see a single suspicious character anywhere. So either all these Italian thieves are very good, or this stereotype has been a tad exaggerated.

European Stereotype #4:

English food is bad – (sadly) CONFIRMED!

A medieval monk's dinner at Rufford Abbey. With one addition. I didn't put it there.

A medieval monk’s dinner at Rufford Abbey… with one addition… I didn’t put it there.

I was born in England and I’ve grown up with very good food, (thanks to my mum, who’s both English and a great cook,) so I was keen show my New Zealand-born boyfriend that English food isn’t actually that bad – it’s just a stereotype. Unfortunately, the two relatives we stayed with in England are both single males, so not the best examples food-wise. Worse, one of those males is the sort of old, set-in-their-ways Northerner who regards spaghetti bolognese as too foreign. The food we experienced in England, therefore, included pie and chips, egg and chips, spam and chips, Chinese takeaway and, of course, fish and chips. Not that fish and chips is bad, it’s just boring**. Even if it is covered in brown sauce.

“You have to have brown sauce,” my uncle told my boyfriend. “You’re in England.”

“What is brown sauce?” my boyfriend asked. “I mean… what’s in it?”

My uncle thought for a moment before offering, “Brown?”

Fish and chips is a popular meal in New Zealand too, but it tends to be better in New Zealand – tastier, fresher fish.

European Stereotype #5:

Germans have no sense of humour – BUSTED!

Germany: the only country in the world where you can take the Wank train to the top of Mount Wank.

Germany: the only country in the world where you can take the Wank train to the top of Mount Wank.

On our first night in Germany, the Germans we were staying with asked us if we liked Monty Python. We proceeded to watch Life of Brian in German. (I don’t understand German, but I know Life of Brian word-for-word.) In case you’re wondering how it translates: Schwanzus… Longus***.

European Stereotype #6:

The French are obsessed with cheese – (joyously) CONFIRMED!

The French love their cheese. I love my cheese. Being in France led me to overdose on cheese. I regret nothing.

The cheese aisle at a French supermarket. That's a quarter of it. And all so cheap!

The cheese aisle at a French supermarket. That’s a quarter of it. And all so cheap!

European Stereotype #7:

Belgium’s mainly beer and chocolate – CONFIRMED!

Bruges... it's like a f*****g fairytale or something.

Bruges… it’s like a f*****g fairytale or something.

As a country, Belgium is the butt of many jokes. Many people asked us, in all seriousness, why we would bother going there. Why? What – the best beer and chocolate in the world isn’t a good enough reason? Not to mention the chips and waffles! Well, okay, we went because In Bruges is one of our favourite films and Bruges looked awesome. (Bruges is in Belgium.) And it was awesome, apart from the fact that all the shops sold the same things. Bruges was like an endless Scooby-Doo corridor, but instead of plant-clock-plant-clock it was beer-chocolate-beer-chocolate-Flemish tapestries-chocolate-beer. We even found an antiques shop that also sold beer. (Yesterdays World, if you’re ever in Bruges – highly recommended.)

European Stereotype #8:

The English are reserved – CONFIRMED!

unionflagEven though my boyfriend found people in England to be far friendlier than international stereotyping had led him to believe****, they were still noticeably stiffer than people in New Zealand. I like to think that my years in New Zealand have somewhat softened my upper lip, but New Zealand is a descendant of England, and still reserved compared to, say, France. In fact, I didn’t realise just how reserved I was until we went to France and encountered the bisou. Or bisous – three of them in the Provence! I offered a certain teenage boy I’d just met my hand for a cordial shake. He ignored it and went straight in for a kiss.

“Oh, thank y-” I began to say, but was cut off by another kiss on my other cheek. “Oh, I see, we’re doing this, are-” And a third kiss. When he finally pulled away, I was like, “Oh, umm, right, jolly good.”

I’ve never felt more English in my life.

European Stereotype #9:

The French are rude – BUSTED!

IMGP1941We didn’t encounter any rude French people – not even in Paris. Everyone seemed very friendly and hospitable, even when we were butchering their language and being ignorant tourists. Maybe the whole rude French thing arose because French people are generally less reserved than the people who like to see them as rude?

European Stereotype #10:

German trains are always on time – BUSTED!

