MistressoftheInk – a friend in the Blogverse posted about being Filipino. I realized just how much I didn’t know – from Spanish Colonial government to the sheer number of islands and its impact on culture and language. When I mentioned I was from New Zealand, she suggested I write a similar post about my country and culture. So here it is.
Disclaimer: I am one person with a pretty biased lens. I’m a white, middle-class woman, with a Chinese first-generation New Zealand husband.
1. This is New Zealand
I’ve been to two out of our three islands (the big ones). I think our culture changes on a gradient from the cold south to the somewhat more tropical north. I’m not enough of an anthropologist to say exactly what the differences are, though I suspect it could have something to do with the south being much more white?
When my husband moved to Christchurch from Auckland as a kid, he had a very strong northern accent that he quickly dropped in order to fit in.
2. This is our national flag
Still… yep. We had a vote about it recently, you see, and we spent an awful lot of money coming up with new designs, because our previous Prime Minister wanted to leave his mark by being the one who finally got our flag changed to something that better fit our country’s brand. It was a media frenzy. Most of us clearly didn’t think we needed a new flag – or at least we couldn’t stand the options they gave us, so we just voted to keep the old one.
So yeah, still the Union Jack in the corner (’cause we’re still Commonwealth aye). And the southern cross on the right (like Australia, but with two less stars).
3. One of our greatest national heroes is Sir Edmund Hillary
We are very proud of him for being one of the first climbers to reach the top of Mt Everest (as far as we know). It’s a symbol of our Kiwi ingenuity, and courage, and determination and stuff. He’s on our five dollar note.
We like sports-people a lot, actually. We’ve knighted several ex-rugby players and a few Olympians. Although now that I come to think of it, knights used to be dudes who rode around in armor trying to kill each other, so that’s kind of appropriate.
As a feminist with a bent toward the political, however, I humbly offer a few of my favourite New Zealanders:
Kate Sheppard was one of the most prominent leaders of the women’s suffrage movement. She was born in England, but lived in Christchurch for much of her adult life. Her hard work and determination led to New Zealand granting full suffrage for women in 1893 – considerably before the UK and the USA (who didn’t do so until after WWI).
She replaced the Queen to be the face of our ten dollar note in 1993.
This leads me to my second favorite New Zealander:
Helen Clarke was the first woman to be voted in as Prime Minister. She was the first Prime Minister I remember, growing up, and although I had no idea about politics, I really liked that a girl could lead our country. I still have a lot of respect for her (and not much of a clue about her politics).
Helen Clarke is not on any of our currency, but she was the administrator of the United Nations Development Programme until last year – when she was in the running for the Secretary-Generalship.
And finally a new-comer:
Our current Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, is the worlds youngest female head of government at 37. She’s also unmarried, pregnant and so incredibly positive and genuine that you wonder how she can be a politician. As a public-sector employee myself, I’m feeling a glimmer of hope that we might be able to shift some of those entrenched inequalities, as well as providing world leadership on stuff like Climate Change.
4. New Zealand is beautiful
The infamous church everyone tries to photograph in Tekapo.
It really is. Except for all the places that freedom campers are allowed to roam free, leaving all kinds of gross things in their wake. Our local councils are getting strict (be warned).
We like to sell ourselves on our clean, green, brand. This is not entirely accurate. There is considerable tension between environmental interests and economic (especially agricultural, mining and forestry) ones. I’m not really fluent in details, so I’ll leave it at that.
5. We eat… food…
When I try to think of stereotypical New Zealand cuisine, I think of pavlova, lamb steak, sausages on the barbecue… mussels…
I don’t eat these things very often, because my husband is our family chef, and he’s Chinese. Our food looks more like this:
Mmmm! Garlic shoots!
But I think that’s a really important point. Aside from the Māori (who got here ages ago), our population is a huge melting pot of recent immigrants. The things we might think of as stereotypical ‘New Zealand’ cultural icons, like pavlovas and sausages, are pretty western. I will be really interested to see what kinds of things we think of as iconically New Zealand in a hundred years or so, once we’ve had a lot more time to simmer together.
6. We are a melting pot.
I know I just said this, but I’m gonna say it again. Us westerners are pretty individualist. We built a lot of the systems the rest of our population are trying to live inside, but we also signed a Treaty (of Waitangi) with a collectivist culture and that bit of paper is about all we’ve got by way of a meaningful founding document. As we try to come to terms with the darker side of our colonial backstory, and make good on promises we’ve largely been ignoring since the ink dried back in 1840, we are having to come to terms with the fact that the very structure of our individualist system has been hurting our indigenous people.
Joining a Chinese family has opened my eyes to what it means to be inside a collectivist world-view, and it’s not always a comfortable place to be. I can be rude without realizing, or miss opportunities to show hospitality, because I never learned the unspoken rules. Still, I’m learning and I’m grateful for the patience of those around me. I hope, similarly, that our country can find a way to balance these different perspectives and come to a mature understanding of who we are together.
7. Little can be big
No country is perfect, but I’m really proud of who we are in the world. We’re capable of standing up to bullies and of coming up with crazy ideas that might-just-work. My New Zealand is one where I feel safe, and free, and brave. I know we’ve got a long way to go, but we’re on the right road at least, and that gives me cause to hope. The future is in our hands, after all. Let’s make it a good one.