Posted by: scribe9 | January 1, 2010

Our New Year’s Eve in New Zealand

Since we were guests of an English couple who’ve been Down Under only four years, and the other guests were Icelanders, I can’t tell you whether we had a typical New Zealand New Year’s Eve.

There was already a chilly breeze when we started out by the pool with drinks and nibbles, so the only person who swam was the nine-year-old. The hostess and the Icelandic woman mentioned that in their homelands one stays outside at the table as long as there’s sunlight, no matter how much one has to bundle up to do it. Fortunately they relented and we ate dinner inside.

The menu included barbecued drumsticks and burgers. I must mention that the burgers were made of beef, since New Zealanders make burgers of all sorts of meats and seafoods. The burgers were made with and without beet (“beetroot,” to distinguish it from “silverbeet,” which is Swiss chard). I tried the beet variety—a Kiwi specialty—but can’t say I was won over. Maybe I just didn’t put enough horseradish on it. It certainly wasn’t nearly as good as the wine.

After dinner we went out to the garage to play darts. Our host won both rounds, but the Icelandic man managed to lodge his second dart into the flight (the feather-like end, as I just found out online) of one that had already landed in the 9, so we decided to score the second at 9 squared (undoubtedly not kosher, but hey, house rules!).

Having worked up an appetite, we went back into the house for dessert. Our hostess assured us that dessert was a typical English Christmas one, which means that the table was loaded with sweets, fruit, and nuts. The pudding was grapes and gooseberries in cream (the grapes from California; not sure about the gooseberries). One plate held a loaf of Stollen, and the others were surprised when I mentioned that we generally ate it at Christmas breakfast. Another offering was cheese and biscuits. One of the four cheeses was Lancashire, because that’s where our host was from. The biscuits were actually a selection of crackers. Our hostess said that even though the package calls them crackers, and she calls them that any other time, when they’re served with cheese, one says cheese and biscuits.

After dessert we played the New Zealand Here and Now Monopoly game that the Icelandic girls had received for Christmas. One’s playing piece could be a laptop, a cellphone, a jet, or a cat—New Zealanders have the highest per capita cat ownership in the world. There was no paper money, as the money was transferred among debit cards. Rick and I agreed we’d rather have cold, hard, cash so that we could keep better track. How very old-fashioned of us.

At midnight we paused to watch the countdown on TVNZ1, a government station. The countdown finished and—without so much as a measure of Auld Lang Syne (which the English also traditionally sing)—the station signed off. A neighbor set off a few fireworks, apparently nothing like usual, possibly because it’s been so dry that fire danger is rising. (Emily was in Auckland, watching a much grander display.)

The hostess showed us games from her childhood. One, from Parker Brothers, was a game about journalism called Scoop! which obviously didn’t have the legs of Monopoly. The other, Millionaire, included tokens representing from 500 to 100,000 pounds, and one choose a persona: Plodder, Selfmade, Silverspoon, Lazy One, Miser, Opportunist, or Spendthrift.

 We then played Topple, her English version of the wood stacking game. Four collapsed towers later, we realized it was 1:30, took pity on our host and hostess and left. We came home to a quiet, dark neighborhood; could it be that we’re the latest partiers around here? Our evening may not have been the traditional New Zealand celebration, but its low-keyishness suits general Kiwi style.

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