As the US election rolls ever closer and the Presidential Debates have kicked immodestly into gear, there are some things I’ve discovered about myself and what I hypothesize as traits that your average Kiwi is also known to possess. I don’t represent the disposition of every New Zealand citizen (and recent immigrants from different cultures might not have developed these traits yet), but it’s a stereotype of myself which I can identify as the New Zealand European.
Americans and their engagement in politics is one of division, passion, muck racking and hostility. Well, that’s the impression this flightless bird gets. It appears to me that their political views and party membership often defines who they are. It’s what you decide upon in your 20s and then that’s it. You’ve signed the contract in blood. As a US citizen I recently received my finalized Texas Voter Registration card in the mail, and on the side it asks you to write your political party affiliation. Wait, will I have to have that information permanently etched on there? My hesitation at this point is because election day hasn’t arrived yet. While I’m pretty sure of who I don’t want to vote for let’s not jump the gun. The political spectrum here is very polarized from my perspective, each side seen as an evil that must stop the other. Vote for Clinton and you’ll be gunned down by an assault rifle bought at Walmart and dragged for miles behind a Chevy truck. Or vote for Trump and be beaten to death by an iPhone and have your corpse burnt by Trevor Noah live on air. Kiwis can show some political divide, but our two major parties are about as centrist as you can get compared to the rest of the world. Some compare National to the Nazis, any Labour minister a Stalinist, but if an American political scientist had to put them on a spectrum for us they would probably smell each other’s breath.
When I give serious thought as to why this Kiwi ‘centrism’ occurs it’s by how most foreigners describe us: We’re a relaxed and friendly bunch, and as a result we… well… avoid conflict whenever possible (sorry).
I’m a serial conflict avoider. I don’t enjoy engaging in serious debate because it could awaken anger and ill feelings in someone and it’s all my fault. We were having a nice afternoon until I brought ‘that’ up. I’m an intelligent guy (sorry) who likes to research and learn things about the world around me; but trying to discuss them with some personalities doesn’t achieve much as they can be overly passionate and to counter them would require some energy and I can’t be bothered. Let’s just get back to eating the chips and dip while we wait for the others to finish the BBQ.
But even those Kiwis who throw stones at political figures and people’s personal beliefs, if an establishment only gave them 1 marshmallow with their hot chocolate it might scrape the very fiber of their being to go ask for one more. Americans would ask as soon as the cup came down and their server would gladly provide it for them. Waiters/waitresses don’t really check up on you in NZ like they do in the US, mostly because they don’t have to worry about tips, but also they’re probably subconsciously afraid of bothering people who are enjoying themselves and rather not ask them if “they’re ok” every 2 minutes. If we weren’t engrossed in conversation we’d gently alert you as you wander past. Texas service is friendly and amazing but the only thing I find is they don’t bring your table a bottle filled with cold water, they instead personally bring you an enormous pre-liquated cup with about a quarter of it floating with ice. They will keep a careful eye on you and regularly top it up, but sometimes I don’t really want that much water. Each time they come to my table and fill it up again I’m too Kiwi to ask them to stop. It feels rude to refuse someone’s service or offering. So I feel obliged to drink the water and a dozen glasses later I find I’m visiting the ‘restroom’ on a regular basis.
I’m not the only one who feels this funk as fellow Kiwi blogger James Robinson, who has lived in the US with his American wife, brought up the same observation of a general Kiwi lack of assertiveness in the midst of American self-confidence. What’s funny is that he had a moment when a waitress brought out their breakfast, and when he noticed she had got his order wrong he didn’t want to make a fuss so just ate what was given. It was something he would enjoy anyway so didn’t want to bother the staff. The reason it’s funny is that I had almost exactly the same encounter when ordering takeaway at a nearby Mexican restaurant. I ordered a particular chicken meal but as I walked out the door I checked and found that it wasn’t what I ordered. But it at least had chicken in it, and was probably the same price so I kept going and enjoyed my unanticipated meal at home. I could’ve easily turned around and shown her the error they made, but it would make me feel bad, and might get someone in trouble if their boss was watching. Food is food. It’s just bad luck on my part.
Making a complaint is mostly frowned upon by Euro New Zealanders, and it’s perhaps our previous egalitarian history that contributes to it. The early settlers arrived in a country that no longer had a class system, they were all on the same boat (literally) and now as equals starting a new home they had to get along. The spirit that lingers however is that if you produce some sort of grievance then you might upset the unanimity and take us back to the whingey country we left behind. The exception is we give politicians a hard time, and that’s because we assume people in power think they’re better than us and we aren’t afraid to keep those tall poppies trimmed. Too much self-assertion has a smell of arrogance to us. Americans are on the border line because they’re proud of themselves and their country, but that’s because to most it’s the best there is. We love New Zealand and New Zealanders, but there’s nobody less significant to us (except Australia on occasion).
There’s obviously a negative side to all of this as sometimes you do have the right to bring something erroneous to attention. The yanks are a people who expect exceptionally excellent service, but they naturally provide it as a result. They’re a generous party and more often than not add something to their bill for the service provided to them. But the positive slant to our Kiwi character is that we’re often referred to as a positive people. Americans appreciate not expecting too much of others, and how we prefer to sit down and have a cuppa rather than engage in needless argument over something we probably agree upon anyway.
With what could be one of the most controversial elections in US history (yay me for good timing) no matter who wins there will be a long residing resentment towards those who voted against the choice you made. In New Zealand we can get annoyed if a particular party wins an election, or if the All Blacks lose a game, but after a few days we tend to shrug it off and get back to normal life. Who guides our country through government is definitely important to us, but who leads America (and thus the world) is a lot more significant than who gets to read Top 10s on David Letterman.
So with these ruminations in mind I’m going to take these things with me: As a New Zealander I can take pride in possessing a more relaxed faculty, and having an acceptance of people which other cultures take delight in. But the tiny American portion of me says there’s nothing impolite about asking for a correction to be made or an error to be made right. You can tell someone you disagree with them but can still love them. And if I’m able to combine these two sides into one I guess it will make me the greatest human being in the world today. The Kiwi Cowboy. (Figuratively) Shoot first and ask questions later. Then tell them you’re sorry and take them out for a flat white.