Infiltrating the World of Rugby

I’ve lived in New Zealand fifteen years and I’ve never come around to rugby. But then I am opposed to all sports in general, aside from rock climbing and chess. My partner is the same. Tim was born in New Zealand, and he’s never gotten into rugby either.

You’ve seen The IT Crowd, right? Tim’s pretty much Moss. (Luckily for him, I happen to find Moss deeply sexually attractive.) You can imagine my surprise, therefore, when Tim, who was staying with his brother down south for a few days, texted me this…

Tim: We’re on our way to a rugby game.

I recovered just enough to type a reply that, even with a text message’s inherent lack of vocal tone, Tim would know was thoroughly sarcastic…

Me: Well I’m sure you’ll enjoy that immensely.

At this point, my mum asked who I was texting and, subsequently, what Tim was up to. She was just as surprised as I was. I proceeded to do an impression of Moss at a football match in that episode of The IT Crowd. You know, this one…

Then, a short while later, I received this text…

Tim: Hooray, he’s kicked the ball. Now the ball’s over there. That man has it now. That’s an interesting development. Maybe he’ll kick the ball. He has indeed and, apparently, that deserves a round of applause.

Me: Ha-ha! I quoted that to Mum just before. We are soulmates and I love you.

Tim: I love you too.

Tim continued to send me texts throughout the game, which should give you some idea of just how riveted he was. I’ve reproduced them here (with his permission) for your amusement…

Tim: Now the game is on hold so we can analyse slow motion footage of men diving onto a pile of other men.

Tim: A decision was reached. Now they’re running.

Me: You can get through this, darling.

Tim: I thought so too, but I’m not so sure now that I’ve spilled beer on my hand-knitted alpaca wool gloves.

Tim: One of the numbers on the digital display has increased, followed by positive music. This is a good omen.

Tim: My distress about the alpaca wool has been neutralised by more beer, this time taken orally.

Me: You might even get drunk enough to enjoy it.

Tim: I am full of beer and not drunk. Alas.

Tim: The game is on hold again. Some players take the opportunity to call their assistants to tie their shoelaces.

Me: Who’s playing? (Mum asks.)

Tim: Blues and Highlanders. There can be only one.

Hands up – who got that reference?

Soon, the game was over. Tim had survived.

When he got back, I asked him whether his experience had converted him.

“No,” he said. “I mean I was never really against rugby. I think it’s a good thing for a country to have something to rally behind. It’s a good excuse to go out, and there are lots of different kinds of people there, but I still find it fairly boring to watch. I’m not for it. Watching rather than doing seems a bit pointless. I think I only devoted about half my time to actually watching it. I was more distracted by the people and the advertisements. I don’t know… I just… I wish our national sport was less risky.”

“So, you’d prefer competitive programming?” I asked.

He laughed.

“Do you think this makes you less of a New Zealander?” I probed.

“Not really. Kinda. Yeah-nah,” he said. “There are different groups within New Zealand. Some would be against anyone who voiced a negative opinion of rugby. There are also lots of people who don’t like rugby. I suppose it’s nice to have something that the bulk of the country can relate to on some level. Most hobbies are specialised, so you don’t meet a range of different people.”

So, there you are. Over the years, I’ve had a few readers write to me to ask whether, if you live in New Zealand, you have to like rugby. The answer, of course, is yes.

I’m joking. Yeah-nah. Of course you don’t have to like it. Just do what you want. You don’t have to like rugby to get involved occasionally and encounter different sorts of people. Or not. It takes all sorts to make a world.


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.