Chez Cecile

Press reporter Cecile Meier shares impressions of her new life in Christchurch, far away from home in France, as she struggles to master the quirks of New Zealand English and culture.

Appreciating what there is, not what isn't there

05:00am 30 Jan 2015


Living in Christchurch helps you appreciate little luxuries we take for granted. Seeing as lists are a la mode at the moment, here's my list of the things I've learned to enjoy in our post-quake environment.

1. A brand new road: This week I rode my bike up Manchester St towards Bealey Ave. A collection of potholes and road cones covered the first half of the street. But after Cambridge Tce, a brand new road awaited me. The white lines of the biking lane shone brightly against the fresh, dark tar. Riding on it felt smooth and luxurious.

2. Birdsong: I work in the CBD where construction workers, trucks and cranes drill, rumble and howl. But a five-minute walk takes me from my office to Hagley Park, where birds sing and willow trees brush gently against the Avon River.

3. Libraries: Yes, the city is broken and dysfunctional but many things still work well. I recently signed up to the city libraries and I was amazed to find there were four libraries within biking distance of my house. You can find a huge variety of books online and place holds to pick them up at your nearest library. Librarians are helpful and knowledgeable. While the city council is struggling, let's not forget what it's getting right.

4. New buildings: I remember driving past the Stranges building construction site in 2013 and thinking it was taking forever to build and would never be finished. This persistently incomplete steel shell was my Southern Cross reassuring me I was going the right way to work. Now, it's a brand new building with sharp steel angles, a strong presence and a burger outlet tucked in behind it.

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More to the night sky than meets the eye

05:00am 23 Jan 2015


I've always liked looking up at the dark night sky.

It's peaceful and mysterious and it was when looking up at the stars from a camping mattress in the Swiss Alps that I first kissed my husband, Nick.

Since moving to New Zealand two years ago, I've spotted a few shooting stars while on holiday at Arthur's Pass and marvelled at the darkness on overnight tramps but I've never really given the stars the attention they deserve.

So last week we decided to play tourist and went on a night-sky tour up to Mt John Observatory in Tekapo.

We had not planned around the weather forecast but it happened to be a perfectly clear, windless, moonless night.

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Do you have online charity fatigue?

05:00am 19 Dec 2014


I breathed a sigh of relief at the end of Movember. I could finally use Facebook without being taken on a facial-hair funding guilt-trip. Ready for a moustache-free internet experience, I opened my laptop. Click, click - What the hell is Decembeard?

I soon found out it was the latest charity fad, where men down their razors to fundraise for bowel cancer. This would seem like a fun way to fundraise for charity if it didn't follow a long line of similar initiatives including Movember (where men grew moustaches to fundraise for prostate cancer), the Ice Bucket Challenge (where celebrities and Facebook friends chucked ice water over themselves to raise money for the Motor Neurone Disease Association), the #nomakeupselfie (women posted photos of themselves on social media without makeup to raise awareness for cancer) and Dry July (where people quit drinking for a month and ask their friends to donate to charity).

That is not counting friends of friends' kickstarter projects, people running marathons and acquaintances selling goodies to fund their nephew's school trip.

It's great about all the money that has been raised in those ways but enough is enough. I cannot possibly afford to donate to all of those causes. This overload of requests has given me charity fatigue. Apparently, I am not the only one to suffer from this condition. There was a backlash against the Ice Bucket Challenge, with people donating to water charities in Africa instead of dumping a load of chilled drinking water on themselves.

Nevertheless, I am in a country of givers. In the Charities Aid Foundation 2014 World Giving Index, New Zealand is ranked fifth, while France is ranked 90. Maybe there are cultural reasons behind my reaction (It's not my fault I'm selfish; I'm French!) but all this very public showing of interest in charity makes me wonder sometimes if people do it for the cause or as part of their social media image-building.

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Go on, shake yourself and get off that couch

05:00am 12 Dec 2014


After finishing my third pancake on Saturday morning, I felt like going back to bed and napping until mid-afternoon. I'd earned it - they were big pancakes. Later I would stay in my pyjamas, throw my hair into a bun and drink camomile tea while lazing around the house.

Except I couldn't, because I was invited to afternoon events and parties and things that required me to interact with people. It's not just parties that trigger my apathy. Lately I've had to kick myself to go running, plan a weekend away or have friends over for dinner. Maybe because I've been busy at work, or because I am getting old, or perhaps I am just plain lazy. I have to go to work, but for the rest, I sometimes just want to be off the hook.

The thing is, I almost never go out on a hike and think: "I wish I was at home on the couch". Up in the mountains taking the view and the sun in, getting some perspective on life, I feel lucky to be out. Nine times out of 10, I enjoy doing the thing I was trying to avoid. On Saturday night, I laughed and talked and danced and ate cake and it was fun.

When I feel like I don't have any energy it's a good sign that getting out of the house might help. A couple of weeks ago, I let my husband and a friend drag me to the Summer Starter fun run. I'd just worked six days in a row and running 10 kilometres was the last thing on my mind. But once there, the sun was shining, there was music, people looked happy and wore bright colours. I felt revived and energised. My whole body hurt for two days afterwards but still, I was happy I'd gone.

Of course, sometimes it's good to have a break. Refuse an invitation to go out and spend the night drinking wine and watching an entire season of Breaking Bad in a single marathon session. But how to tell when you really need it and when you're just giving in to slackness and will regret it later? One trick I use is to picture myself staying at home and then picture myself going out. Will I regret the couch if I am having fun? Will I wish I went on a walk with a friend instead? Having a break once in a while is fine but when it starts becoming a pattern rather than the exception, I try to shake myself out of it. The party you're trying to avoid might be one of the best nights in your life. You'll never know . . . unless you get off the couch and go.

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The ups and downs of door knocks

05:00am 28 Nov 2014


Journalist - noun. Someone who strides the earth, topples governments, takes two-hour lunches and has intense cognac-fuelled debates about the proper use of a semi-colon.

That was my expectation. The reality, I learned this week, involved a lot more doors slamming in my face.

I had to knock on doors to gather info for a piece - can't tell you the details. Secret. Shh! I was with fellow rebuild reporter Georgina Stylianou - a world-class charmer and a looker to boot. You'd never think her capable of cursing the paint off a door. Who wouldn't invite us in for a cuppa?

Well, it turns out that people hate door-knockers. A recent Consumer NZ survey found that 70 per cent of its members disliked door-to-door salespeople and wanted them to stop calling. More than 60 per cent dubbed these traders "annoying" and "intrusive".

Survey respondents also complained of pushy door-to-door sellers that wouldn't take "no" for an answer. Several members said they had to threaten to call the police to get them to leave.

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