By SOPHIE STONE
Travelling is always an amazing experience, and there are so many aspects that make it enjoyable: discovering new cultures, customs, and food, making friends you have the option to stay with if you visit again, or even just having the opportunity to let loose and taking time to relax. Overall, it’s an amazing opportunity to learn and have fun.
However, there is one feature of going overseas that isn’t always mentioned in the travel brochures. It’s the way travelling opens your eyes up to how the rest of the world views New Zealand. It’s hard to ascertain how many particular quirks and tendencies Kiwis have as opposed to other nations – until there isn’t another New Zealander in sight.
I’d already had a taste of the difference between Aotearoa and other countries after I moved here from the UK in 2005. Having spent most of my life here, I’ve become pretty acclimatised to Kiwi culture, drifting further and further from a life where things like pineapple lumps, two languages in the national anthem, and walking around barefoot (though not so much in winter) weren’t the norm. That being said, I still remember being seven and my only understanding of the country I was moving to was that it was near Australia.
I hadn’t actually heard of New Zealand when my parents first brought up the idea of moving, and while that could be brushed off as a young kid being ignorant, it has to be considered that there’s currently a whole Facebook page devoted to the idea that Aotearoa doesn’t exist. Parody or not, it’s based off the sheer number of people who still aren’t sure what or where the hell New Zealand is.
While I haven’t travelled too much since coming over, or used my gap year as an opportunity to have an OE, (yet…) I’ve talked to heaps of Kiwis discussing their experiences travelling, and what they’ve learnt about what it means to be a Kiwi abroad.
Namely, that a huge chunk of people are again, pretty ignorant about who/where we are. When my sister went to Europe last year, she found the majority of people she met, as in, everyone, thought she and her friend were Australian. In fact, even when people do recognise the name, plenty seem to believe that New Zealand is just a part of Australia. The nerve!
Even for the slightly better informed, New Zealand culture is a mystery to many people. When my co-worker visited Europe a few years ago, some of the questions she encountered were what languages were spoken here and why we’re named after a fruit. I can also offer my own experience, sending my friend a kiwi on a keychain the year after I moved out here, and her response thanking me for the “duck.”
When encountered with stuff like this though, it’s important to remember to be polite. There’s a difference between genuine ignorance and rudeness, and the knowledge you’re taking for granted is coming from having the opportunity to live here for a long time and learn about various things specific to New Zealand that someone living elsewhere wouldn’t. That combined with the fact that New Zealand doesn’t have a huge influence in the world’s media, ignoring the flag debate last year and us being the setting for the Lord of The Rings movies, means you can’t expect your average non-Kiwi to know a whole lot.
That being said, New Zealand has been coming into it’s own for a while now, making a name for itself in fields like rugby, farming, and its beautiful natural features. One positive thing everyone I spoke to had to say was that unlike some countries (I’m glancing at you, Motherland) New Zealand hasn’t really created any kind of negative image for itself. Kiwis tend to be universally liked (even if we aren’t the most well known) and have earned a kind of respect associated with our rugged landscape and cultural heritage. A friend of mine lived in Denmark for a year and found that whenever she explained to people where she was from, they spoke about how beautiful our country is.
Another thing that reaffirms what it means to be a Kiwi is experiencing the culture shock you can get when visiting other countries. My friend living in Denmark explained that she found Danes were very upfront and honest about things, unlikely to try and sugarcoat anything. I know from my experience coming from the UK that Kiwi slang caught me off guard. Phrases like “choice,” “yeah nah,” and “lollies” (as opposed to sweets) really confused me at the beginning. Now I’ve lived here so long I can only imagine that I’d probably encounter some culture shock going back to the UK, and trying to adjust to the new slang words that have been coined since. And that’s nothing compared to visiting a country where they don’t speak English at all, and are in some cases reluctant to want to communicate in it, like in France.
So all in all, travelling can really open your eyes to how unique Kiwis really are. While it might be frustrating explaining to people exactly where you’re from, over and over again… for those who do know who we are, the perception of what it means to be a Kiwi is generally pretty positive. That, combined with the immersion of other cultures making you aware of how unique New Zealanders are, show that at the end of the day, being Kiwi is something to be proud of.
As if you needed another reason to take an overseas trip!
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