September 5, 2018
“It used to have a different name.”
“Excuse me?” I set down my knitting so I can focus. The Kiwi accent is hard enough for me to understand under normal circumstances, but this craft group, amazingly, meets in a noisy pub in Christchurch. I take a sip of my beer.
“Lyttleton, where you went tiki touring. It used to have a different name in the eighties.” A tiki tour, I recall, is when someone shows you around. I think back to my day in Lyttleton Harbour, a picturesque village overlooking the sea, complete with sweeping beaches. There’s a thriving port there that was used by the first European settlers that came to New Zealand and is now often called the Gateway to Antarctica, a place where many famous explorers began their journey.
“What was it called?” I wonder if it went back to its native Maori name.
“Lyttleton.” I stare at her blankly. She looks back at me as if I’m slow.
I feel a tap on my shoulder and look over at another woman in the group. Her gaze is one of tender pity.
“She means it used to have a bad reputation.” Oh! I realize I’ve been taken down by another colloquialism that my poor, North American self has never heard before. I laugh and everyone laughs along, kindly remembering I have an American English disability.
“Thanks for the explanation.” I smile at my rescuer.
“It’s okay,” she says and I’m startled again, feeling like I’ve apologized for something before I remember that phrase means “No worries” here.
Most days, I don’t feel like a foreigner here. I go to work and it’s B.A.U. (Kiwi for business as usual). People are friendly, and they don’t make a point to comment on my accent, which they find as difficult to understand as I do theirs. The cars are Toyotas, Subarus, and Land Rovers, and the grocery stores carry mostly the same varieties of foods I’d find in the US, so it’s jarring when differences emerge.
This is why we should travel
It is impossible to maintain preconceived notions about people, places, and cultures when we experience them ourselves. I had the opportunity to go to Saudi Arabia last December, feeling oddly cloistered in my abaya and headscarf, where I evaluated an all women’s biomedical engineering program at a university. I assumed many things about those young women before I arrived, only to have every belief shattered.
First of all, they were outspoken, confident, and opinionated. Second, when I asked if they were excited about being able to drive, they said no. Right now, they all have personal drivers. They can relax and read on the drive, and when they arrive, they don’t have to park and walk to the building in the blazing summer heat. “Why would we want to drive?” they asked me without malice. I had never thought of it that way, and it honestly made me want a personal driver!
A chance for personal growth
From my new adventure in New Zealand, I’m growing as a person. I have to question all of my assumptions about what people mean when they say or do something, and I have to observe behavior and ask what or why they’re doing that rather than believe that I know. I am blessed to have this opportunity, and I hope to share what I learn with all of you.
So, here’s to Lyttleton no longer having a different name! I take another sip of my stout and go back to knitting as the music blares in the crowded pub.
Read more about my time and work in New Zealand on my blog, Deborah Munro, Author — Category, Kiwi Diary.