Kiwis, the politest of the lot

CECILE MEIER
Last updated 05:00 10/01/2014

I've been in New Zealand for a year, and Kiwiness is slowly seeping into my French bones.

The transformation began insidiously, with a few more ''thank yous'' dropped here and there.

When I first met Nick in Switzerland, I found his habit of thanking people at the end of any social interaction massively over the top. Now, I say the magic words all the time - a thank you does not cost anything after all.

However, cultural integration has its limits.

The other day a police woman caught Nick speeding. He apologised as she checked the registration, and thanked her when she handed the fine. Incroyable! If you can imagine that happening in France, please write a book. I'd love to read it.

Something else I learned early on is the proper way to talk behind someone's back.

At first I thought Kiwis morally superior for they seemed to never criticise anyone. But then I discovered The Code.

''That was interesting how Kelly did not say 'thank you' when she left the restaurant.''

''Yes, hmm, she's... interesting.''

Once everyone has agreed that the person is interesting, you can progress to overt abuse. Not that I ever talk behind anyone's back. It's just good to know.

Trickier is complaining to someone's face.

The other day Nick's father (and our landlord) was chainsawing wood down our driveway at 8pm. I had a headache, and as the whiny buzz deepened into a throaty grind, I needed it to stop.

My old self would have run outside without a thought and exploded in a ball of outrage and self-pity. But I knew I could not do that here.

The real Kiwi way is to suffer silently, or at the very boldest, to stroll over and have a friendly chat in which I would casually mention my headache. But by the time I'd finished rehearsing what I should say in my head, the noise had stopped.

The worst thing is that I've started to adopt habits that used to exasperate me.

Last week, I texted a friend to ask him to return a book he had borrowed.''Hey Jim, sorry to bother you, but would you have a bit of time today to drop off that book? No worries if you can't!''

It had annoyed me when people made requests in that way. What is with this need to apologise all the time?

And if there are no worries if he can't, should I bother? This had driven me to distraction. So why on earth was I suddenly doing it?

Resisting the tide of cultural assimilation and trying to keep my identity is tiring and counter productive.

Like King Canute, my feet are wet and maybe it is for the best - I have become more polite and considerate of other people.

As long as I don't start thanking the police for giving me a fine, my French honour is safe.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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