A clever chocolate advertisement in a German train station

A clever chocolate advertisement in a German train station

This is a LIE! You’d think such a well-oiled race of competent engineers could get their trains to run on time, but practically every train we caught was late. There were delays all over the place, and it wasn’t just a case of us exaggerating the bad. Ask any German. Tell a German this stereotype exists and they will laugh. Bitterly.

But the French trains! The French trains were all perfectly on time – often to the second! What is this alternate dimension we’ve wandered into? Opposite world?

There is one aspect of Germany that lived up to the efficiency stereotype. Have you ever heard of Ritter Sport? (That’s the sound of German expats salivating the world over.) It’s a brand of seriously nice chocolate, the motto of which is ‘Quadratisch. Praktisch. Gut.’ In English, ‘Square. Practical. Good.’ Sounds delicious. (Sarcasm aside, yes, it is.) And get this – it’s square and practical because it was designed to fit perfectly into the pocket of an army uniform. Now that’s efficient chocolate.

European Stereotype #11:

French and Italian drivers are crazy – CONFIRMED!

Ever seen an intersection packed with cars at all different angles, none of them giving an inch, all of them tooting angrily like it will possibly help? I hadn’t until I visited Continental Europe. I was aware of the stereotype, but I was still shocked when encountering it. I was shocked by the fact that Parisians deliberately leave their handbrakes off when they park, to allow other drivers to nudge their cars out of the way. I was shocked by Italian drivers pausing their cars casually on the road to fill up with petrol.

“Never take your car to Paris,” a German living near the French border said to me.

“Well, you shouldn’t take your car to any city. You get caught in traffic everywhere,” I said.

“No, I mean never take your car to Paris because it will get dented.”

It's easy not caring about time in Italy...

It’s easy not caring about time in Italy…

We didn’t experience many French or Italian roads, as we were travelling by train everywhere, but the one time we had to get a bus in Italy… well…

“Oh no,” I said, looking at the bus stop timetable. “We’ve missed it.”

“You haven’t missed it,” said an Austrian teacher, waiting to board the bus with his Classical Studies class. “Have you got your tickets?”

“We were just going to buy them on board,” my boyfriend said.

“You can’t buy them on board,” said the teacher. “You have to buy them from a tabacchi shop.”

There was a tabacchi shop on the other side of the road and a little way down, but the road was busy and it would take us ages to cross. There was no way we’d make it to the tabacchi, purchase the tickets without speaking Italian, and return to the bus stop before the bus arrived.

“Just go and buy them,” said the teacher. “This is Italy. You’ll be fine.”

In the end, we had time to make it to the tabacchi, purchase the tickets without speaking Italian, return to the bus stop, chat to the Austrian Classical Studies students, purchase an ice-cream and eat it before the bus arrived.

European Stereotype #12:

The English are obsessed with tea – CONFIRMED!

teapot

Just casually in the middle of Nottingham…

I already knew this one. Whenever you enter an English person’s home, tea is the first thing you’re offered, and it gets kind of awkward if you refuse. New Zealand has inherited England’s tea culture, but I didn’t realise quite how exclusive that culture is. On our entire European journey, we only stayed in one hotel that had a kettle and teabags in the room, and that was the hotel we stayed in for one night at Gatwick Airport, before we flew to Germany. (When checking out various hotel reviews online, I found the ones bemoaning the lack of tea-making facilities were invariable written by English people.)

In cafes all over Continental Europe, I asked for cups of tea. First of all, they were shocked I wanted tea, not coffee. Second, they were shocked I wanted black tea. Third, they were shocked I wanted black tea with milk. Fourth, they were shocked I wanted black tea with milk and no sugar. Usually, the closest I got to my idea of a proper cup of tea was Darjeeling with a little plastic pot of coffee cream.

European Stereotype #13:

In France, wine is cheaper than water – CONFIRMED!

Walks along the Seine...

Walks along the Seine…

I honestly thought this one was exaggerated. It’s not. It’s actually quite hard to stay hydrated in France.

If you go into a restaurant in New Zealand, you’ll automatically be given complimentary glasses of water. This isn’t the case in Europe. If you go into a restaurant in France and ask for water, you get given a strange look. The waiter begrudgingly brings some water and, later, when you get the bill, you discover it cost you five Euros. The next time, you specifically ask the waiter for tap water, only to be told that you can’t have tap water.

