The boss of a frozen yoghurt shop at the centre of a dispute over a greeting says the issue has been blown out of all proportion.
Margaret Lang, franchisee of KiwiYo Whangarei, said members of the public had been entering her shop, refusing to leave and ‘‘generally causing stress and anxiety.’’
Her shop became a focus of protest after 17-year-old Monet-Mei Clarke quit her job there because, she said, she had been banned from saying ‘‘kia ora’’ to customers.
Clarke, who speaks Maori at home, said it was not much to ask to be able to say "kia ora".
"It's the first time someone has told me in New Zealand that I'm not allowed to speak Maori.''
However, Lang said this evening: ‘‘This whole issue has been blown out of proportion by making it a race and language issue, when simply, it is not.’’
She said the company’s standardised greeting was based around variations of “Welcome to KiwiYo, have you been here before?”.
Lang said: ‘‘The staff member in question did not follow it up with the greeting, instead her entire welcome was simply “kia ora”. If she had said “hello” or “bonjour” and not followed it up with the required greeting, I would have pulled her up on it too.
‘‘This is not about the use of ‘kia ora’ but simply an issue of non-compliance.’’
Protesters, many of them school pupils, crammed the footpath outside the KiwiYo store today.
Clarke said today's show of support had been heartwarming.
Lang felt otherwise. ‘‘I am not racist. This has become all about race and racism – I have had the Mana Internet Party setting up in protest outside my store and talking to my customers as they walk in. Now, I am concerned about my staff and any criticism they will cop from people coming into my store.”
Clarke can expect a visit from KiwiYo chief executive Norman Markgraaff in the next day or two. He released a statement saying he would offer her his apologies personally and explore how he might rectify the situation from her perspective.
"Having said that, there are absolutely no guidelines in the current handbook that would prevent the use of 'welcome' in any language."
He was "deeply sorry" the situation had arisen.
“It is not clear who said what to whom in this scenario but all of us here at KiwiYo are, frankly mortified as we believe that the word 'kia ora' is an entirely appropriate greeting and can be used as part of the KiwiYo welcome presentation," Markgraaff said.
“My family and I come from South Africa and if we were to greet a fellow South African we may well choose to do so in Afrikaans – and that is equally as appropriate in our view.
"The most important thing is to make a customer feel welcome and feel important. It doesn’t matter what language that it is done in.”