Friday, May 29, 2009

Tricks of the Trade

When we started managing the Kancerous Kiwi, Peter and I took a stroll around town, visiting the other youth hostels to introduce ourselves and chat. Our fellow innkeepers were glad to offer a few tips.

“Watch out for Israelis,” they warned us. “Israelis are the worst. They ask so many questions.”

“That’s terrible,” we agreed, nodding in sympathy.

“And the Asians,” people warned us. “Watch out for the Asians. They travel in packs.”

“They do?” I asked anxiously, glancing over my shoulder for the Mongolian hordes.

“And the Kiwis,” they continued, lowering their voices a notch or two. “We don’t even let them stay with us, they’re so bad.”

“Wait,” I asked, perplexed. “The New Zealanders? You won’t let people stay in their own country? Is that even legal?”

“If you do it, get a driver’s license,” they told us. “And don’t say we didn’t warn you.”

It was only the last point that proved useful in the end. The Israelis did ask a lot of questions, but then again if it weren’t for annoying Jews with inquiring minds, we wouldn’t have Christianity, quantum physics, or Broadway. Besides, most of the young Israeli men had just finished their military service, and were so outrageously handsome that I would have let them grill me all night about rental cars and bus schedules, if they’d only take off their shirts and let me bounce quarters off their abs.

As to the travelers who visited us from Taiwan and Japan, I found their numbers less disturbing than their creepy fetish for corporate America. At 46 degrees south latitude, Invercargill boasts the southernmost McDonalds in the world. And what these kids wanted more than anything, after traveling thousands of miles to the heart of New Zealand, was to snap a picture of themselves in front of an American burger joint.

Then, there were the locals.

The trouble here was two-fold. For one thing, normal Kiwis usually don’t stay at backpacker hostels. They stay in motels, or holiday parks, or with their Auntie Minnie in Whakatane. If a Kiwi checks in at a backpackers, then the chances are pretty good that he’s down on his luck. And the other problem, which I freely admit is my own fault, is that I have a soft spot for people with missing teeth.

There was Kate, the advanced bulimic, who would sneak into the kitchen at night and steal everyone’s food, then throw it all up again before slinking back to bed. This wouldn’t have been a problem if she’d had better aim, but eventually the housekeeper threatened to quit and we had to ask the poor girl to move on.

Then there was Chris, who consumed an entire canister of sugar each day as he sat on the patio, nursing his alcohol withdrawal by chain smoking and drinking cup after cup of syrupy tea. Chris had a wide, gummy smile, and we enjoyed his company well enough. But when he started screaming obscenities at the backpackers, I had to concede that perhaps he didn’t exactly fit in.

And we’ll never forget Nathan. Nor, for that matter, will the young German girl whose bed he stumbled into, before staggering over to his own bunk and pissing himself in a drunken stupor.

I must admit that each of these guests was Kiwi, and each was missing a few teeth. The coincidence is chilling. Because here’s the thing: I’m missing some teeth, too. My gaps are inherited, and not the result of hard living or a steel-tipped boot in my mouth. And I have lots of bridgework, so you can’t really tell. But still.

In just four years, when we get our New Zealand passports, I'll start scarfing Mars bars and running to the toilet. I might scream at you when you interrupt the voices chattering in my head. And if we go out for drinks, there's a slight possibility that at the end of the night I might crawl into your bed and pee on you.

Because by then, I'll be a toothless Kiwi. So don't say I didn't warn you.

1 comment:

  1. ah, but do not forget one other option you'll have as you head north to my neighborhood. that being the ever popular Beetlenut. not only does it rot your teeth, it turns them & your gums bright red. (hence to say it's easy to spot a user.) and you get a mild buzz not unlike your first Pabst Blue Ribbon might have left you with - if you were ever unfortunate enough to drink a PBR. that would lead to the unwanted peeing...