I thought I was integrating well in New Zealand. That was until I discovered a little guide given to migrants coming to work in Christchurch's rebuild. All along while I thought I was fitting in, I had actually been rude, obnoxious, sowing discord and destroying harmony.
Settlement Support, a government organisation that assists newcomers, provides the guide to help migrants understand New Zealand culture.
"New Zealanders often soften their language when making suggestions or expressing their opinions to avoid imposing their views too strongly on others or risking a relationship breakdown," stated the guide.
It went on with examples.
"Rather than that's wrong, say actually that is not quite correct or I can see what you mean but…"
I read this in panic, mentally reviewing 11 months of interactions.
Caution is not my specialty. More than once I've claimed "I'm 250 per cent sure I am right!" before realising I was 100 per cent wrong.
I'm also good at telling other people when they're wrong.
"Hey, I really like your blog, Chayz Say Seal."
"No, you don't pronounce the z at the end of chez."
"Well in English we do pronounce it so. . ."
"Well it is not an English word, it is a French word, so you're wrong."
Once, Nick's father insisted that entrepreneur and je ne sais quoi were now English words just because they were in the Oxford dictionary.
"Pfff! That's not true at all! Deeze are French words AND HALWAYS WILL BE!" I told him.
I did not mean to be aggressive or rude. French people like to argue for fun. So much so that foreigners hearing them having a normal conversation often believe they are angry. But I shall suppress my natural instincts now that I am in the land of pleasant discussions.
The next section was about giving advice: "Avoid phrases as you must, you should. These are considered very direct and strong, sometimes even rude".
Problem is, like many other foreigners, I was taught the use of "you should" for giving advice at school. I reviewed all the relationships I had ruined using the "s" word.
I went on to the guide's section about complaining. Here I would redeem myself, as the French are experts at complaining.
"Complaints and criticism are rarely made in public." Whoops!
"Common ways of softening a complaint include:
a. Reducing the size of the complaint: I had a little bit of concern about…
b. Using a positive adjective with not: I am not very happy… rather than - I am unhappy/angry about"
Sacrebleu! This is like learning a new language. I shall now say I am not very hot rather than I'm freezing, or I'm not positively bursting with excitement, rather than I'm bored. Local speech is to be as soft as merino wool.
But the guide is not all bad news for me. It also proves people who write mean comments on my blog can not possibly be Kiwis. Here is what their comments tend to look like:
Hugh Jidiot: "You write bad you should get a more suitable job like a mannaquin (sic)".
Imat Roll: "What boring self-loving drivel. Give me real news!""
Well, my target audience is mostly New Zealanders. So whoever you are, rude commenters, go get the Settlement Support guide and learn some decent Kiwi manners please.
- © Fairfax NZ News