Ah, coming home. Eating mum’s food. That New Zealand smell. Seeing with fresh eyes.
After two-and-a-half years without placing a foot on my tūrangawaewae, at Christmas I took some time out to go back to Nu Zild. As I was wondering what it might be like to go home after all this time, people on Skype told me, “nothing’s changed, except everyone’s leaving”. At first glance it would be easy to believe that: none of my three closest friends were waiting at home to greet me, all having gone off on their own overseas adventures.
But plenty of other things surprised me as well:
- Everything that tastes good now comes in salted caramel flavour.
- Hilarious new shopping soundtracks thanks to changes in music licensing laws. Now that stores can only play music they have licensed, there have clearly been decisions made to reduce costs. The highlight: trying on clothes to a retro song about hating your mother-in-law.
- That evil dude in the Hobbit riding in on a kune kune pig was an inspired use of local species. More GIFs please.
- Beating around the bush is much worse than I'd remembered. In a restaurant I overheard a man pre-empt some criticism by saying, "with all due respect, mate, good on you, but...". I know this because my boyfriend and I spent the rest of the trip using that line wherever possible.
And there was more.
Are you being served?
Half of the notes from my trip are about customer service. This will come as no surprise to my Danish boyfriend who has listened to two-and-a-half years of my complaints about rude customer service staff in Europe.
Two experiences that made me proud to be Kiwi:
- The elderly ladies and gentlemen volunteering as hosts at Auckland Airport deserve every accolade Monocle magazine throws their way. When we missed our flight out of New Zealand, a volunteer spotted our potential for meltdown, placed a gentle hand on each of our shoulders and asked us what he could do to assist. Unparalleled service - and he’s not even paid.
- The Waiheke Island bus driver who helped us when we missed our stop, riding all the way to the other end of the island. Taking in a spectacular view for 10 minutes while she ate her dinner, we then hopped back on the bus riding back the other way - free of charge! Driver, if you’re reading this, you rock, and I’m sorry you almost ran me over. Totally my fault.
Two that didn’t:
- It’s possible that I have inflated my idea of Kiwi customer service while overseas. Or maybe I have lowered my standards – suddenly, at home, constant service seemed a bit over-the-top. By the fourth time a staffer at Plum Café asked, “is everything ok?”, I was starting to wonder whether I supposed to notice that something was not ok. It was, as we say, tumeke.
- A waitress in Wynyard Quarter reminded me of a certain misogynistic jokiness I had gladly left behind. She returned to our table to announce that, “we can’t make your drink because we’re being raped up the a** by five black guys”. As if we would know what this means. When my boyfriend asked her to repeat what she had said (bless his non-native-English-speaker ears), she repeated her sick explanation word for word, all with a straight face. In my book, “rape” will never be a synonym for “too busy”. We do not live in a video game. (I know this example totally contradicts what I said about beating around the bush. It takes all kinds).
Two elderly ladies who I love floored me with their brilliance.
- When I told my 82-year-old grandmother that feminism has re-entered the popular discourse, she told me she was so happy, she didn’t know what to say. Gran always has something to say.
- Her friend Toni, aged 96, greeted me by saying, “Vanessa, it’s been so long. I see you tweeting occasionally. I can’t read what they say, but I know you’re still there.” Toni, I cannot wait to read your memoirs. In the meantime, tweeting has taken on renewed purpose for me.
My greatest success
- After five weeks of gruelling dinner table discussions about feminism, and having borrowed my copy of Lena Dunham’s book (then refusing to give it back), my mother finally outed herself as a feminist on our last evening in New Zealand. In our family, identifying with feminism had been one of those traits that skipped a generation - until now. Welcome to the fold, Mum.
This trip did leave me with two questions I was unable to answer:
- Why are there two Countdown supermarkets in Napier right across the road from each other? How does one choose between them?
- If it is possible to spend a night on Waiheke Island drinking pear cider while dancing to a Balkan band, then what does Europe have left to offer me?
It wasn’t true after all. So many things about home had changed. I flew back to Berlin - finally! - already looking forward to the next trip home.