Now, how can a bottle of water be five Euros and a bottle of wine be four? There were even two-Euro bottles of wine in the supermarkets. And it was drinkable wine. In New Zealand, the cheapest bottle of supermarket wine is about seven dollars. The cheapest bottle of drinkable supermarket wine is about nine dollars. Nine dollars is about five-and-a-half Euros.

Yeah, alcohol is expensive in New Zealand. But at least Kiwis know how to make tea. Oh, and you don’t have to pay to use the public toilets here.

* Sausage covered in curry sauce. A perfectly acceptable meal.

** My boyfriend’s words, not mine. I am English and therefore believe the occasional meal of fish and chips to be the ambrosia of the proles. I also like chip butties.

*** The German version of Biggus Dickus: Schwanzus (tail, slang for penis) Longus (long).

**** We were in the North of England, not London, so maybe that had something to do with it?

Wanna bust some New Zealand stereotypes? Check out last week’s article, That’s in Australia, Right?

(Oh, that’s just reminded me: New Zealand isn’t the only country that’s constantly being mistaken for Australia. When we were in Austria, we kept seeing postcards and hats and things that said, ‘No kangaroos in Austria!’ We presumed it was for the benefit of American tourists.)

Instead, Austria has accordion-playing unicorns.

Instead, Austria has accordion-playing unicorns.

A New Zealander’s View of Britain

Hello, everyone! I just got back from my Grand Tour of Europe, so I’ve finally got time to write some new posts.

As you may know, I spent the last three months travelling with my Kiwi boyfriend, starting in my native Britain. In the last post I wrote before leaving New Zealand, (Back to Blighty, or Poms Away Up Top,) I said I was nervous about returning to England. Basically, I was worried that my boyfriend, spoiled by growing up amongst New Zealand’s spectacular nature, would think that my home was a bit rubbish.

Telephone Box

Liverpool

Well I’m glad to say he didn’t.

I actually had a great time seeing Britain through the eyes of a New Zealander, so let’s invert the usual format.

Instead of a British immigrant’s view of New Zealand, let’s investigate a New Zealander’s view of Britain.

So here, in no particular order, are some of the things that struck us about Britain:

1) Summer days last far too long

It was evening when we landed at Manchester Airport. We expected to fall straight asleep after our thirty-hour journey, but we got to my grandpa’s flat and found that we couldn’t. Something was wrong. It was still light. It was half past ten at night. And it was still light.

I nearly went insane that first week.

In New Zealand, the sun sets way earlier, even in summer. In Auckland, it’s dark by nine in summer, and we’d just come from the depths of winter. Now we were facing a sun that was blazing hot before six in the morning.

“It feels so wrong,” Tim said as we climbed into bed one night. “It feels like five in evening.”

2) Britain is warmer, drier and sunnier than New Zealand

Britannia Rules the Waves

New Brighton

You just scoffed in disbelief, didn’t you? Well I know it’s not usually the case, but for the three weeks we were in Britain, the weather was beautiful. It only rained twice, and it was hotter than a New Zealand summer. I’m afraid my boyfriend came away with quite the wrong impression.

3) Britain has too many coins

After a few days back in England, I realised my purse felt unusually heavy. It was overflowing (literally, to my embarrassment in Boots,) with coppers I couldn’t get rid of. All the one- and two-pence coins really began to annoy me. When my family arrived in New Zealand in 2001, there were no one- or two-cent coins, and the five-cent coin was abolished a few years ago. I’ve become used to a light purse, especially as, in New Zealand, you usually pay for everything with EFTPOS.

4) English villages are more picturesque than New Zealand villages

priorygarden

Norton Priory Walled Garden

If you drive through a village in New Zealand, you’re likely to see a few flaky, wooden houses surrounded by farmland. If you drive through a village in England, you’re likely to see neat rows of charming stone or brick houses, each with their own perfectly kept front garden. Tim noted, quite correctly, the English obsession with flowers.

“I haven’t seen one untidy garden,” he said as we were walking through my hometown.

