Helen Leggatt In Canterbury, New Zealand: There's no place like home

I remember pressing my nose against the window as we flew over the Southern Alps of the South Island of New Zealand for the first time. "Ah, yes, this is just as I imagined it would be," I sighed. But it didn't hit me. Perhaps I had to land first. The free-flowing, glistening, efficient airport bolstered my ideals, and as I flung open the doors and sucked in a lung of fresh New Zealand air, I expected it to hit me there and then. But it didn't.

The taxi took us through suburbs stuffed to the gills with mock-Tudor mansions and roman-pillared monstrosities. Confusion set in. What were humungous concrete castles with grass verges for gardens and six-foot fences for outlooks doing in NZ? Who dares to be so ostentatious in Godzone at the expense of infinite views and space? This isn't the 1950s British backwater we'd been dreaming of, where society was classless, driving courteous, and money an afterthought.

What hit me there and then wasn't the feeling of "arriving home" that we'd been so keen to experience and which others before us had described, but the realization that we'd been so focused on the similarities to the UK that we'd become oblivious to the differences, which are so much more evident once your feet hit the ground.

A few left and right turns through wide, tree-lined streets and suddenly "The Palms" spreads before us. It's a concrete shopping mecca with more parking spaces than there are cars in the entire South Island. We pass it by, and the road follows a river on which rowers and kayakers skim. Ah, yes, this is more like it.

A bridge and a blink later, and the scenery switches. Concrete houses give way to weather-beaten wooden shacks with corrugated iron fences and pit-bull-chewed sofas on the lawn. Something begins to hit me, but it isn't the feeling of home.

Onwards we drive, past the oxidation ponds and, finally, a chance to approve of the scenery once more. We marvel at the blueness of the sea, the architecture of the hill-hugging homes, and the beauty of the snow-tipped mountain ranges on the horizon. Something flutters in my chest. Not home. Not at all like home. New Zealand -- that mix of history and future, wealth and make-do, sun and snow -- is not little Britain. You know, it never did hit me. It never will. Thank goodness for that!

At the least, the language in New Zealand would be familiar, wouldn't it?

I'm a terrible mimic, especially when inebriated. I'm sure people think I am taking the "pus." They may well speak English here, but, as with American and Australian, it has its nuances and it's worth swatting up on the local lingo.

Why? Because it's simply not clever to tell your new Kiwi mates that you'll be there rooting for the local rugby team on Sunday. Believe me, it doesn't mean you'll be faithfully supporting them.

And if someone says they come from "Waikikamukau," you'll look a bit of a "sook" if you ask for directions! Go on, repeat it back...slowly.

Unless you get it sussed and know your ourmate from your marmite, your fields from your paddocks, and you've discovered that a "pug" isn't a dog and a "pig" is for hanging clothes, you'll find yourself staring blankly at someone who, while seeming to speak English, appears to be making no sense at all.

Not content with mixing up the vowels, they're tripping us up by chopping up words -- they go to watch a "fil-um" and get "show-un" to their seats.

But it doesn't take long before things are "sweet as" or your "me too" turns into "same." And the day you find yourself saying "yeah, no," you may as well go get your citizenship!

It's nice to know that the Kiwis also recognize the language differences, and in true Kiwi inventiveness, can swing it to their advantage, as per the graffiti found in an NZ sports stadium: "New Zealand Sucks," to which some bright spark had added "Australia Nil."


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