A Few More Things I’ve Learned About New Zealand 

Heather Markel, Writer, Speaker, Photographer, Traveler, Business Strategist

I just had my first experience with someone thinking I’m Kiwi. I guess I’ve been here a while…

Now in New Zealand just shy of 16 months, with a valid kiwi driver’s license and an official visitor visa, I feel like I’ve earned honorary Kiwi status. At the very least, I’ve learned a lot about the culture. Here are a few more things I’ve gotten familiar with:

A view of Auckland.

Copyright, 2020. Heather Markel.

1. Permaculture Seems Innate

Most people I’ve met grow their own food. If they don’t have a sprawling garden to do it, they’ll buy a planter and grow at least their own herbs. This is a country which not only has a huge focus on growing your own fruits and vegetables, but has a surprising amount of foods I’ve never heard of. Feijoa, rose apples, and tamarillo to name a few. (By the way, feijoa liqueur used to make a feijoa sour is superb!) I’m still not quite used to the phrase I hear a lot when cooking at a friend’s place, “Don’t go buying greens at the supermarket, just pick what you need from the garden.”

2. They Leave You Hanging With A Preposition

It took me a while to stop waiting for a description after “sweet as…” “easy as…” I spent a while wondering, “sweet as what, exactly?” Then I realized, it’s just an expression and you have creative license to put any word you want before the word “as”, and it’s like you’re a Kiwi. Cool as!

3. The Culture Is Inclusionary

At a recent kid’s party, I saw them play a game called “pass the parcel.” It made me realize how exclusive American culture can sometimes be, and how inclusive Kiwi culture is. As a kid, I remember playing pass the hot potato. If you were unlucky enough to end up with it, you were out. The winner (because it’s all about winning), is the last person remaining. Pass the Parcel, in stark comparison, is a parcel you want to be stuck with. Each time you are, you unwrap the outer layer of wrapping paper, and whatever trinkets fall out of the layer are yours to keep. Then you pass it around and hope it lands with you again. Maybe this game exists elsewhere, too, but it was my first time experiencing it and I thought it was lovely.

No  matter where I’ve gone, and who I’ve been with, I have always felt included in “reindeer games” and conversations. New Maori friends have been as welcoming as Kiwi friends. There just seems to be a lot of effort to be open and welcoming all around.

4. Learning About Maori Culture Is Fascinating

As I’ve traveled around the globe, I’ve been struck at how horribly indigenous populations have been treated. Native Americans throughout all the Americas, Aborigines in Australia,…but the Maori, though their situation is far from perfect, made out far better than other indigenous people. From what I can so far understand, it’s because they stood strong, and negotiated well. They may be the only indigenous people that have not been completely separated from their land. The Maori are a fascinating people, full of many tribes, opinions, and stories. (By the way, they don’t write their stories, so you really have to meet and speak with them to learn more about them.)

Something I didn’t know is that when Maori were first here, they enslaved other Maori tribes, and were cannibals. When European settlers arrived, white people were also enslaved. Like other indigenous people, the connection to land and spirit is an important part of their culture. Having learned so many horrible stories of native people being separated from their land, like in Africa, North and South America, it makes me feel hopeful that the New Zealand government is tryng to make reparations.

James from the movie James & Isey. Copyright 2020, Heather Markel.

5. You Might Be Able To Hang Out With A Famous Person

Fame doesn’t seem to be as big a deal here as in many other places. I recently saw a wonderful film, “James & Isey.” It’s about a Maori family where James takes care of his mom Isey, who is turning 100. In the span of the few days leading up to the party, you learn so much about the family. I loved it so much that I connected with them on their Facebook page. When I said I’d love to come for a drink with them, James actually replied like it was possible. When I reached out some time later saying I would be in their area, could we meet for coffee, James actually met with me! I was honored to have a fascinating conversation and education on many levels. And, I got a signed movie poster! Next up, I’m going to meet with Chris Booth, an internationally renowned sculptor. But you wouldn’t know that if you met him, because he is so humble and lovely.

6. It’s Not Australia

You may, or may not, realize that New Zealand is not part of Australia. I’ve become as offended as a Kiwi when someone throws out, “Oh how are you doing Down Under?” Maybe you don’t know that Down Under refers to Australia. Now you do. Please stop implying that New Zealand is part of Australia.

7. The Door Is Often Unlocked

Growing up in Manhattan, I definitely felt safe in an apartment building with a doorman. It would never occur to me to keep doors open, however. In New Zealand, there are still many places where you can go to sleep with your front door unlocked, knowing that you, and your belongings, will be perfectly safe. It makes me feel like I’m in a small town even when it’s a bigger city.

I have felt unbelievably weclomed. From staying at an AirBnb for a couple nights and being invited back as a friend, to picking up the phone and calling “famous” people and finding they answer the phone and have conversations, to the way I’ve found most service-based people go out of their way to be of help, this is a very special place. Be good to it and to the nature and the people if you visit. 

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