“There’s one right there,” I pointed out. There was indeed, but it had a real estate sign in it. We didn’t see any wrongfully neglected gardens until we turned onto my old street. My God, it had gone downhill. The window above the door of the house I lived in for the first ten years of my life was boarded up, as was the bay window of the house next-door. From the way the grass looked, it’s not an unreasonable assumption that the last person to mow it was my mum, back in 2001.

Shabby as the houses on my old street looked to me, Tim still saw the charm of the Victorian terraces. When you come from New Zealand, any building built before 1930 is a rare wonder. Tim kept stopping in front of what I thought were perfectly ordinary houses, wanting to take a photo. (Although, I admit, I did this myself when we got to Germany.)

5) British drivers are more careful than New Zealand drivers – except on the motorways

IMGP1044

Me in the Lake District

Because most of the towns in Britain were built before the invention of cars, most of the roads in Britain are narrower than the roads in New Zealand. They are made narrower still by the fact that there are usually cars parked end-to-end down both sides. You’d think this would make British roads more dangerous than New Zealand roads, but my boyfriend didn’t find this to be the case. Rather, it forces drivers to go slower and be on constant lookout for obstacles, whereas in New Zealand, because the roads are wider and obstacle-free, drivers can get more complacent.

My dad’s always saying that British drivers are far better than Kiwi drivers, and the statistics would seem to back this up, but we found the general standard of driving on the motorway was actually a lot dodgier in Britain. People were constantly crossing barely two metres in front of us without indicating, from both sides, and everyone else seemed to be going fifteen miles above the speed limit at all times.

Miles, not kilometres, as it is in New Zealand.

6) Food in Britain is cheaper, but not necessarily healthier

We were walking round a supermarket, (it was a Morrisons, so draw your own conclusions about that,) and we were amazed. There were so many brands to choose from compared to the supermarkets in New Zealand, yet, somehow, so little choice.

This is what the nation eats?” I said. It was cheap, but not in a good way. “Is it possible to eat healthily in this country?” I’m sure it probably is, but certainly not if you’re a lazy person.

7) English bakeries are better than New Zealand bakeries, but not as good as German ones

IMGP1219

England also has some absolutely gorgeous tea rooms, such as this one in Lincoln

A famous snack in New Zealand is the pie – piping hot, in a plastic wrapper, relatively cheap from a bakery or dairy… just try not to think too hard about what’s in it. In England, my boyfriend discovered the pasty – cheaper even than pies, yet far nicer. He developed quite a liking for them, once he’d learned the correct pronunciation of ‘pasty’. It was quite funny, really, when we walked into one of the bakeries in my hometown and he asked, in a loud Kiwi accent, “What’s a Scotch egg?”

Even funnier was when we asked my uncle if there were any sushi bars around and received the incredulous reply, “In Retford?!”

8) Britain has a serious lack of sushi bars

In Auckland, it seems like every second shop is a sushi bar. If you want a fresh, tasty lunch that’s also cheap and healthy, sushi is the only way to go. My boyfriend and I love sushi and, in England – all over Europe, in fact – this was the biggest thing we missed from New Zealand. It’s all very well having pasties and custard tarts and pain au chocolat, but we just wanted something fresh.

9) It’s impossible to get away from civilisation in England

Even in the beautiful Lake District National Park, as you survey the lakes and the mountains, you see farmhouses and field boundaries, a natural landscape tamed and shaped by humanity. There is spectacular nature there, but not wild, untamed nature like you get in New Zealand.

The English landscape has been inhabited for so long that it’s become interwoven with human history. But that in itself is beautiful. In England, you can be walking through a forest and come across some mystically beautiful stone ruins. The farmhouses in the Lake District are beautiful farmhouses. England has a manmade beauty that New Zealand simply doesn’t.

Castlerigg, a stone circle that's about 5000 years old in the Lake District

Castlerigg, a stone circle that’s about 5000 years old in the Lake District

10) England is as nice as it can be made; New Zealand is as nice as it can be kept

That’s a direct quote from Tim. No sooner had he come out with it, I was scribbling it down in my notebook. The ideal of beauty in New Zealand is nature as untouched as possible by humanity; the ideal of beauty in England is nature perfected by humanity. Both have their merits, and, as Tim said, you can’t say one is better than the other. However, by the time I’d spent three months surrounded by beautiful civilisation, I was definitely longing for some good old Kiwi countryside.

