Am I the Ambassador to New Zealand: Sure Feels Like It

Somehow, I thought New Zealanders, or Kiwis, as they call themselves, were a laid back bunch and highly welcoming.  Of course, many are.  I must have picked up an untrue stereotype about the nature of Kiwis because more and more, I encounter folks who are frustrated with the United States and Americans in general.  One even admonished me to go back and fix everything.  Yes, he did.  I told him I’d get right on it because everyone listens to my every word, LOL.

It strikes me how much, we all, tend to romanticize and/or demonize other people and other places.  People do it everywhere.  My current favorite is that Americans are all rich, and therefore, could all travel if only they wanted to, and they don’t because they see the U.S. as the center of the world.  Now, there is some truth to the “center of the world” thing, but I tell Kiwis that the majority of Americans can’t afford to travel, which is all too true (since wages have been losing value since the early 70s).  Frankly, if everyone could afford to travel, I think the world would be better off.  But, keeping wages suppressed is a good way to control the global information stream with the function of limiting people’s exposure to each other.   And, cruise ships don’t count as international travel because passengers are shuttled, en masse, to selected locations, for short stops.  There’s no danger of passengers questioning their own societies in this context.  I’ve got to say, I am becoming quite an authority on the subject because our boat, the Alvei, docks by the big boats, where we get a front row seat at the routines of cruise ships on dreaded “cruise ship days”.

Alas, I think I was born questioning the world, right from the womb.  Ask my parents, or rather, don’t.  I have, in one way or another, needed “to know” about people as long as I can remember hence the interest in Anthropology and Sociology.  So, here I sit on the South Island of New Zealand, determined to “know” Kiwis, and show respect to them and their culture, as if I’m some ambassador who’s arrived for a cultural summit meeting–so naive, or so arrogant, or both, not sure which.

The best thing about being here right now–said with dripping sarcasm–is constantly being asked about Donald Trump.  Back home, I ignored him as did other intelligent beings.  Ugh!  But, it’s not possible to avoid him here, or anywhere, outside the United States.  To the world, “the Donald” is a joke, which is a relief.  But, it’s hard to consider Trump a laughing matter when so many Americans give him a stage.  That said, I unapologetically roll those Americans under the bus to save the rest of us.  I really just want to turn off and tune out for a while, and not be the ambassador.  If I were among the wealthy Americans who fill the best resorts, I would pay the staff never to mention “the Don’s” name—as if he’s Voldemort.

If all this isn’t enough, the local news is filled with foreigners crashing cars into locals because the foreigners don’t know how to drive on the opposite side of the road.  Thankfully, the worst offenders are the Chinese, but Kiwis are weary of anyone driving on their beloved roads who is not used to driving on the left side–or the correct side.  I recently saw a video of a man who weaved across the yellow line–as though we don’t all know what that means–and then took his place in the middle of the road. Thankfully, the man who called in the oblivious driver was from North America–Canadian or American–I’m not sure.  I have not even attempted driving as even I can tell I’d be looking for the left-turn lane.  Hell, I was nearly hit crossing the street, on foot because my brain couldn’t catch up to the idea that cars enter streets, from the right; they leave from the left.  So, half way across a street, I looked for cars in the wrong direction, and nearly got hit by one entering from behind me.  Recently, I graduated to the bicycle, but am still pretty careful.

According to Kiwis, a big problem with Americans is that we–remember we’re all wealthy–buy huge farms, rip out established fruit tree orchards, and replace them with grass.  If that’s not enough, Americans hang “Keep Out” signs around their properties.  None of these things are normal to Kiwis.  When anyone owns beach front property, they have to allow public access to the shore, and a friend said that if someone wants to camp on another person’s land, it only takes asking permission, over tea, and a hand-shake.  As for grass, people have it here, but most yards are covered in gardens. Natural beauty abounds here, and is cherished.  I am envious as I have not yet figured out how to turn Alvei’s main deck into a permacultural paradise.  But, to remove fruit trees from one of the three best places, on the planet, to grow apples is absolutely wrong-headed to Kiwis.  Between the unwillingness to share space, and a lack of appreciation for the heritage of the land, Americans make a grave mistake, and probably wonder why they aren’t welcomed with open arms. Without knowing, or maybe even caring, many Americans come here demanding to live the same way they did back in the the states.  But, when in Rome…if you want to be accepted in Rome.  Alas, I get an ear full.  Such is the reality of traveling, and the exhaustion of feeling like a cultural ambassador.

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Published by: So the World Goes

What began as a data collection endeavor, following Cyclone Pam, has become an adventure that has taken me from Vanuatu's central islands on to the north, and back, spending time in remote island villages and cosmopolitan cities, all while living on boats. Since I arrived in August, Vanuatu has experienced a 7.3 magnitude earthquake and the jailing of 14 government officials, for corruption, the last of which brought a UN warning of riots. Luckily the latter didn't happen. But, from flying fish to the red glow of volcanoes, I wish this waking dream could last forever. Frequency of Posts While the intention was to blog almost daily, either being at sea or experiencing limited internet access, has put me way behind on posting. The upside is that there are still many stories to share, the lack of internet access being a story all its own. That said, life in a developing nation that toggles between old the world and the new, is both romantic and frustrating. So, please be patient as I must also be. Contact me at lydiaajohnson@gmail.com

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