I’m an American. I’m an American living in New Zealand. I have lived here for 612 days. I’ve eaten kiwi fruit, seen kiwis, I have consumed enough lamb chops to stretch – chop to chop – from here to America, I’ve drunken a sufficient amount of local beer to fill the Pacific Basin, I have explored the far corners of this country, I’ve canoed the Wanganui, climbed Mount Maunganui, tramped across the Fox Glacier, almost drowned in the Tasman Sea, and dibbled my toes at Cathedral Cove. I’ve added a citizen, worked in the labor force, and complained about the taxes. I now say things like ‘Cheers, ‘ ‘G’Day,’ ‘Good on you,’ ‘Bugger,’ ‘Bloody Hell,’ ‘Pissed,’ and ‘Good as Gold.’ I have been infiltrated, compromised, de-capitalized, and slightly – please don’t tell my congressman – un-Americanized. BUT in my core, deep in the valves of my heart, I will always be an American, which is to say; I maintain the rights to complain about the lack of ice in my beverages and start sentences with the words, ‘If this were America…’

I may never be at one with the pulse that runs beneath the green fields, or down country lanes, I may not be made of part beach, paddock, sea, and mirth, but I reckon I’m as close to the Kiwi consciousness as I’ll ever be. My tourist garb has long since been lost in the corner of my bedroom, and I finally feel competent to go public with some personal observations about New Zealand. Mostly I just plain love this place, but when you peel back the layers of cottony sheep and velvety grass I found a puddle of sour milk in this land of milk and honey.

On Beer: I had my first beer in the workplace ever on my third day on the job in New Zealand. I felt guilty, irresponsible, delighted. There was a departmental get-together going on, for what reason I can’t recall. I slung my arms over the chest-high cube wall, took a swig of my beer, and said to my co-worker, ‘If this was America, I’d be summarily dismissed right now.’ and he said, ‘Then thank God we’re not in America mate.’

You call that a pastry shop?: I’m sorry New Zealand, but you know those little bar-dessert-things that they serve in caf?s, you know the ones I’m talking about, they’re flat, dense, and made to last, well I’ve got news for you, those aren’t desserts. Desserts are creamy, whippy, soft, and don’t require immediate dental attention after you eat them. Those squares, slices, chews, or whatever you label them, were better left in England. And those buns with the pink icing on top, what’s up with that? If you took a hunk of bread, put icing on top and turned it in for your final exam in cooking school, you wouldn’t graduate past fry-guy. These oft-times desperate attempts at sweets take up valuable space in pastry shops, room that could be made for jelly donuts, cupcakes, and chocolate filled croissants. Throw in a few twinkies under the display case and you’re getting warmer.

I Love the lack of advanced weaponry: I love the fact that if I T-bone someone when I’m driving on the road he won’t pull out a gun and shoot me. Because in New Zealand there are no guns. Okay, there are some guns, like on farms and stuff, but there are no handguns, and certainly no 9mm Uzi’s with laser scopes. Now that’s not to say my T-bone victim couldn’t pull out a big knife or samurai sword and charge after me, but hey, I’ll take my chances.

Hell must be like the Auckland motorway system: What I find most amazing about the design of the Auckland motorways is that people with degrees behind their desks actually sat down and designed them. Who builds two motorways, one on top of the other and, and doesn’t link them together in any conceivable fashion? Have you ever tried to get from the Northern Motorway to the Northwestern? Good luck. If you’re a tourist you will get lost, simple as that, because there are no signs. Oh, there is one sign for the Northwestern that will lure you off the Northern motorway, and you’ll follow it with confidence, but then you’ll soon find that the Land Transport Authority has betrayed you, left you to wander downtown, sign-less and without hope. Have you ever tried to figure out what road you’re on when you’re lost? Have you ever wondered why when a road curves two degrees it gets a new name? Well I have, I’ve pondered all these things, and I have no answers for you.I doubt anyone does.

Breasts on TV: Oh the joys of living in a sexually liberated society. Condom and genital herpes ads are a common occurrence on TV and no one pickets, no one boycotts. Boobs appear on TV during a drama and nobody flinches; I still do, ‘Did you see that! Is this normal TV?!’ I particularly like how Kiwis refer to significant others simply as partners. Husband, wife, homosexual lover, are all referred to as partners, and if you ‘re gay, nobody gives a tinker’s turd. When the Prime Minister rides on a float in the gay Hero Parade, you know you’re living in an accepting society, and believe me, it is a good thing.

My mailbox would be more useful as a birdhouse: And it’s not just my mailbox, it’s most of the mailboxes I’ve seen. Ours, like most, is a small box, with a slot in the front and a flap in the back. Here’s a typical day’ s activity in our mailbox: our mail arrives in the morning delivered by a smiling postal worker on a bike. She carefully inserts our letters through the slot, and anything larger than a postcard drops out the back flap and onto the yard. Obviously the postal worker is so engaged in her duties she fails to notice this. The few letters that do manage to survive the plunge cling perilously to the edges of the mailbox. In the early afternoon, the first of many circulars [junk mail] arrives delivered by every manner of school kid with pierced heads and low-slung shorts that hang off fetid boxer shorts. Their method of delivery is one based entirely on speed and when the first circular of the day is jammed through the slot, the last few bits of mail drop out the back flap. It rains. We arrive home, carefully dry the day’s mail, and like archeologists, set about deciphering the arcane ink markings. Sure I could have cobbled together a better mailbox, but please, I have better things to do then spend time making willy-nilly improvements to a rental home.

The mystery of central heating: I thought it a peculiar comment when a guy from Norway we met at a party back in the States said to us, ‘I’ve never been so cold as the winter I spent in New Zealand.’ When someone from Norway speaks of cold I lend him an ear, but New Zealand colder than Norway? I asked for clarification. ‘The homes aren’t heated there. I froze all winter long.’ We moved to New Zealand in the middle of a wet winter in July and I recalled his comments on our first night buried beneath piles of blankets in our bed. Our home was not only lacking heat, but also insulation. Most folks get by with portable heaters plugged into wall sockets, and we soon joined the ranks. We layer in our house, at ten degrees Celsius the woolens and sheep slippers come on, at five degrees we ring the heaters around us and add a layer of Gore-Tex. Now when some pinkie foreigner asks me about heat I snarl and say, ‘What class of puffta-boy are you? Heat in New Zealand, did you hear that one honey?’

It’s all the little things: I like how when you go to the movie theatre you ‘re assigned a seat. I love how my squash club has a bar in it. I’ll take a roundabout any day over a four-way-stop. I find it amazing that policemen can be so courteous and aren’t required to wear shiny sunglasses. I’m forever amazed by the amount of milk a Wheat-a-bix bar can soak up, and I love reading Dick Hubbard’s newsletters in each box of his cereal. I love every lump and bump in the landscape. I like when the weatherman describes a nice day as ‘fine’. I admit, I may never understand cricket, but I have grown fond of Rugby. I love that you can’t drive thirty minutes without hitting a golf course. I love how Kiwis we only just met invite us to stay at their homes. I love the green, and of course it goes without saying, I love the sheep. I love this place, this New Zealand, truly I do, and if this were America.then we probably wouldn’t be able to afford it.

Copyright 2000 Douglas S. Sassaman,


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