Monday, 29 March 2010

Being Kiwi: The joys of being from a place nobody knows anything about

New Zealand is a place where strangers talk to each other on the streets, which is at first disarming to an ex-Londoner, but ultimately pleasant. Last week a friendly stranger asked if he could borrow a chair from my sidewalk cafĂ© table. All the other tables were full and he needed a place to sip his flat white. Fair enough. I gave a smile and dove back into my laptop. The sixty-year-old man seemed harmless so after a few minutes I said something to him and we got to chatting. It turned out he sold real estate in the Kohimarama area where we’re living. 

Local small talk continued and then he asked me, “Do you know what the best thing about this place is?” 

I told him to hit me, guessing his response: Access to the sea? Laid-back villagey feel? Kiwi ingenuity? Tell me…

“The best thing about New Zealand is that nobody cares about us.”

What a fantastic best thing. 

“Nobody cares about us because nobody knows about us. We’re just a little island in a far corner of the world – our own little secret.”

Even though I wouldn’t trade my American passport for anything, I do have a reoccurring fantasy about being from somewhere with slightly lighter cultural baggage. Somewhere neutral and pleasant, like Ireland or Sweden, where people just smile when you say where you’re from. I imagine it would be quite freeing to come from somewhere that people across the world pay little attention to. New Zealand fits this bill. 

Nobody cares about what New Zealand’s healthcare system looks like (fine, thanks). Nobody even knows who’s freaking leading the country (John Key). No one has strong opinions on this little Kiwi oasis, and if they do, it’s all positive. “I LOVE Lord of the Rings!” or “Flight of the Conchords is awesome!” or “No nuclear, right on!” Honestly, try and come up with something bad about New Zealand. 

If I were from New Zealand I’d be a much less defensive and much more pleasant person. 

Anyway, as of tomorrow, the countdown to Seattle slowly begins: 9 more weeks. And for every day of the next 9 weeks I plan on enjoying this world's best kept secret. 


Nadine said...

Sounds like New Zealand is a genuine piece of heaven.

Enjoy the next nine weeks - I can't wait to hear more about New Zealand and the beautiful mystery it contains.

ianandmonica said...

I adore this entry so much!!! I knew you would fall in love with the world's best kept secret of a fish hook island! Now you can see why I could not say anything negative about NZ. So when shall we all plan retirement there? Sweet as! Miss you heaps and heaps.

alisha said...

Monica, let's start planning retirement now! I now know exactly what you mean.

Matt and Joey said...

Great writing, Lishous. Read it aloud to Matt tonight over a cup of tea. It's interesting because right now Americans have such strong (and divided) opinions about what American should be and I just had a long discussion about Israel with a friend and walked away thinking, "I really need to form a better educated opinion about Israel." It really would be so nice to live somewhere that no one needs to defend/ chastize/ revolutionize or otherwise deal with an entrenched historical/political saga. NZ (which I am pronouncing in my head like our kiwi friends do: 'En zed') just seems too perfect for words.

By the way, have you noticed anyone there using the expression "sweet as" or "tasty as," etc.? It's like an implied analogy that's never finished, leaving the hearer to conclude that the thing being commented on is the nth degree of whatever adjective is being used. An odd and endearing colloquialism we enjoyed from our kiwi friends.

Here's a fun youtube clip about the way kiwis talk. It's odd the first time, but once you understand what they're saying, it's hilarious. :) Notice the infamous "I'm beached as, bro!"

Jenny said...

only 9 more weeks? whohoo!

i need new zealand...i think Wes would love it.

alisha said...

Jenny, NZ needs you too!

Joey, I love your dissection of the phrase "Sweet as". The first time I heard it I thought the speaker was saying "Sweet ass", but they weren't. That video gave me a chuckle too!

Also, as I was writing this post I was thinking that the only country to be more divisive than America is Israel. Imagine having dual-nationality with those two powder kegs!

Meagan Lopez said...

so exciting! I want that old man to be my friend. Do you think he'd mind?
Funnily enough, Jock and I spent a good few hours looking at ways for us to move to Australia or New Zealand. Looks like I could do a year working holiday, and with his job and UK citizenship, he could work there no problem. Who knows? Maybe we'll pop by and say hi before you go!
Really great writing - I didn't mean to finish it because I was rushing out the door, but you had me at "Best kept secret"!

La Dolce Vita said...

This post made me think about it...and it's true! Here in Italy it is known that New Zealand has - more or less - the same shape of Italy...that it is where "Lord of the Rings" was shot...maybe that is where kiwi fruits come from...but it's always out of the news. Apparently nothing happens in New Zealand...but talking with people, it's where everybody would love to go and visit...because it's considered a far exotic place, wild and uncontaminated. A perfect place where relax and enjoy life on the other side of the planet.

To me, it's funny the difference between Kiwis and Aussies...Kiwis love being far from everything, not considered and down under but on the contrary - when I was in Australia - they seemed pretty uncomfortable to be "down under", far and forgotten, and this sensation was confirmed by some funny postcards I found (where Australia was in the northern Hemisphere and Europe, US and UK in the southern Hemisphere!) .Once talking with an Aussie friend, she told me:" We live in a big country but we are just a few million people. China is overcrowded and what's if they decide to push us and invade us? Who would care for Australia, then?". At first I laughed and thought how strange and absurd this statement was, but also made me think and at the end it emerged how Aussies feel alone and harmless down under...

Anyway, as a travel lover I would like to experience New Zealand one day very much. For sure I couldn't stay there as long as you are doing, but I feel like it's a place that - even if far from everything - makes you feel comfortable and relaxed. Probably the right place where retire in peace if we can cope with being apart from the rest of the world.

alisha said...

Meagan, I highly recommend a year out here. Or Australia, that would be fine too. Let me know if you want any tips!

Mario, I agree, I think NZ is the perfect place to retire. And it's amazing how with TV and the internet it doesn't feel that far removed from everything else once you're here. It's like the rest of the world has forgotten about NZ, but you're still in touch. It's win-win for me right now!

Di said...

This made me cry a little bit. xx

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