In fact, before we’d even left Europe, we were planning a New Zealand campervan foray. Ever since I wrote that article about the Kea, Tim’s wanted to go in search of them. So, to the Southern Alps it is. Particularly apt after encountering the original Alps in Europe…

Chester Cathedral

Chester Cathedral

Christmas in New Zealand

Christmas in New Zealand is weird.

That’s not just the biased opinion of an immigrant from the Northern Hemisphere; it’s weird for New Zealanders as well.

My nana's snowman

My nana’s snowman

You see, New Zealand is a small country that doesn’t produce much, and, as such, a lot of its culture is imported from America and Great Britain. This means that the majority of the Christmas movies that New Zealanders watch on telly, the majority of the Christmas cards and the wrapping paper they buy in shops, the majority of the Christmas music they hear and the carols they try not to sing have been made with the Northern Hemisphere in mind.

Kiwi children grow up being told that Christmas is one thing, yet seeing with their own eyes that it is something else. They grow up with the image of the traditional White Christmas hammered into their consciousness when many of them have never felt snow in their lives. In New Zealand, Christmas is in the middle of summer.

Santa Claus isn’t exactly dressed for a New Zealand summer – he’d die! (You’ve got to feel sorry for New Zealand shopping mall Santas, eh?)

My nana's Christmas bells

My nana’s Christmas bells

The Kiwi Christmas is such a contradiction – an exercise in Orwellian doublethink: you have to hold two conflicting concepts in your mind and believe both of them to be true. In New Zealand, the tangible version of Christmas that is happening around you is one of barbecues and beaches, of road trips and campervans, of super soakers and trampolines, of scorching concrete and relieving grass; the intangible version consists of snowmen and fairytales, of candles behind frosted windows, and of cute woodland creatures that don’t exist in the New Zealand bush.

My nana's garden display

My nana’s garden display

My boyfriend was born in New Zealand and, a couple of weeks ago, he said something interesting: for him, growing up, Christmas and summer were two separate things that happened to coincide, that ran parallel to each other. For me, growing up in Britain, Christmas and winter were inextricably intertwined – one did not exist without the other, yet here the traditions of Christmastime and the time of year in which they took place clashed.

Christmas and summer are polar opposites: despite the efforts of New Zealanders to mash the ill-suited magnets together, they remain slightly repelled from each other, just unable to touch. The Kiwi Christmas cards you can buy showing, for example, Santa in a red budgie smuggler barbecuing sausages on the beach are fun to send to relatives in the Northern Hemisphere, but the image is forever overshadowed by the Santa in the snow.

Christmas in my home town in England

Christmas in my home town in England

Kiwis long for a White Christmas just as much as the Northern Hemisphere expats. In fact, it is quite common in New Zealand to celebrate a ‘midwinter Christmas’ in June. Many places have a public Christmas tree lit by a giant star put up in winter. Auckland’s started having a midwinter ice rink in Aotea Square, which looks terribly pretty all lit up at night.

Every year, my nana, who emigrated from England to live with us a few years ago, goes absolutely mental decorating the house for Christmas. Every year, you’ll hear my dad exclaim, “The horror! The horror!” at least three times a day in reaction to this, but, actually, my nana decorates beautifully. Everyone wants to come over to see it. If you want to truly feel like you’re in the midst of a White Christmas, step into my nana’s lounge – and that’s just what her Kiwi friends do.

On my nana's mantelpiece

On my nana’s mantelpiece

I’ve been groaning that it’s difficult for me to get into the Christmas spirit when it’s the middle of summer and I’m being bothered by mosquitoes, but my nana’s Christmas grotto never fails to guide me there, and for that I’m so grateful to her.

I asked her today – as I sat in the sweltering, blooming garden writing this article and she took photographs of me and the cats – what she thought of Christmas in New Zealand, and she replied that she really doesn’t like it being in summer. It shouldn’t be so bright outside! It’s all very well making a cosy atmosphere inside with the decorations, but cosy in this heat runs the risk of becoming stuffy. But she makes the best of it.

Boy, does she make the best of it.

My kitten, Ripley, cheekily climbing our Christmas tree

My kitten, Ripley, cheekily climbing our Christmas tree

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.

IMG_1064

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.