American eyes Downunder
A foreigner’s perspective on home is valuable insight into aspects of our culture we often take for granted. The outsider’s view can also be funny. Read two recent adulatory articles about New Zealand in the Wall St Journal and the Boston Globe, for instance. Kiwis are praised for their commendable grasp of the English language. But the local idioms confused both writers.
“If you’re told there’s beer in the chilly bin, look for an ice chest,” writes Robert Taylor in the Globe. “If someone offers to shout you a drink, they’ll pay for it. When a tour leader urges you to rattle your dags, it means hurry up.”
The Wall Street Journal‘s take on New Zealand is penned by expatriate American Susanne Ames, who works for ACC in Wellington. She notes the prevalence of anti-Americanism among some Kiwis and also the expense (petrol US$7 a gallon!).
But hers is a celebration of all that is beautiful and good about Downunder: Cultural diversity, artistic richness, the world’s cuisine at your doorstep and, above all, the closeness to nature: “I climbed the hills above Wellington for a 360-degree view of the city. The South Island mountains shadowed the fading horizon and the smoky-blue Pacific lapped at Lyall Bay beach as downtown lit up below me. And I thought, this is why I live here now.”
Taylor too is astonished by the scenery and the ease of access: “In a single vacation you can hike through native forests where many trees are more than 1,000 years old, kayak the turquoise waters of a tranquil bay, conquer a mountain, bathe in a thermal pool, ski a volcano, walk on a glacier, swim with dolphins, shoot the rapids in a jet boat or just lie about on a sandy beach.”
New Zealand is a safe world, Taylor reports. Unarmed police officers who lock up the station and are at home with the family at night is an eye-opener for the visitor, as is the vast number of golf courses that can be played for about US$24 a round.
He finds it odd that Kiwis “swear allegiance to the British monarch,” but then so do some Kiwis. Also strange is the fact that there are more bagpipe bands Downunder than there are in Scotland. Who knew?
But possibly the most un-American aspect of New Zealand is its extension of “free accident insurance for all visitors”. You’re welcome, of course.