Missing or not missing New Zealand

Last updated 09:38 20/02/2013

The other day someone commented on a recent blog that I should write a post about what I don't miss about New Zealand. I replied that I had already done so and dug out the old link for them

blogRe-reading my own writing though (something that I do rarely), spurred some reflection. I wondered if maybe the old list needed updating. But it was a hard well to go back to.

I've been here for two-and-a-half years. In that time I haven't spent more than six weeks in New Zealand consecutively. Between now and 15 months ago when I wrote that piece, my memory and conception of my life in New Zealand has shifted. It's always shifting.

I think anybody sees a similar process take place when they move anywhere. For the first few months, everything in your new home is a slightly homesick comparison to the old one: that's better, that's worse, that's better, that's worse, and so on ad nauseam. Then when the new life sticks, there's a sort of euphoric comparison between your whole existence and the old one ("I like this SO much more" and so on, et cetera).

But the new life just becomes life, in time, and the old one becomes part of a fabric of nostalgia that you can rhapsodise about on cue.

Case in point: it was easier for me to compose a list of small joys I was looking forward to partaking in on my trip home next month, than to tackle cogently the things I still don't miss about living in New Zealand.

I don't really think of New Zealand anymore in terms of comparative statements. If anything, I'm more prone to a simplistic, romantic view of our country and its problems. When I'm reading local news I tend to feel that we're consistently too worked up about things and that it's all just going to be okay for us. You can feel a little apocalyptic reading the news in America and the New Zealand headlines can seem pretty folksy in comparison. (Jellyfish that look like breast implants, anyone?)

I think more of my home and upbringing in terms of how it has informed who I am and what being away has taught me about that. Broader societal contemplation is harder when the memory of being part of that society is less fresh in your mind.

But there are still plenty of times when, from afar, happenings down New Zealand-a-way make me shake my head and give me a small sense of gratitude that I am an ocean away.

prosserA recent and remarkable case of this was the quite revolting and widely publicised "Wogistan" remarks of NZ First MP Richard Prosser, advocating for Muslim men to be banned from aeroplanes and encouraging them to go ride a camel if they were so repelled by Western civilisation.

Prosser's remarks were a blatant headline grab. It's the sort of scandal that New Zealand specialises in, where a public figure in some public forum says something in a base, attention-seeking way and it backfires massively and hijacks national headlines, mostly because it is so "what-the-hell-were-they-thinking-about" shocking.

Prosser has undeniably painted himself as a bit of a dickhead in his comments. That these remarks were prompted by something as minor as the confiscation of his favourite pocket knife when he was checking in for a flight is even more cringe-inducing.

The content of the comments points at a small-minded ugliness lingering in corners of New Zealand that I think people like to imagine we're too enlightened for. But the fact that we're small enough that Prosser thought correctly that he could make a real stir with his words (he must have had some agenda, no matter how silly, in writing them) heightens the fever a bit.

It's a bit of national chemistry that emerges from time to time in New Zealand that I don't miss one bit.

There's an odd singularity in New Zealand culture, which I don't consider that often, but I enjoy being outside of at certain moments. We are developed enough to be media saturated but small enough that a handful of television channels, newspapers, radio shows and news broadcasts speak for the entirety of the country. 

It is why something like Flight of the Conchords never got picked up in New Zealand. There's no niche avenue with any resources behind it and so everything has to be made broadly, stretched out to encompass some confusing notion of what it means to be a New Zealander.

So when you have a show like the Ridges, or the GC, or Seven Sharp hit air, you can't escape it. It gets everywhere, from the show itself to the endless feedback loops of fallout over its horribleness.

springerfightIn America, everything is a niche. Ricki Lake and Anderson Cooper launch disastrous talkshows and they premiere and fail and leave without anyone raising an eyebrow. This country excels in horrible TV, from shows about people who buy unwanted storage units to series where men and woman fight over the paternity of their children in front of a live studio audience. You can put your head in the sand and ignore all of it. I love it.

I also still don't miss New Zealand's longstanding issues with public drunkenness. But after appreciating the public harmony and relative sobriety at certain major American events and festivals when I first moved, I am prone to forget about how bad this could get back at home.

A month or two ago, a young woman froze to death after passing out drunk in the snow near Lake Tahoe. It was a genuinely shocking story here that stunned many people. I was mortified to realise that I had become desensitised by stories of young people dying needlessly from drinking too much. 

Despite the above, I have to say that I don't actively go about not missing things from New Zealand anymore. It gets summoned out of me occasionally, but it's not an experience I search for.  

Does that make sense?

Are there things that you consider yourself pleased to be away from, or which you wish you could escape?

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