YOU don’t need to spend a great deal of time in New Zealand to see that it’s very different from Australia. Having lived in the latter country for nearly 13 years, I was able to easily spot some aspects of life in which our Kiwi neighbours differ.
Environmental awareness is the big one. Australia seems to be on one long binge to nowhere, much like the Americans. Accumulating things seems to be the main game in life, wherease across the Tasman, people are concerned about recycling, greening the place and reusing things to avoid wastage.
There is a much more practical approach to common things – one which was easily noticeable was the way the Kiwis do not wait endlessly for a green light to cross the road. If there is no traffic in sight, people cross even though the light is red and go about their business. Australians are more prone to wait for the light to change, much like the Americans do.
The New Zealand attitude appears to be that the law can sometimes be an ass and that one does not need to obey it when it is. I never saw an accident happen because of it.
The drivers in Wellington do not display half the aggression that Australians do; they are perfectly willing to share the roads with pedestrians and smaller vehicles and are not waiting to charge off the moment the traffic lights turn green. Not that this means they are a bunch of dawdlers; there is a relaxed attitude about people on the road that is not observable in Australia.
The natives are much more visible in New Zealand than in Australia. It is rare to see an Aboriginal face in the city of Melbourne but in Wellington, you can see plenty of Maori and other islander faces. The country appears to respect the fact that the original inhabitants of the two islands (North and South) were willing to strike a deal to share their land with others, and they are given their rightful place in society.
Some attribute this to the fact that the Maori were a fighting race; Australia’s Aborigines do not have the same pushiness. Whatever the reason, this is one aspect of New Zealand that appeals to anyone who has a sense of fairness.
But when it comes to cringe, New Zealand is on par with Australia. One of the things that brings home the inferiority complex that Australia has vis-a-vis America is the presence of silly people like Jim Courier as commentators at one of the major international events that the country hosts – the Australian Open tennis tournament.
And this, when Australia has an excellent tennis pedigree and boasts some of the true greats of the game.
In New Zealand, this cringe can be seen in their own parliament. I was taken aback when an American conducted a tour of parliament which is offered many times a day during the off-season. If the man, Bill Wieben, had done a professional job, one would probably have written it off as an aberration.
But he was the typical American public official – patronising, making poor jokes and acting quite the buffoon in a setting where a serious, informative talk would have served the cause of the country and the visitors much better.
Why does New Zealand have an American conducting these tours? In truth, it spoiled the entire trip for me. There is nothing more representative of a nation than its own parliament – and New Zealand has some proud achievements on this front, one of them being that it was the first country to give women the vote.
I’d love to hear a Kiwi accent there the next time I visit.