Misconceptions often, or even usually, arise out of ignorance and I must confess to my own ignorance. I have no idea at all what people from Asia or the Sub-continent think of when they think of New Zealand. Having said that, I also haven’t a clue what the people of South America or Africa might think of New Zealand if they think of it at all. But they might have more of a connection than they realize. I’ll come back to that.
I do know what the English, Europeans and the small handful of Americans who have heard of us think of New Zealand though and those are the misconceptions I can address.
His Royal Highness Prince William Arthur Philip Louis, Duke of Cambridge, Earl of Strathearn, Baron Carrickfergus, Royal Knight Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, Knight of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle, Personal Aide-de-Camp to Her Majesty The Queen, (to give him his full title), his lovely wife Princess Catherine the Duchess of Cambridge and their Heir, George, are visiting New Zealand at the moment and are having a splendid time by all accounts. There are several dozen representatives of the worlds media accompanying them and reporting on their every move and utterance. This is great for tourism apparently as searches for New Zealand have dramatically increased on the internet in countries that have access to it.
These searches will mostly give you information on how to get here and no doubt be accompanied with some images of our amazing scenery. The thing is though that there is much ‘New Zealandness’ to navigate between bits of natural wonder. Those are the misconceptions I am going to address. There will also be a poem to finish. I’m trying my hand at poetry a bit these days.
The phrase ‘rugby, racing and beer’ was quoted in the New Zealand Herald just the other day in relation to something about the ‘New Zealandness’, which their Royal Highnesses might encounter. I can only assume the journalist who quoted it is from overseas and last visited New Zealand in the 1970’s when that phrase would have been appropriate.
It’s time to discuss misconceptions. My experience of what people from abroad, (by that I mean England, Europe and North America) think of us is as follows.
They think we are all sheep farmers or if not actually farming then certainly having inappropriate relationships with our sheep. When we take a break from doing things with Sheep, we play some rugby before throwing ourselves off a tall bridge or significant piece of infrastructure while tied to an elastic band. We all know how to do a Haka and perform it at the first opportunity. We grow Sauvignon Blanc in abundance. They also think New Zealand is part of Australia or certainly near enough to swim between them if the bridge isn’t finished yet. Our forests are teeming with Hobbits, Dwarves, Elves or Orcs and we have bubbling mud everywhere you look.
Which is not actually the case.
What we do mostly is go to work like everybody else. The only people in New Zealand who are remotely interested in sheep are sheep farmers and there are less of them then you might think. When you visit New Zealand you will mostly hear about and see cows rather than sheep. We are the world’s biggest exporter of dairy products now and we supply extraordinary amounts of milk-based stuff to South America and Africa along with the rest of the world. We have a lot of sheep, but we hear more about cows.
We drink a lot of coffee; the Kiwi’s are obsessed with coffee. Wellington has the highest number of Cafés per capita of any country. Everywhere you look in New Zealand are coffee bars, there are even vans on the side of the road selling coffee. New Zealand must be the coffee drinking capital of the world.
For some reason Kiwis are Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir drinkers by and large. We make a load of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay alongside some amazing Bordeaux style reds but the Kiwis think Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir are the wines to have.
We don’t drink as much beer as we used to and we pay too much for it. New Zealanders will tell you of the amazing ‘craft beer’ you can buy here. “Don’t drink the mainstream stuff, have a fantastic craft beer,” they will tell you as though it is some sort of new elixir of the gods found only in New Zealand.
Having tried craft beer I can confirm that it tastes like beer but costs three times as much. I’m not convinced of its merits.
The amazing natural wonder is everywhere you look but the bubbling mud is harder to find, It’s pretty much restricted to a small area in the vicinity of Rotorua and Taupo where the earth’s crust is thinnest. We are covered in Volcanoes though, when I say covered, the North Island is. There are no volcanoes in the South Island. Completely different geological forces formed the two islands. Amazing I know!
We do spend an awful lot of time outdoors, not just because we have such incredible things to see out there but also because the television is woeful. New Zealand Television is mostly reality programming interspersed with low budget, poor quality advertising for three minutes every nine minutes. It’s horrendous. I must have watched about an hour of TV since I returned home last July, nearly 9 months ago. The old phrase ‘there’s nothing on the telly’ was never truer than in New Zealand.
