Surprise, surprise

Just so you don’t think I’ve fallen off the face of the earth or anything, but I’ve been extra busy at my job and haven’t had any recent adventures, hence the lack of posts.

The most exciting thing for me this year so far happened the last time I went swimming in Lake Wakatipu. It was after heavy rain and there was a lot of debris (leaves and stuff) in the water… While doing the backstroke, without seeing where I was going, I bumped headfirst into a tree branch floating on the waves. I actually screamed “SHARK!” before realizing what it was. Fortunately there was nothing around to hear my embarrassing girlyscream … except the giant flesh-eating eels. I know they’re out there.

I plan on having much more interesting adventures shortly (more on that in a future post) but until then, I thought I’d post this, a list of things that have surprised me about New Zealand:

The racism. I’m not saying all Kiwis are racist, but, wow. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered
so much blatant racism. And in weird places. Like when I had blood drawn for the physical required for my work visa, the nurse just started going off about Maori. And she wasn’t the only one. I’ve heard nasty racist comments in gas stations, grocery stores and clothing shops. Even the foreigners get into it. I work with a Belgian guy who has lived in NZ for a number of years and has what I can only describe as racist Tourette’s. He’ll be prepping veg or something and spout “Mosques! Where’s my gas can? Burn them all down!” or “Jews! Put them all back on the trains!” (actual things he has said.) I mean, really. Kitchens are always dens of inequity when it comes to social behavior, but no one even raises an eyebrow. When I do (raise an eyebrow, that is) he laughs maniacally and says “Come on, you can’t take a joke? HAHAHAHA!” Uh, I can take jokes. Random, un-jokey eruptions of hatespeech? Not so much. (Again: not saying all Kiwis are racist, just that the ones who are ain’t quiet about it. Dang.)

The Manchester. Kiwis call bed linens, pillows and, as far as I can tell, any item found in the bedroom, “Manchester.” There are “Manchester” isles in stores and “Manchester” sales the way we have white sales in the States. No one I’ve asked can explain this phenomenon to me, though I suspect that, back in the day, most of their textiles, including bed linens and such, were imported from the then-textile capital of the world, Manchester, England.

The Bare Feet. I knew (from far too many viewings of Lord of the Rings DVD extras) that director Peter Jackson walked around barefoot a lot, but I thought it was just some kind of quirky artsy type thing. But no. I never cease to be amazed at the number of people – kids, adults, urban, rural, all races and apparently classes – walking around barefoot. And I mean in city streets, gas stations, supermarkets. Everywhere. I’ve seen guys in dress shirts and khakis walking through the center of Wellington showing all ten toes. Women in nice skirts taking the kids for groceries with nary a shoe to be seen. I’m all for au naturel peds in certain circumstances, but don’t they ever get lacerated by glass shards and splinters and other assorted nasty bits?

The Expense. Yes, I know I’m in an island nation miles away from everything else, but I still haven’t gotten over how expensive things are here, particularly food. Particularly Kiwi-grown food. I thought there would be a bounty of produce, dairy, fish and lamb products in stores at dirt cheap prices given New Zealand’s amazing productivity in agriculture and fishing. Some people have claimed that it all gets exported, others have told me there’s a stranglehold on suppliers, but for whatever reason, even locally grown, in-season fruit and veg costs two to three times what it would in the States. That said, the apples, carrots and eggs here are the most delicious I’ve ever tasted.

The Stubbies. Men here wear shorts. Shorty-shorts. We’re talkin’ one centimeter shy of hot pants. Men of all ages. Even really, really old guys. Guys on construction crews. Postal carriers. Curiously, all the men I’ve seen in “stubbies,” what they call these manly shorty-shorts, are wearing some kind of shoe or boot, often a hiking boot, rather than being barefoot. I’m not saying I oppose stubbies, but it’s just disconcerting to see that much upper thigh on a guy in a hard hat waving me through a traffic diversion. Makes me want to hum “YMCA.”

The Curious Christma-tude. In the lead up to Christmas, I noticed a weird dichotomy here. In the States, I know a lot of people who will go to Mass on Christmas Eve or Day, even have a nativity scene on their mantelpiece or front yard, but will say “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” to share the spirit of the season without offending any infidels within earshot (infidels my Belgian co-worker no doubt would like to set fire to or gas, but I digress…). Here in New Zealand, and I say this as someone who is not a fan of organized religion, there wasn’t a whiff of God in the air over the holiday… not a creche to be seen, no news segments on the faithful gathering for Mass (the Pope only made the news because he was clotheslined by that nutcase on the way in to St. Peter’s), no mention anywhere of, you know, that kid who was born in a manger. Yet everyone, and I mean everyone I ran into, whether at work or running errands, aggressively wished me a “Merry Christmas.” I wasn’t offended, just surprised.

And surprise is what this post has been all about… I realize, reading it over, that it may come across as negative, but it’s not intended to be. For starters, I love the whole Manchester thing. And I don’t mind gawking at a pair of stubbies, as long as they don’t distract me when I’m driving. For the most part, New Zealand is everything I’ve dreamed it would be, and I’m not complaining. Just occasionally surprised.

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3 thoughts on “Surprise, surprise

  1. It’s been what I would call knee-jerk racism, the same list of accusations that I’ve heard white folk make against black folk, Russians make against Chechens, even English make against Irish, etc… everything from saying “the other” is intellectually and morally inferior to blaming “the other” for being lazy and working the system, all crime in general, the economy, etc. The charges are nothing new, it’s the virulence and openness with which they’re spoken that’s been surprising.

  2. You said:
    “I never cease to be amazed at the number of people – kids, adults, urban, rural, all races and apparently classes – walking around barefoot. And I mean in city streets, gas stations, supermarkets. Everywhere”

    I guess you were too young to be around during the late 1960s and early 1970s – the USA was similar, though it was more white women, in their teens and twenties, that were going barefoot everywhere, though some of the young men did it as well for a while. And yes, you could see them in stores, malls, museums, even in New York City. But it went out of style in the US during the 1980s, and never came back. In NZ it did not go out of style apparently.
    And I guess you do not know how short men’s shorts actually were during the 1970s….Those long shorts you see now are a product of the 1990s. Before that, shorts were supposed to be, well, uh, short….only so-called “Bermuda shorts” were longer, to the knee.

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