So Long and Thanks for All the Chocolate Fish

After two years, with some time
off for good behaviour, we will be saying goodbye to New Zealand at the end of
the week. We will be taking back lots of good memories, thousands of photos,
hours of video, and some cash to fund the ongoing travel. We have explored the
country fairly extensively, and seen quite a lot of Australia as well, and now
the rest of the world is beckoning. Living and working in a country is quite
different from visiting it as a tourist, so what can we say are our lasting
impressions of the country, its people and its culture?

 

On the surface there are many
similarities between New Zealand and Britain, and of course many residents are
of British origin, and have made the move here, some recently, some many years
ago. The language is deceptively similar, but there are pitfalls for the
unwary. Kiwi expressions like “get your ducks in a row” (= “become organised”)
or “it’s all turned to custard” (= “the situation has deteriorated”), as well
as the use of ‘Manchester’ to mean ‘towels and bedding’, are clearly not
British English. As well as these, however, there are differences of usage,
such as the expression ‘awesome’ being used, especially by waiters and shop
assistants, to mean ‘OK’. One of the ways in which the language is used
differently is the turning of nouns into verbs: ‘to farewell’, ‘to flat’, and ‘to
transition’ for example.

 

Kiwis don’t seem to feel the cold,
at least from the waist down, and will wear shorts in all temperatures. They do
like to keep their heads warm and wear woollen hats or ‘beanies’ whatever the
weather. New Zealand national dress is: beanie, thick jacket, shorts, long
socks and boots. When not wearing boots, they will wear flop-flops (known
locally as ‘jandals’) or nothing on their feet at all. In Wellington it is
common to see folk striding along with bare feet, even in the cold and wet.

 

There appears to be a legal
requirement that every pub or bar must show televised rugby during opening
hours. Actual opening hours can take a bit of getting used to, as it is often
hard to get a meal after 8.30 or a drink after about 10, especially in smaller
towns. Cafes close at 4, or 4.30 if you’re lucky, so a cup of tea or a snack
can be hard to obtain in the late afternoon. But when you do find somewhere
open, the food can be a delight – especially the muffins and scones. In this country
they make the most fantastic muffins, especially the savoury ones filled with
feta and spinach, for example, or the date scones and fruit muffins crammed
with real fruit. Another local delicacy is chocolate fish – basically fish-shaped
jelly sweets covered with chocolate – which are often given with coffee. The
ready availability of coffee made to your choice is another of the delights of
living in New Zealand.

 

One of the great experiences here
is going to the cinema. There are big multiplexes, full of popcorn and
teenagers, but these are best avoided. The little cinemas, mainly in the suburbs
or small towns, have a great atmosphere and screens with comfortable chairs
(often double couches) where you can watch a film while sipping a drink from
the bar. We will find it a bit of a come-down going to the cinema in the UK by
comparison.

 

The nice thing about living in
Wellington is the constant stream of festivals and celebrations that go on,
especially over the summer. The big one is the Wellington Sevens, where everyone
dresses up in crazy costumes (from spray-on Air New Zealand uniform to 101 Dalmatians)
and roams the towns. But every ethnic group has its day and its festival, from
Chinese New Year to Dutch tulip festival.

 

All in all it’s been a great
experience, and we shall miss all the friends we’ve made and the colleagues we’ve
worked with. Last Friday we had our farewell party, at St Paul’s Cafe in the
bottom of the Ministry of Education main building. About 40 people turned up
and we ate and drank and chatted, before decamping to the nearby Backbencher
pub with 8 of them for a meal and more chat. The Backbencher, by the way, is
renowned for the caricatures of political and sporting figures that adorn its
walls.

 

On Saturday we did cleaning and started packing, and
in the evening we watched the last episode of ‘Lost’. After watching it for six
years, we were glad we were able to catch the final instalment before heading
off. Next weekend we pack up our life here and take flight to Tahiti on the
next stage of our travels. Watch this space!

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