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Dear New Zealand: Here's What I Love About You

I was recently asked to write a blog post for a New Zealand audience about how I managed to “capture” the NZ character, culture, and speech. I don’t know how to write that blog post, because I don’t know the answer, other than that I spent 15 wonderful months in New Zealand and talked to a lot of people. And that if I did capture those things, I’m thrilled to hear it.

Here’s the post I did write.  Here’s what I love about New Zealand.

1)    The Tall Poppy thing. Where I grew up (hint: rural!), bragging about yourself was considered obnoxious. But U.S. popular culture is increasingly full of that. Randy Moss announced before the Super Bowl that he was the greatest wide receiver ever to play the game. Yes, that remark was met with derision (he isn’t), but the fact that he’d even say it is illustrative. Can you imagine an All Black calling himself the “greatest ever”? They go out of their way NOT to say that. That Flight of the Conchords self-deprecating humor: love it!

2)    Behaving well. Especially amazing: the high standard of behavior to which NZ sportsmen and sportswomen are held, and the outrage when they behave badly. U.S. athletes will tell you that they aren’t role models—and trust me, with some exceptions, they aren’t! I’ve found the least attractive quality I can show in New Zealand is arrogance, the attitude that “I’ve got a problem, and it’s your job to fix it RIGHT NOW.” You’re polite! And it’s wonderful.

3)    Safety and quality of life. Yes, I know that there’s more crime and social unrest in New Zealand than is evident in my books. Still, it always makes me chuckle to hear Kiwis (or Aussies) complain about things like public transit, crime, litter, etc. It is just so much NICER where you live. In the U.S., for example, public toilets, especially lovely, clean ones like you have (with showers at the beach, too!), are virtually nonexistent. That might seem like a frivolous issue–until you need one.

4)    Being responsible for yourself. The simple fact that you can’t sue for personal injury changes everything. The first time I swam at Mission Bay, I kept looking around for the markers that would show me where I could go. It took me the whole swim to realize that there weren’t any! It was up to me to keep myself safe.

5)    The “she’ll be right” thing. A B&B operator was talking to me about Americans. She described them coming into the main house all worried, saying, “There are no forks! What should I do?” And her bemused response, “Well, you can ask me, and I’ll give you one.”

6)    Work/Life balance. We don’t have it and you do. When I was working at a, you know, JOB, I expected to put in a good 60 hours a week. My husband still does. Everyone has such a good time when they come to Australia or New Zealand to work! The idea that you can take the weekend off—believe me, that’s novel.

7)    Maori culture is cool.

8)    It’s pretty. And the All Blacks are good looking, and wear tight jerseys and short shorts. What can I say. It’s true.

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