#2084 Irony, post-irony and New Zealand’s worst enemy – its inhabitants

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.)


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  1. Lucy says

    I encountered the same thing when I came back after 8months away (London & America). It’s incredible isn’t it, the way we act towards each other especial compared with Americans. The worst thing is that after a while, you just slip right back into that attitude, like its perfectly acceptable. 

  2. Amy S says

    Interesting. I walked past you in the street last week, smiled a friendly hello but you looked very serious cell phone in hand, film crew trailing, no smile returned… Hmmm

  3. Fashion Westie says

    Too true. This has always been our biggest downfall. We act like this for a number of reasons
    1. The mere thought that someone might think we are up ourselves for speaking properly, doing things normal people might enjoy doing WITHOUT drinking, just being polite or having some form of intelligent/informed opinion
    2. The mere thought that someone else will think they’re too cool if we pay them positive or congratulatory attention
    3. That we may be singled out and humiliated for liking/enjoying something that is not considered cool
    4. Always wanting to be seen as ‘staunch’, ‘hard’ or not ‘gay’
    5. We never want to sound like we care because that would mean we’re trying too hard
    6. We never want to acknowledge those remotely famous/well known because then they would know we know who they are; see 2, 3, 4 and 5
    7. We assume the intent of anyone, at anytime will be to our detriment
    8. We are scared to fail, in any situation or sense of the word and would rather come across like we don’t give a shit so the result doesn’t really matter anyway, than ACTUALLY fail and POSSIBLY risk ‘losing face’, ‘looking weak’ or ‘being shame’.

    There. I said it.

    Welcome back Slick.

  4. isaaclikes says

    My apologies, anybody who knows me will vouch that I’ll talk to anybody, anytime of the day. All I can imagine is that I didn’t see you.

  5. Guest says

    Agree wholeheartedly – I encountered far more friendly, open and welcoming people while living in America then I ever did in NZ. Really opens your eyes, doesn’t it?

  6. Regan says

    Unfortunately, there are two types of kiwis.  Those who travel, and those who don’t.  Comments about kiwi’s are generally made by people who have encountered the first group while they’ve been overseas or have traveled here and have been immersed in the world of NZ tourism where it would be highly unlikely that they encountered the second group.

  7. danni says

    This whole irony thing and all of it’s ridiculous “sub-genres” really bugs me.  These hipsters, especially in Wellington, think they’re the coolest of cool and that they have this reputation to uphold. But, realistically, they are seen as a bunch of pretentious wannabes by anybody who isn’t necessarily part of that culture. And by the way, you can find Justin Bieber, Destiny’s Child and Mariah Carey alongside artists like Animal Collective and Best Coast in my music library, and I couldn’t give two shits about what was considered “cool”.

    Hipster hating aside, I love your blog, and wish you the best of luck in NYC!

  8. Louise says

    Excellent post. I lived in Melbourne for three years, have been back in NZ for two years and still am amazed on a frequent basis how differently people treat each other here compared to overseas.

    Also Fashion Westie, you summed this up so perfectly I don’t think I should say anything else on the matter.

  9. CM says

    Yeah, we can have a bad judgey attitude. I was only in America for 3 weeks last year but that was enough to compare and contrast. America = ‘Can do anything’ attitude, super-confident, super-friendly, open, welcoming, talkative, LOUD. NZ = humble, conservative, ‘mind your own business’, negativity. Saying that though there were times when I missed the quiet NZ way and many a time when I loathed the in your face nature of Americans. It can go both ways really.

  10. mina says

    What you describe
    is just a
    Positive Perspective Paradigm  
    Higher consciousness withinJust three words:Keep it real:)Post ironic vs ironic  sheesh – how ironic that anyone would play any music that they themselves would describe as ironic – too funny  Its has been great listening/witnessing/commenting to you this year Isaac – Keep it up – Keep it real – I LIKE YOU!

  11. TeresaW11 says

    Oh my God, I totally relate to this! I’ve definitely had the ” I don’t sound like that” denial also! I think the thing I most love about being overseas at the moment is the absence of everyone constantly trying to be cool through bitchyness and cynicism. I’m sure it’s not entirely a NZ thing, but it is definitely prevalent.  Great post!

