What I miss least about New Zealand

23:23, Dec 15 2011

I'm going home on Saturday morning for five weeks, which I'm extremely excited about. I'm not looking forward to being in transit for over two days... but that is beside the point (for today). 

From next week, the blog is going to have a voyages out of America theme for a bit. I think it is going to be fun, a new lens from which to view this foreign adventure I'm on (that soon I guess I'll have to start referring to as just my life).

When I think about going home I get slightly mushy. I am excited about seeing my family and friends. I'm maybe most thrilled about getting to play with my two young nephews and my niece, for whom it seems I only want to buy presents and smother in hugs.

It is going to be Christmas. There will be festive cheer. There'll no doubt be trips to good cafes, and beaches, and walks among assorted pleasant scenery.

I predict that I will be infected with a searing good will, spurred by reuniting with loved ones that will seep outwards and end up with me pontificating on the joys of New Zealand life.

So in light of this, I decided today to take an adversarial approach to these favourable feelings toward my home country. As a precursor to getting all warm and fuzzy in the coming weeks, I wanted to take a shot at running in the opposite direction and answer the following question:

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What don't I miss about New Zealand?

Cultural singularity

New Zealand is much less fractured culturally than America. Our culture is defined and replayed down only a few avenues: we have only five major television networks, two national newspapers, and two television news broadcasts.

It leads to a lot of lowest common denominator programming. When I was in New Zealand in May, a visit by Katy Perry made the front page of the newspaper two days in a row. It can leave you with no place to hide from the viewing tastes of your fellow countrymen and women.

Who hasn't at one point or another stared in horror at the composition of the 10 most viewed articles on Stuff?

Folksiness

Maybe I have a heart of coal, but I didn't coo at the story of the seal pup that walked into a Tauranga home and put his feet up. It got brought to my attention today, sent to me on Facebook with a note saying, "why is your country so awesome?"

I cringed more than a little.

For a county of four and a bit million, we have more than our share of heartwarming animal stories. The last time New Zealand made a cultural imprint in America was at the end of August, with Happy Feet the lost penguin. And these are two big stories that follow lifetime's worth of heart-warming cat and dog stories.

It comes from the top down. We have a prime minister who enjoys publicly staged barbecues in the company of princes, and talking about how Elizabeth Hurley is "hot".

Size

Living in a bigger city and having less personal history in it has eradicated from my life street-side run-ins with old faces from the past. I love it.

Because, what proportion of this conversation do you actually enjoy? The stop-and-chat is rote. You disrupt your own movement about town to have a stilted back and forth with an old comrade, each sharing your own piece of what you've been up to, before awkwardly trying to free yourself and go. It is fraught with indecision and you never quite know how to remove yourself. Do you hint at making plans you'll never keep, or just leave it to the night?

Lack of perspective

We never put Flight of the Conchords on television until HBO did, and now Brett McKenzie and Jemaine Clement are two national heroes. We bemoan American socialites for their empty fame, but we create our own pointless celebrities all the time, like a Nicky Watson or a Sally Ridge, and shower them with attention at the expense of many who could use and deserve it. We've been known to denigrate ourselves for being close to a Third World country. We push for, but recoil from, success.  

Meathead radio hosts

I don't drive that much in Boston, so this is one aspect of American life I'm insulated from. But if I never hear the collected babble of Jay Jay, Mike and Dom for the rest of my entire life (or Fletch and Vaughan, or ZM's Polly and Grant, or any of those gravel-voiced Rock announcers) it still won't be long enough for me to forget how much I detest them.

Crazed drunks

I haven't hit this note for a while, but I really don't miss it. I was out in the weekend and I'm pretty sure that I was the loudest, most boorish person on the street. I like it that way.

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There are things Boston offers which New Zealand doesn't have, like more concerts and independent bookstores. But these are pluses for Boston, not minuses for New Zealand.

This list was hard to make. I noticed while composing it that I only went to cultural habits and matters of our national psyche. The cities? The geography? I couldn't think of a negative.

So what do you miss least? Or if you're still in New Zealand, what would you most like to escape? 

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