“When overseas you learn more about your own country, than you do the place you’re visiting.”
– Clint Borgen
Or to say it another way, perhaps the purpose of traveling is to eventually come home and see one’s own country in a different way.
In my own small, limited experience of living here in New Zealand, here are some observations. People here certainly seem less competitive, judgmental and confrontational than in the US. People here are generally respectful of others. There is generally deference given to others. You get the feeling that people tend to believe the best about others. Nobody gets in your face here. You don’t hear people yelling, screaming or demanding. People seem more likely to “have a go” at things if given the opportunity. Image seems less important. Nobody here seems to think twice about doing anything based on what anyone else would think. I also get the feeling people aren’t generally thinking “I’m better or worse than you.” It’s a subtle thing but I just feel that people don’t compare themselves to others as much here. There is a certain egalitarianism here that has perhaps both good and bad aspects. Although I know there are some problems, but the race thing seems to have been generally worked out here. All races and nationalities seem to get along. People don’t seem to look at race or care. Generally all people seem to get along and respect one another here.
There seems to be a certain pride about living here in New Zealand. Despite its problems—all countries have them— people love their country. They believe in their country. Most people care about it: the laws, the economy, the environment. There is a distinct sense of fair play here too. People wait their turns in lines, no one jumps ahead, and this is reflected in the ways things are run here.
Most things here are more laid-back than in the States. Everything gets done and usually in an efficient manner, but there isn’t that frenetic energy that is associated with so many things in the US. People aren’t lazy. They just aren’t rushed. There seems to be a national consensus on what’s important and what isn’t. Work and getting-ahead are not the most important things. People put in their hours at work and then go home. Most of the time by about six PM, the roads are empty. People don’t use their horns when they drive. Traffic runs smoothly; it is rare, at least where we are, to see a car accident.
Another thing, I guess in part due to the lack of lawsuits here compared to the US, people are more likely to take responsibility for themselves. If you fall off a cliff into the ocean, it’s your fault, not because there wasn’t any fence there. And you can be sure that you aren’t going to get any money because there wasn’t a fence there.
Related to all these things, at my son’s high school, they actually play games in his Outdoor Ed class, games like Capture the Flag and Dodge Ball (wasn’t that banned in the US years ago!), and some crazy game he played yesterday called Long Ball that sounds like a version of cricket except you play it with an oversized tennis racket, a tennis ball and instead of throwing players out, you try to hit them as hard as you can with the ball. Great fun.
“Does everyone play?” I ask him, “I mean all the girls too?”
“Yes, of course.”
In the US, certain kids would sit out Phys Ed, or it would be beneath them to participate full out, but here everyone plays as hard as they can.
“Do people throw the ball hard?”
“Yeah, everyone wails away with the ball. I hit a guy so hard in the knee, he buckled and went down like he was shot, and while trying to avoid getting hit, I slid on the wet grass and hurt my leg. It’s great fun.”
He shows me an expanding red welt on his left thigh.
Other times in his Outdoor Ed class, they give all the kids mountain bikes and let them loose. They all ride several miles to the Mount where we live. Apparently they all return. Another time during the school day, they let them loose for some sort of scavenger hunt where they roamed the residential streets for miles around the school. They just don’t do things like this in US schools.
In the summer, the class walks the few blocks to the beach and they go surfing.
Again, I ask him, “Does everyone surf?”
“Oh, yeah, everyone gets in the water and surfs or kayaks or something.”
Every few months, the Outdoor Ed class goes overnight somewhere. The first time they stayed at a holiday park and surfed in the ocean and kayaked in the estuaries. This last time they mountain biked, kayaked, hiked and then stayed overnight in a Maori village. Next week, they are going to backpack up into the Kaimais, the nearby mountain range. I guess what I’m saying is that it is all so bloody wholesome here compared to the US, or again, it is more like the US was years ago.
At the fitness club I go to, I take some group weightlifting classes and spin classes. Same thing—people of all ages and sizes participate. No one seems to judge anyone on how good he or she is, how much weight is lifted or anything. As they say here, “It’s all good.” You don’t get any arrogant looks from anyone; no one acts as if they are better than anyone else. One of Rebecca’s friends from LA visited us here last year and attended the classes with me. The things she noticed was that none of the women dressed up or seemed to care what they were wearing, in obvious sharp contrast to the LA fitness scene.
Some people consider Kiwis staid, and at times they can be. But Kiwis do have a good sense of humor and they like people who don’t take themselves or things too seriously. As a matter of record, the original Dennis the Menace cartoon character was based on the antics of a Kiwi kid.
Related to this, New Zealand consistently has one of the highest scores for all nations for happiness, peacefulness and safety. With regards to safety, even though Australia is having problems with terrorism, not here. I can’t imagine why, for example, anyone would want to blow up a Hobbiton bus in Matamata.
As an aside, the New Zealand Air Force only has thirty-six planes as best I can tell, and many of them are trainers. But before you pass judgment on that, you have to remember that the population of New Zealand is roughly equivalent to the San Francisco-Oakland metropolitan area—what size air force does San Francisco have?
Okay, I have to say something. The quintessential Kiwi male, the outdoorsman. He could be the Marlboro Man of the Southern Hemisphere. Top half—tough, rugged, wearing some shirt or rough jacket, perhaps a bush hat askew on his head. But then the bottom half. Many of the men here wear these god-awful, too-short shorts (called stubbies). They look like something Dr. J used to wear when he played for the Sixers. Get rid of the shorts!
Honesty boxes—I guess they are not as common as they once were but we see them all over. These are when people sell produce in front of their house or property. The price is listed; there are bags of produce, and usually a small wooden box to put your money in. Unfortunately, I just can’t see that flying in the US.
One phrase that grows on you while living here is “sweet as”, the iconic Kiwi phrase meaning cool, agreed, yes, awesome or some combination of those words. “How was your trip to the South Island?” “Sweet as.”
But there are numerous permutations of sweet as. The word ‘as’ can be added to almost any other word; some common variations are ‘quick as’, ‘simple as’ and ‘easy as’.
“Put your stuff away quick as.”
“We can get there simple as.”
“It’s easy as.”
Not to mention ‘lazy as’, ‘stupid as’, ‘bored as’, ‘busy as’, ‘hungry as’ or ‘tired as’.
Women commonly use the phrase “hiya” as a greeting. Another womanly intonation commonly heard here, more so amongst older women, is what I would describe as the “mmmmmm”—a consideration sound but usually with a negative or introspective connotation.
First woman: “She’s moved back in with her sister.”
Second woman: “That might not be good—mmmmmmm.”
“Heaps” is another word that has seeped into our vocabulary here and refers to lots of something.
“How many people were there?”
“Was there plenty of food?”
“Cheers” is another phrase commonly used in New Zealand. It means thank you, good day, goodbye, good luck, take it easy, all is good, see you later or is simply used as a way of closing a conversation.
Finally, another quintessential Kiwi phrase that we’re starting to use is “she’ll be right,” which means don’t worry about it, it’ll sort itself out. Which is probably good advice for most everything.