  12. Gaz says

    Im pretty sure that Mighty Mighty will be happy you don’t like it there. Kinda funny that you would be sent to document Wellington lifestyle and culture as you quite obviously have never had much interest in it and Im pretty sure that you would not have truly experienced it as you just don’t get it.

  13. isaaclikes says

     I do like Mighty Mighty, I have a huge amount of interest in Wellington lifestyle and culture and I’ve been immersed in both for years. I started going to Wellington for months every year from the age of 13 and loved it so much that I ran away from Christchurch to live in Wellington as a 15 year old.

    However: That attitude of yours rests my case.

  14. Guest says

    In my own experience as a music producer, I find that Americans are the worst people to deal with on the planet. They’re unprofessional, have no concept of e-mail etiquette (which I think is pretty important in this day and age), and just generally rude and pushy. Then again, this could just be a product of the music industry there, but everyone from American designers to sound engineers that I’ve dealt with have been really unpleasant. Like there’s no attempt to build any sort of lasting relationship, it’s just purely transactional and actually affects the quality of the work they do. I find dealing with Europeans and Australians / NZers much more pleasant from a business perspective. 

    Just my experience anyway, not saying it’s representative, but if I had the option I would want to deal with non-Americans when it came to business as much as possible.

  15. Briarlloyd says

    I could not agree more! I moved to Melbourne a couple of years ago and have just been in China and the US, and coming back a couple of days ago home to NZ for Christmas I have noticed everything you said more and more each time I come back.

  16. says

    ironic post/ironic;  this kind of nonsense was as much of my experience living in san francisco as it continues to be living in auckland and wellington.

    surly and un-interested hospitality staff, as well as people who take themselves very seriously, they too existed in california. 

    even groups of young men drunkenly spoiling for a fight could be found in different bar districts of the city.

    i was just as likely to have people recognise me for things i have posted online here as the US, and very little difference in the split between those who were vocally negative as positive.

    my only wish is that we stopped with the self loathing of whatever it is we perceive as our national character, and rightfully accept that these are the things that inform our arts/fashion/music, i for one have not found anything on my travels that speak to me as much as our own voice.

  17. roman says

    Well put Isaac. Was just in NZ last week and loved seeing everyone/everything but also couldn’t help but notice how I don’t fit in there anymore (perhaps I never did…). Although I love NZers, I’ve come to the conclusion that the ones I get along with generally live outside of the country. 

  18. Guest says

    Sorry, but you can’t have everything that we’re so good at without a dose of what frustrates those who have been on a materialistic-based trip somewhere. Maybe a bit of head-out-of-arse anyone?

  19. Guest says

    I agree about the dangers of tall poppy syndrome but I also appreciate a healthy amount of cynicism & self-awareness that I think is probably lacking in mainstream American culture.

    As I waitress I would have probably responded similarly to Isaac’s questions. I don’t have a problem with NZers traditional ‘British reserve’ & I much prefer it to American over-friendliness which I perceive as phony.

    Also maybe the DJs were just trying to find an excuse not to play a pretty bad Kreayshawn song?? 

  20. says

    I agree. I travelled all over the US and found waitresses and waiters too ‘in your face’, when all you want is a private meal with your friends or family. But on the other hand, there is nothing wrong with a customer striking up a conversation – the waiter should be more open to talking!

    I think Isaac is right, some NZers are uncultured and too reserved. But at the same time – most travellers are embarrassed with people from their own country.

  21. Paris says

    Hey, I’m from Auckland and have been living in New York for 11 months now… i just want to give you my 2 cents..

    We New Zealanders take ourselves too seriously- I totally disagree, compared to Americans we are so laid back and care free!
    We judge first, ask questions later, and are naturally cold towards people who haven’t yet proven themselves to us-we have major tall poppy syndrome…here its a rat race and home we just want to cut every one down!

     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-thats a generation issue not a NZ issue

     Plus we drink way too much and then get really angry- certain people…

    My major shock was how every one over here just tells it how it is and doesn’t keep anything inside. Its refreshing yet annoying. I also believe the reason why kiwis are viewed so well is because the certain kiwis that do decide to leave all seem to have that certain happiness or high aims in common at are not like the others. And compared the the angry and blunt Americans we appear kind. I don’t know.. just my thoughts

  22. Guest says

    I love that the first comment is a carefree, lighthearted comment and the reply criticizing it is someone who seems to be ‘taking it too seriously.’ Fun!

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