Monday, February 08, 2010
Tom's America: Things Americans Don't Think About New Zealanders
As a New Zealander abroad, I am of course always keen to hear what people are saying about me and my country. In fact I suppose you could say that, as a New Zealander, I care about nothing else! But while every person's experience of What People are Saying About Me will differ - I am, after all, almost certainly more fun than you, and so people will say to me, "Oh, New Zealanders are so much fun", but what they really mean is, "You are so much fun" - there are constants in what they don't say. And these constants are worth paying attention to, because the things nobody says turn out to be exactly the things people back home say they say.
First off, let's clear up this Australia thing. Nobody I have met in America thinks New Zealand is part of Australia. While it is true that people in America tend to mistake the New Zealand accent for the Australian accent, and then the British accent, before identifying it correctly, I have never met anyone - black, white, urban, suburban, conservative or Republican - who confuses Australia with New Zealand.
Indeed, whenever anyone finds out they have mistaken me for an Australian, they apologize profusely, because everyone thinks that there is an Australianian/New Zealandanite rivalry, and it is a long slow battle I have explaining to every single person in America that actually, that's not strictly true, it's actually just that New Zealanders hate Australians, but it is America's lucky day to have in her midst the one New Zealander who actually thinks Australia is quite nice, apart from that goddamn ugly nasal quality to their accent. In fairness to people who think Americans think New Zealand is Australia, I have had to field a stupid amount of questions about Koala Bears since I got here.
This being the day of the Superbowl, I feel another misconception to be cleared up is that everyone in America thinks rugby players are the shit. Everyone in New Zealand seems to have talked to this one American who spread fallacious rumors about America's feelings re: rugby. The omniscient Yank, so far as I can see, said the same thing to every single person in New Zealand: "Wow! We thought our American Football players were tough, but your guys - they don't even wear pads!"
Firstly, why would this one American call American Football "American Football"? That's like an Irish saying, "Let's go get drunk at the Irish pub". Secondly, rugby is something I have spent much of my adult life trying to get into enjoying, but simply cannot escape the feeling that it is an idiot game about a bunch of hairy triple-Y behemoths chasing a slab of juicy meat up and down a field; a moron pastime where you can get ahead by sticking your finger up another man's asshole so long as it's not consensual. Whereas I cannot get into American Football because there has never been a time in my life when I have enough tactical cognizance to understand the strategy at play; and I have read Chuck Klosterman's "Football", clocked the strategy-heavy Dynasty Tactics, and had the rudiments of the game explained to me by a philosopher who debates exclusively in NES metaphors, ie Someone Who Should Be Able To Explain Football To Me.
Related to the above, there is a perception that Americans envy Antipodeans for our drinking prowess, both alcoholic and teetotal. Apparently New Zealand's coffee-and-beer-crafting skills are exceeded only by her coffee-and-beer-consuming skills, and both these skills are highly envied by the American people. Not so! I have had the finest coffee of my life in America, and what is more, I have had much fine beer also. I think the perception that Americans are rubbish at making and consuming beer and coffee stems from the fact that New Zealanders have access to Budweiser (The King of Beers) and Starbucks. Someone has told New Zealanders that America is something of a monoculture, and so boom, apparently all Americans think Bud = beer and Starbucks = coffee. Right, because by the same token, every American's favourite movie is Forrest Gump, and Pulp Fiction was made in (and about) Brazil.
This misconception could be cleared up if New Zealanders had access to any of the coffee houses littering the West Coast whose decor and brewing style hark back to the drink's renaissance in the thick-spectacled early-to-mid 1990s; or were willing to spend a few days in the Onanopolis that is Portland, Oregon, on the condition that they were allowed to spend the entire time drinking of the microbrews by which the region self-identifies. I got into a heated discussion with a local there when I made the mistake of asking the barkeep for "a simple unadventurous IPA". And, amazingly, it wasn't for being wanker enough to invoke the concept of adventurousness within a discussion of piss to be drunk, it was for not being wanker enough to imbue my tipple of choice with sufficient swashbuckling fervour. Say what you will of the Man of Portland; he certainly won't settle for Miller High Life (The Champagne of Beers).
The one thing that all Americans do say is something that New Zealanders never attribute to them. When an American finds out you are from New Zealand, they will - even Barack Hussein Obama would do this if he had the opportunity - say, "I have never been to New Zealand but I would love to go. I have wanted to go to New Zealand ever since I saw The Lord of The Rings".
New Zealand, you may wish to consider using The Lord of The Rings as a component of your tourism branding. A free idea, from me to you!
 It's an oft-noted peculiarity of our respective sprawls on the political spectrum that, the same month that America elected an uncommonly Liberal Democrat as President, New Zealand elected a Conservative who was almost as Conservative as the new POTUS. Oft-noted, but worth noting one more time for those late to the party or not intimate with New Zealand politics.
 I actually talked to a New Zealander recently who saw American ignorance of the New Zealand news cycle as evidence of America's national ignorance. Come on, man, I was raised in New Zealand, and when I got to America I had to seduce a local just so she could tell me Cesar Chavez wasn't a lounge singer. Let's not pretend like anyone knows all of everyone's business.
 I don't mind this too much, because it gives me the opportunity to tell people that one of the most common word used to describe Koala Bears is "ornery". It's true.
 There is actually so much irrelevance in this sentence that the way an Irish would actually say it is simply, "Hi".
 No, it's okay, I dated an Irish one time, I can make the jokes. That's how it works, right?
 Geez, when did this post become this post?