Even though it is the better part of 1,500 km away, and even though it really ought not to be that difficult to tell the difference, it really is staggering just how often you have to have ‘the Australian conversation’. You know how it goes:
“So whereabouts in Australia are you from?”
“I’m not from Australia – I’m from New Zealand”
“So whereabouts in Australia is New Zealand…?”
There’s another version that starts out with “Where are you from?” But that just ends up with a slightly longer version of the above. You get used to it.
It can get just a bit tiresome sometimes. To be fair this might just be a question of having travelled too much in the US. It’s certainly not so pronounced in Asia, and it is definitely better in Europe but it is the sort of conversation that inevitably brings out the worst in people’s stereotypes and prejudices.
It goes without saying, however, that being mistaken for Crocodile Dundee’s long lost second cousin is not the only hassle that New Zealanders on their travels are likely to encounter. There is also the question of the language.
Lost in translation
Now English is pretty much the universal lingua franca these days, so things ought to be straightforward. But there are times when – no matter how friendly the locals may be – the rest of the world seems to go deaf. Quite what it is about a Kiwi accent that confounds and confuses what otherwise appear to be perfectly rational, intelligent human beings is one of the mysteries of modern tourism. Although, to be fair, there are some idiosyncrasies that simply don’t translate into Kiwi very well either.
Most famously perhaps is the sort of misunderstanding that can arise from an American talking about which team they root for. In the US “rooting” isn’t the same as it is back home. Less seriously perhaps, there can be a certain amount of scratching of heads and looking at the floor if you wander into a bar and start talking about where you might find the best pokies.
Now we all know that pokies are part and parcel of what it means to be a Kiwi. There were even people who felt that one of the options for the new flag should be a design that featured a series of spinning wheels on it.
Pokies have a long and distinguished history – and not only in New Zealand. The only thing is, in the rest of the English speaking world (and you can put your own joke in here about Australians), they tend to call them something different. For example, because of the early machines that typically used fruits as the symbols on the reels, they call them fruit machines in the UK while they’re known as slots in the US. A bit like a good root – you can cause a certain amount of confusion and embarrassment by getting this wrong.
There’s no taste like home
However, all of these verbal aggravations are nothing compared with how different the food is overseas. OK if you’re trekking through Africa or deepest Asia – you’d expect the food to be unlike what you’re used to – but what is really disturbing is the way that if you go into a McDonalds in the US or the UK it really does taste different. And not in a good way.
The experts reckon it’s the difference between the beef you get from grass fed animals as opposed to the grain feeding that goes on elsewhere. It may be it is the fact that you’re primed with all the familiar features of the golden arches that makes the different taste of a Big Mac so startling, but it really does come as a surprise if you’re not ready for it.
People say the same about milk and cheese as well – and of course, there is nowhere on the planet that does a good leg of lamb like you get at home. There is nothing quite like the taste of home, when all is said and done.
Blowing your mind
If you find yourself landlocked in the middle of a big continent, the one other thing that can really start to freak you out is the weather. Anywhere that’s more than about 400 miles from the sea tends not to have weather as we know it – they just have climate. Conditions can stay almost exactly the same from day to day for months at a time. If you’ve grown up with the wind blowing one minute and rain falling the next, that sort of monotonous regularity can do strange things to your brain.
A recent survey has found that ex-pat New Zealanders feel far more positive about the land of the long white cloud than those who stay at home. There is a suggestion that some of that fond regard might be a matter of misty-eyed nostalgia. But it is surely just as likely that what those guys are missing is decent fish and chips, meat that doesn’t taste like rubber and a night out in a decent pub with proper pokies and people who know the difference as well as the distance between Auckland and Ayers Rock.