Posted by: scribe9 | July 5, 2010

Do you like us? Do you really like us?


New Zealanders, tucked away in a far corner, love to be loved by others. Hence the cover story in last week’s Listener magazine. The article on what newcomers think of New Zealand echoed many of my reactions–appreciating the humility, politeness and friendliness, but not the accent, houses, liquor culture, or driving habits. As to the barefootedness, one noted that Kiwis are “the only people in the world who can afford shoes and still choose not to wear them.”

The Transtasman rivalry (with Australia) also got a look, of course. Notice the mention in the lower right corner of Aussie politics? Kiwis pay much more attention to what’s going on in Oz that Aussies do to what’s happening here. The article is all about the troubles of Kevin Rudd, who was prime minister of Australia until the night of June 23. By the next morning, his Labor Party (yes, the party spells its name the American way–a tribute that’s now almost a century old) had dumped him and Australia now has its first female prime minister, but the magazine, which didn’t show up on newsstands until June 28th, doesn’t contain any mention of that.

At first glance it may appear that Elijah/Frodo can’t make up his mind which form of football he prefers–soccer or rugby–but that’s an All-Black jersey, so rugby (union, not league) is the winning code (set of rules for football). That’s a kiwi on his shoulder (the larger birds are New Zealand pigeons), and Maori tattoos on his arms. On his feet? Jandals (although I have a very difficult time remembering to call them that. It’s technically a brand name, an elision of “Japanese sandal,” concocted in 1957, but it seems to be like Xerox or Kleenex or Coke–a trademark that’s frequently used as a generic term).

The cape is no doubt green because New Zealand prides itself on being clean and green. It’s not as pure as you might think, though–it has lots of pollution and erosion problems. It may have a nuclear ban, but some of the ships stopping in New Zealand ports are carrying yellowcake uranium.

To Frodo’s left is a Maori doing a haka, which is a posturing dance. The All-Blacks perform a haka before each game, to gear themselves up and intimidate the opposing team. The team’s been doing it (sometimes with different words and actions) for well over a hundred years, and some other New Zealand sports teams do it, too. Clips of the haka show up on TV all the time as teasers for rugby coverage; there’s a rugby channel, and the four other sports channels and some of the other channels carry games, including endless replays.

The bungy jumper represents the extreme sports popular here. Wags say Kiwis go for them because life is otherwise dull. While the sports are risky, there’s not much financial downside, because the national Accident Compensation Corporation provides no-fault injury compensation for treatment and rehabilitation. This means there are no lawsuits regarding injuries. A nice concept in some ways, but it also skews government spending toward inept daredevils.

Notice the whale spouting over on the right? New Zealanders (well, some of them) are angry with Japan over its whaling, and one activist may have to serve two years in a Japanese prison after boarding a Japanese ship.

Next to the beach is a bach, a little weekend place. It’s pretty rustic–I haven’t seen many with outhouses. But lots of them have water tanks.

A second article mentioned some distinguishing characteristics of Kiwis, including some unsurprising ones such as independence, friendliness, and devotion to sport. Kiwis are also easy-going, modest, and blokey in expression–“like a girl” is a slur both women and men use in this otherwise quite PC country. They also have a sense of humor but it’s much less sarcastic than Aussie humor.
And for dessert? Last fall, New Zealand’s prime minister showed up on Letterman, with the top 10 reasons to come to New Zealand. You can watch the clip at


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