So let’s go back outside. In between the amazing natural wonder are a number of roads to navigate. This is where another misconception needs to be corrected. It’s often said that New Zealanders are very friendly and helpful, which they are until they get into a car.
New Zealanders are the worst drivers in the civilized world. This is because not one of them has been trained by a professional driving instructor. They have all been taught to drive by friends and relatives whose driving skills also went unexamined by a professional driving instructor. They have been taught bad habits and selfishness by people who learned to drive on empty roads. It’s a national travesty. You will be incredulous on a daily basis watching the Kiwis move about in motor vehicles. It’s not so much lack of driving skill but a complete disregard for other road users which is the issue. For example, giving way is an anathema to Kiwi drivers, like admitting weakness.
The indicator should be renamed ‘the statement’. Once the indicator has been used this means the vehicle is actually changing direction, not merely indicating it’s intention. The driver has made a statement rather than an indication of lane changing or turning. Not just intending to, but the stating the vehicle is on it’s way immediately into your path and it’s now up to you to make allowances or crash into it.
I don’t know where the Kiwi’s are off to when they go driving, probably to some of our amazing beaches which are certainly worth visiting, but I know where they are not going. The Rugby.
New Zealanders do not go to the Rugby anywhere like as much as they used to. The professional era has dulled our taste for the game by giving us too much of it. We are ‘rugby’d out’. Our kids still play the game enthusiastically but few people I know can be bothered to go along to yet another game of Super Rugby at enormous cost. Look at the once great rugby venues renamed for sponsors. The mighty Lancaster Park in Christchurch is now called the AMI Stadium. Carisbrook in Dunedin, was known as ‘the house of pain’. It was demolished and now it’s called the Forsyth Bar Stadium, not quite the same thing at all.
Rugby Park in Hamilton is now called the Waikato Stadium but the reason we don’t go there and watch rugby is not to do with being rugby’d out. It’s because of the incessant and constant ringing of cowbells by the home crowd, as the people of the Waikato are keen on cows. The din keeps traveling fans of visiting teams away. In Palmerston North the locals go to the rugby wearing buckets on their heads and I bet you think I’m making that up. They even have a catchy name for themselves, ‘The bucket heads’. There’s not much else to do in Palmerston North though. I came up with a catch phrase, or a tag line for the city.
‘Palmy, nobody visits here so it’s easy to park’.
What do you think?
The rugby park in Wellington is called the Westpac Stadium. It’s never full. Not even when the All Blacks are playing there. I’ve written a poem about that.
We still love our rugby, but can’t afford to go to the game anymore and there are too many games to go to.
I’ll wind this up and post my poem at the end.
So there you go, the ‘New Zealandness’ between the incredible natural beauty, wonder and scenery is not actually about sheep, rugby, bungy jumping and hobbits. It’s about coffee, wine and cows. The Natural beauty, wonder and scenery is the best thing about New Zealand. It’s the most incredible scenery in the world and we have it in abundance at every turn, just keep your wits about you while driving among it. Oh and don’t go by camper van. I have no idea what the point of that is. Rent a car and stay in Motels.
My Poem, it’s about Wellington.
A bloke goes off to Wellington, to watch a game of sport,
In the park all by himself, alone to hold the fort.
Watching rugby in the capital’s a lonely thing to do
They’re funny folk in Wellington, not at all like me or you
They like to sit in trendy bars and drink a trendy beer
Or chatter in a coffee shop and bend each other’s ear
The game is on, the sport is great but they don’t give a stuff
The gentle souls of Wellington don’t like when things get rough
They want to talk philosophy or drink some herbal tea
Not see a bloody rugby game out there with you and me
They work as civil servants, or in offices and schools
Insurance men, ‘head office’ staff, investment banker tools
They call it windy Wellington, it’s scenic and it’s small
Most kiwis if they’re honest though don’t like it much at all
Not just because they hate the game and spend their time inside
No, nor because it’s full of students, lefties or musicians
The problem is with Wellington, it’s full of politicians.