Charlotte NC – 35 degrees 13′ 36″ N
Wellington NZ – 41 degrees 17′ 11″ S
We took off for a year last fall just to try and conquer our fear
All of our places, and all the loved faces, we watched them all disappear.
And changes in attitude occurred in our new found latitude.
– based on Jimmy Buffet’s song.
Two weeks ago we attended the Jimmy Buffet Concert in Wellington, NZ. The Coral Reefers were simplified into the basic necessities – 4 guys, 2 guitars, 1 drum set, 1 steel drum set, and well known songs that needed nothing more and nothing less. Generally, the Coral Reefer Band is made up of the above PLUS back up singers, base player, musicians who work the keyboards, xylophones, tamborines, maracas, and the brass band. The Wellington concert, illustrated the beauty and power of simplicity that is New Zealand.
Here are a few of the key factors that helped us transition into a new culture at a different latitude.
Our move to New Zealand was smooth sailing because of the Kiwis’ genuine friendliness and ability to trust. This land of the silver fern is not only the keeper of the rare kiwi bird, but also of the rare human character trait, trust. Generally, Kiwis lack the following attitudes: “what’s in it for me?” , “how can this deal hurt me?”, and “how can I get ahead of you?” .
Allow me to illustrate a few examples:
- My boys were riding the bus one day and their fare card had no money left. The bus driver allowed them to ride on the condition that they pay double on the next trip. And double my boys paid on a later ride.
- John needed a wrench for his bike, so he stopped by the local bike shop for suggestions. They lent him a wrench until the next day.
- We bought furniture from “Trade Me” (NZ version of ebay). When we went to pick up the dining set, the lady apologized for the condition of the chairs which she omitted to mention in her listing. She refused to a accept anything more then $150 (asking price $250).
- 20 year old hitchhikers are seen everywhere. Isn’t a hitchhiker the most vulnerable and trusting species?
My thoughts: Kiwis treasure acts of kindness and adventure, above getting Stuff, which creates a leisurely environment that fosters friendships and teamwork. Unfortunately, our American culture celebrates and encourages the accumulation of stuff which leads to unrelenting competition and busy-ness.
Nothing is a big deal:
• A big Earthquake hits (7.8 magnitude)! We talked about it for 1 day. Then everyone moved on.
• Cyclones come and go while people go to work and school without missing a beat.
• Gale force winds of 140km/hr (90m/hr) sweep through the tennis courts during a tennis match. The point is served.
• The radio weather team describes the day as windy with periods of fine. Uhmmm, well, I guess we need sunscreen, rain gear, and extra layers.
• Christmas comes with a scatter of ornaments, minimal gift exchange, no stressful and excessive Christmas card exchanges, fake Christmas trees outnumber the real and messy ones, and the occasional house is decorated. Kiwis focus their Christmas Energy on friends, families and beach barbecues. Gatherings, food, music, and laughter supercede the Holiday Excess of Stuff.
My thoughts: Natural Disasters happen. Weather happens. Why do we worry and fuss so much? What happened to the Christmas spirit? Somehow, in the US we buried it under all the Holiday Stuff that we created and glorify it as necessary.
Keeping It Simple
Clothes and Fashion
- The look of the day is irrelevant. Kids attend school, run and play in stained clothes, ripped pants, tattered shoes and with messy hair. No one pays attention. Name brands are invisible. At an age when appearance becomes important, teens are required to wear uniforms without accessories (no nail polish, no make up, no earrings). A level playing field is designed.
- Of note, the only items of clothing, besides uniforms, that I have purchased in 7 months are shoes. Apparently, playing and running all day destroys shoes within weeks.
- People wear clothes for comfort in NZ. Wearable items are not noticed, nor complimented. Since outward appearances are not noticed, the drive is for simple, functional, comfortable clothes with minimal fuss. Perhaps my 15 suitcases of clothes were excessive and 50 lbs of jewelry unnecessary. Side note, my FUNtabulous shoes are being worn (let’s not be ridiculous).
My thoughts: functional clothes get worn to tatters, while stylish clothes often hang in closets with tags still on them. Moreover, if no one notices appearances, why hunt and purchase the latest styles?
Friends invite one another to activities such as tennis or mountain biking without elaborating on their expertise, wins, or conquests. There is no resume, just a simple invitation to fun.
Let me give you some examples.
- When I get invited to play a tennis game, as an American, I make a judgement on how this scenario will play out in my favor. Sad but true. Much to my dismay, the friend, who appears to be in average fit condition, generally kicks my fancy skirted butt (FYI Lululemon skirts provide no tennis skill whatsoever). Following the slaughter, I am offered tea, scones, and amicable chatter. Me and my fancy skirt learn to accept defeat, move past it, make pleasant small talk, and look forward to the next game while leaving my preconceived notions at home.
- Similarly, cool bike guy (that’s my husband) gets dusted on the “average” Kiwi mountain biking trails, and then requires a 4 hour nap to recover from an experience he was sure to dominate. Therefore, on his afternoons off he runs over his preconceived notions on the trails.
My thoughts: Unless you are an olympic athlete, your athletic resume is nothing but a barrier to fun. How many times have you declined to play tennis with someone, or go for a ride because you learned that their skills are way lower or much better then yours? Does it really matter? Is amateur sport success our quest, or human interaction and fun?
Kiwis refer to their other half as partner. This simple all encompassing word includes, but is not limited to – wife, boyfriend, baby daddy, ex-husband, fiance, common law spouse, straight or gay live-in friend. This was very disorienting for a detailed seeking American like me. This simple term left me baffled. I then understood. If details are necessary, a relaxed conversation over tea is a must.
My thoughts: Simplicity and friendliness foster a change in attitude.
Its those changes in latitude,
Changes in attitudes, nothing remains quite the same.
Of all of our running and all of your cunning,
If we couldn’t laugh at our American attitudes we would all go insane.