New Zealand is a bizarre world but it makes me giggle on a regular basis. The gazillion sheep everywhere are one of the most entertaining things about this place. That and the hilarious fact that there is absolutely nothing to do. So I’ve taken to studying people. New Zealanders in particular as they are the most available and obvious subjects. I would run out of things to talk about if it weren’t for them.
They say funny things. For example, if you go into a shop, they’ll say something like: “Hay theah, how ya goin’ theah?” Which translates to, “Hello there, how are you doing?” If you understand that you are doing very well because it has taken me three months to get that straight. They’ll ask you if you’re looking for something in particular and if you need any help to just “sing out.” Sing out? I guess in Texas that would equate to, “Just holler.” They say things like, “Gidday!” which catches me off guard every time and makes my “Hi” sound puny and dull. They say “let’s catch up sometime” when they’ve only just met you which I’ve gathered means “hang out” or “get together.” They don’t know what it means “to visit” as in chat or talk–they think you’re visiting something like a museum so you have to be specific if you want to make yourself understood. They say “car park” for “parking lot” and they call a parking spot or parking space a “park.” But yet they call a park a park. Beats me but I better not say that it “beats me” because they might think I’m being literal.
A few weeks ago I was volunteering for this big annual event called the Holly Trail. Generous well-off locals open up their fab designer homes for people to come and tour and ticket proceeds go to the local hospice charity. Basically my job was to greet people as they came in and stamp tickets. I’d stamp a ticket and some well-dressed fancy lady would say, “Tahhhh.” I wasn’t sure about how to respond to that. I thought maybe it would be an isolated incident but it wasn’t. A few days later I had to ask. “What the heck does “ta” mean? I was told it was an English expression that means “thank you.”
I’ve grown accustomed to quite a few things–driving on the opposite side of the road, using a left-hand gear shift. But some things I just can’t get used to, like going to the correct side of the car–both if I’m going to be the passenger or the driver. I have to think about it consciously. It’s amazing the things you do automatically. When I get in the car to drive, I reach around my left shoulder with my left hand and find nothing but air. I’m doing what I’ve done since I was 15 and first started driving–reaching for my seat belt. It’s so shocking when I don’t find it and find my arm reaching up toward the center of the vehicle into nothingness.
One thing I really really love about New Zealand are the trees. There are no shortage of them and aside from that they are GIANT. Yesterday while on a walk I saw a man weeding out in front of his house. He and his wheelbarrow were parked underneath this palm tree and I kind of gawked for a minute because the palm tree made him look like a hobbit. It was HUGE. In my mind, I took away all the other trees around it and tried to imagine that thing in Dallas. People would drive for miles to see it. They’d put a plaque out front and give it a name and a date and tell about the person who planted it. They’d make a monument out of it. But here, a tree like that is a dime a dozen. We have huge trees in our yard but they seem miniscule compared to the enormous, towering gum trees I can see in the distance. They must be over four stories tall. Sometimes, while walking I’ll pass underneath bizarre foliage and suddenly I feel as though I’m walking into Hobby Lobby. Or Micheal’s. I am enveloped by the scent of eucalyptus!
They have this ketchup here called “Wattie’s” and it tastes weird. As if it has something slightly sweet in it. I’ve gotten slightly used to it but feel so grateful to have found Heinz. (Heinz actually owns Wattie’s). Good ol’ classic Heinz is one of my favorite foods and I’m not joking. It’s my main reason to consume french fries–which New Zealanders call “chips.”
In my personal opinion, and I’m sure no Kiwi would agree, the beef here tastes like lamb. I honestly can’t tell the difference. I suppose it has something to do with how the animals are fed–it’s the long green grass.
Which reminds me of this joke an Australian once told me:
How does a Kiwi find sheep in long, wet, green grass?
Quite nice, actually.
The joke is actually funnier if you hear it being told by an Australian guy who seemed pretty high on his own grass if you know what I mean.
In short, this place is pretty whack. I like it, sure. But there’s a lot I miss about home. Specifically speaking, Americans. Americans are pretty amazing. Sure, we get a bad wrap for being loud and obese and a bit dramatic about stuff but we are seriously an exceptional society. We embrace a lot of things that many cultures don’t–like diversity. We believe incredible things can happen if one sets her mind to it and when we say we don’t care what people think, we really mean it. We yell and jump up and down when we see each other because we’re happy and excited, we are unapologetic about those emotional outbursts. Most of the time, we know who we are–we are the UNITED States of America!–despite the fact that many states right now seem to have forgotten that.
I was eighteen the first time I went abroad. From then on, I was hooked on traveling and I still am. Just because I’ve spent many years of my life as an expat doesn’t make me un-American. One of the strange ironies about living abroad is that while you end up learning an immense amount about another country and culture, what you really end up doing, at least in my case, is understanding a lot more about your own country. And I for one, still think that the USA is the best darn place in the whole wide world.
And now I will stand up, face the flag, place hand over heart and recite the pledge. (Does anyone ever do that anymore?)