Welcome mat is far wider

03:35, Jul 11 2014
Pat Veltkamp Smith
Columnist Pat Veltkamp Smith was Southland Times women's editor until 1997 and is a former president of the Southland Justices of the Peace Association.

Southlanders were once considered among the friendliest folk in the land - by ourselves at any rate.

But see how easy it was back then, when everyone had a brother-in-law on the farm, a mate at The Works and a nephew down at Tiwai.

You could ask people where they came from and, if you hadn't been there, up north, at least you knew the place from the weather report - like Kaitaia, way way up there, endless sunshine etc; didn't know of anyone who actually lived that far up. But, hey, you did? Gee, great.

Bit different now.

Ask the young woman at the checkout where she's from and it could be China or the Czech Republic.

China we know. Big country, all our stuff, television to tea towels comes from there and so do rice dishes. China we know.


But the Czech Republic?

Conversation stopper.

We dredge up other republics, no royalty in them, divided up parts of countries. Maybe the best bit?

All those strange stamps, Federal Republic of Germany, Irish Republic, Republic of the Congo. Czechoslovakia? Once saw beautiful old capital city Prague and old University of Prague.

What happened to Slovakia? Be there somewhere; new maps every year.

Our stuff's all checked out, the pleasant young operator from the Czech Republic is waiting, as is the queue growing.

Next time we can say something welcoming.

All round us are people from places we don't know now, one small country school boasting non-English-speaking children of eight different nationalities.

Near us young women from Sri Lanka and the Philippines, not able to converse with each other, while we are still struggling with both.

Lots of them have long, lonely days with husbands on dairy farms or truck driving routes.

They are the new colonists, settlers from far away who will start families here, become part of the fabric, in time their children indistinguishable from the rest,

But, meantime, how tough is life when they can hardly talk of home when we cannot place where it is?

They have a bit to learn.

And so have we.

The Southland Times