Kiwi things Part One

Symbols and ritual matter to me. Maybe it’s because of a Catholish™ childhood where symbolism was vivid and (sometimes empty) ritual was common. Maybe because I’m hopelessly sentimental. Or maybe because I’m not at all intuitively adept at understand quotidian interactions between people. I’m all about meaning…and understanding…and finding common ground.

For high school and university college, I was rather cynical about the whole graduation thing: short of marginally fulfilling a neurotic need for external validation (am I smart? Please tell me how smart I am? I got nothin’ else on the go), convocating was more terrifying than anything else. No, not the ceremony, the part that comes after: leaving the cocoon for the big bad world.

But I’m almost entirely looking forward to the citizenship ceremony. Aside from that maddening pledge to those inbred caged “royals” who’ve never lived here (or Canada or Australia or India or…). If you’re a monarchist, that’s fine: I’m a republican.  And I look forward to the day when all the Commonwealth members select their own individual heads of state and consign this tired cache of symbols to the archives. So there.

As I get closer to becoming a New Zealand citizen, I’ve been reflecting what I love and don’t love about this marvelous wee nation. This is the first of a series that I’ll wrap up on 25 August, the day I swallow my self-righteous indignation pride and take my (non-religious) oath. These are in no particular order.

Some Things I love

Māoriness=Kiwiness: yes there are racists here and yes colonization has left carnage in its wake. But comparing NZ to Canada, Australia or the US, the importance of Māori culture here is impressive. Hundreds of words from te reo used commonly.  The first verse of the national anthem sung in the language. The haka. This is still my favourite song:

There are two free-to-air TV networks focused on Māori culture, perspectives and language, one of which is mostly broadcast in te reo.

Transparency: New Zealand often is ranked first or second for transparency. To many people this is about government bureaucracy—and my experience with the NZ government has been uniformly transparent—and mostly very efficient. In fact, from considering the move here, to applying for a residence visa, everything was as it appeared to be. The rules for the medical exams were spelled out and freely available online. If you would never be approved because of a medical issue, you could save yourself months of time and thousands of dollars.

But it goes deeper than that. Aside from school holiday periods—where many things in NZ slow to a crawl—the Prime Minister appears on pretty much every live TV and radio morning news show once a week. So does the leader of the Official Opposition. And they get grilled:

In NZ it’s considered essential for politicians to “front up” to the media when there’s an issue. It’s fab.

Innovative social marketing: There’s a problem with drink driving here (like many places in the world). So there’s a series of ads, like this one:

Legend. And this one about binge drinking:

And this one about getting the munchies. These are not actors:

But all is not perfect here…there is no perfect place.

Things I don’t love

Booing at rugby during penalty kicks and conversions: Seriously. Anytime the opposition is kicking for points, Kiwis boo. Cringe. Especially when parents encourage their kids to join in. Sportsmanship, anyone? Play hard, play to win, but this is such an anomaly in Kiwi culture: people here are usually awesome.

Housing quality: We’d been here before. We did our homework. We spoke to friends and family whanau here. So we were expecting to find some dodgy stuff. We didn’t expect that dodgy was the norm, especially for rental properties. Being two mid-career professionals earning a very good living meant we could choose from the best of several problematic apartments to rent. Shopping to buy a place meant eliminating 90 per cent of most condos (leaky building, no insulation, weak strata/body corporate frameworks). For buying a house, it meant finding something nice with zero insulation. None. And people have been living in this place—including the newborn of the immediate previous owners—for 50 years.

Two tiered healthcare: Canada ruined me—it’s almost impossible to queue jump in Canada if you have money (unless you travel to the US or some other country). That’s the way it should work. The NZ system is predicated on people who have money accessing a much nicer, polished up series of private mini-health systems. When I needed urgent surgery the public system was great; during follow up I too often waited 6 months or more for an MRI…unless I was willing to shell out $1,000.00. Mind you, many prescriptions are only $5 for a three month supply. I also pay $60 every time I see my GP, $25 for prescription renewals…I’ve morphed from quietly seething to breathing deeply. But I worry about what genuinely poor people receive, care-wise.

Enough moaning…people here hate whingers.