Friday, May 8, 2009

Why Not?

Last March, when I told my friends in the North of New Zealand that we were moving to Invercargill, several of them spat their coffee on the floor and looked at me with incredulity and horror.

“WHY?” was the overwhelming response.

“Well gee, um, I don’t know,” I’d respond. “Why not?”

“Why not,” as it happened, was the sort of considered reasoning we’d employed in our decision to move to New Zealand in the first place. Both angry at the state of America under the regime of Emperor George Bush The Younger, we’d been sailing around the Pacific for two years, employing a form of peaceful political protest known as “being an unemployed boat bum.” This was working out well for us on the whole, until I managed to get myself knocked up in an Ecuadorian boat yard, prompting us to look for somewhere relatively safe and comfortable to have a baby.

New Zealand seemed like a good bet.

“Have you ever been to New Zealand?” people asked us.

“No,” we replied with grave authority. “But we have seen Lord of the Rings nine times.”

This made us expert, we felt, on everything New Zealand. We would live in Rivendell, or perhaps Minas Tirith. We would cavort with elves. There might be a shire, on which our baby could frolic with hobbits. Even more magical, there would be national health. Clearly, New Zealand was the place for us.

Of course, we didn’t know then that we’d end up in Invercargill, a city that has less in common with Rivendell than the desolate plains of Mordor. But that was then. And in fairness, people did try to warn us.

“What’s wrong with Invercargill?” I asked my North Island friends.

“It’s bloody cold down there, that’s what’s wrong with it!” they spluttered.

“So what if it’s cold? It’s the twenty-first century. They have central heating, don’t they?” I asked this in a spirit of fun and good humor. Every crumbling, turn of the century tenement apartment I’d rented in New York had an old radiator in the corner, often spitting out so much scalding steam in the winter that you had to open the windows for a breath of fresh air.

“Central …” repeated one woman, then trailed off. Her brow was furrowed. “Is that when… the heat comes out of every room?”

I have this experience a lot in New Zealand. Everyone here speaks English, and they drive cars, and they live in houses equipped with cable television, and so my small, prejudiced American brain just assumes that everyone is like me. Then every now and then, a profound misunderstanding will occur, something that knocks me on my ass and reminds me that I am actually on a very small island at the bottom of the South Pacific, and I am in fact an extremely long way from home.

1 comment:

  1. I regularly have the same thoughts about Americans.