A Kiwi abroad receiving that warm, American welcome. Photo: Zara Mirkin
It’s always a strange experience when you fly back home after being away a while. On Friday I arrived in New Zealand after an absence of six months. I’ve only been gone that long once before – in 2006 I toured Europe, the Middle East and stayed in Toronto for a stretch before running out of money and returning home with my tail between my legs. There have been plenty of one to three month trips since then, but none as permanent as the last; I’m only here for a couple of weeks before going back to New York. The first thing that gets you is the pilot’s accent on the plane, when you think, ‘Whaaaat? No way, I do not sound like that;’ then the moment when you wake up and they’re serving breakfast and you’re only 90 minutes away; then that first glimpse of familiar land; then walking through customs, stamping your passport and literally bursting with excitement at who you’re about to see; the second of panic when your fellow passengers’ bags turn up on the carousel; that sigh of relief when yours do too; the muted frustration at being held up by bio-security scanning your bags; then that indescribable feeling when you walk through the arrival gates and see your family on the other side.
In my case, the latter didn’t occur – my flight was an hour early, and my family, ever the pragmatists, weren’t planning on arriving until 30 minutes after the scheduled landing. When they finally did turn up, I had a too-short 90 minutes with them before heading back to the airport and flying down to Wellington for my raison d’etre (here) – that TV show. Due to confidentiality contracts, I can’t discuss what it was all about, but it basically meant living the high life in our fair nation’s capital for five days; partying, dining out, meeting all sorts of interesting characters and filming till ungodly hours of the morning in an attempt to capture the real Wellington. I’m fairly confident that we succeeded.
It’s amazing what you notice after being away a while: A distinct absence of foot traffic, the familiar smells that you thought you’d forgotten, the food, but nothing leaves a lasting impression like the attitudes of the people you encounter. I got the full Kiwi welcome almost immediately. I was sitting at a bar in Wellington with my co-presenter when a waitress came up to take our order. I attempted to engage her in conversation, asked her name, how she was going and what she suggested we do that night – all entirely normal by American standards. She gave me a weird look and said, ‘I dunno, don’t think there’s anything good on,’ and walked away.
Later that night, we encountered four girls at a bar who came up and said they recognised me from my blog. Three of them were super friendly, one gave me a scowl and turned away when I tried to say hello. Later still, I went up to the DJ who had played an amazing set of Beyonce, Sean Paul and Rihanna, and asked them if they’d play Kreayshawn. She replied, ‘Oh, sorry, we’re doing post-ironic tonight. Kreayshawn is just straight ironic.’ I must have looked suitably confused, because she tried to explain: ‘Post-ironic is bad music that you actually like. Ironic music is just straight bad.’ But why does it have to be ironic if you actually like it, I asked. ‘Duh, because it’s bad,’ she replied. Obviously. At the end of the night, while walking home, we were accosted a total of three times by aggressive, drunken young men. Asked what the problem was, they typically replied, ‘Youse are fags.’
After spending six months with Americans and Australians, I’ve come to the following conclusion: We New Zealanders take ourselves too seriously. We judge first, ask questions later, and are naturally cold towards people who haven’t yet proven themselves to us. It’s cooler to dislike things than to stand up and say, ‘Hey, I think this is actually awesome,’ and we can’t stand anybody who (we imagine) might possibly hold themselves in high regard. Plus we drink way too much and then get really angry (though that is not a New Zealand-specific issue).
This all seems to go out the window when we’re travelling or when tourists are around, because we have an international reputation for being some of the friendliest people in the world. But my experiences prove otherwise. And I really don’t get it. New Zealanders are amazing, so why can’t we just accept that other New Zealanders might be amazing too and enjoy each other for what we are?
We could learn a lot about friendliness and self-confidence from our Australian and American counterparts. Enthusiasm and positivity will always take you further than negativity and a bad attitude.
(Obviously this doesn’t apply to all New Zealanders. There are incredibly kind, generous, hospitable and friendly Kiwis – I’ve even met some of them myself.)
I LIKE YOU!