November 01, 2016

This Is Halloween

We are almost at the 10 year anniversary of our move here to New Zealand, and I've been wanting to write some posts reflecting on what we've learned and how we've settled in here.  Mostly, the posts are just floating around in my head - we'll see how many of them I'll actually write down!

So, we'll start with Halloween 2016.  You'll note I didn't add a picture at the top of this post.  Why?  Well...there's really nothing to take a picture of, sadly.

Halloween simply has not taken off here like other foreign celebrations (read: Octoberfest & Guy Fawkes) have.  In fact, there's still quite a lot of grumbling about it being an "American" holiday, with some people actually offended that children would go door to door asking for candy.  There are some minor Halloween-related events held by the City government, but they are always targeted towards children.  Very few people decorate their houses/yards, and only one person dressed up at my workplace.

There were a few years where it seemed Halloween was getting more popular - we'd see Halloween themed candy in the grocery stores as well as in the primary household-y type store (The Warehouse), along with a few basic costume accessories.  But this year, it seemed less popular.  We struggled to find suitable candy to hand out (to the kids who didn't show up anyway), and noted that all the stores had already set up their Xmas displays.

Yes, we thought we'd get some trick-or-treaters this year!  Mainly due to all the kids who appeared last Halloween when we were travelling in the US and our friends were watching the house,  but also because a new registry popped up on-line for people to indicate that they were open to trick-or-treaters. But only four kids came around, two of whom were our neighbors across the street.   Apparently the wealthier streets in our suburb attracted all the candy seekers.  Well...can't blame them. That is actually a good tactic!

Still, even as much as I miss Halloween, I miss celebrating it in Autumn.  The evenings are dark and chilly, the trees have shed many of their brightly colored leaves and there's that particular smell in the air that hints at a slowing of time.  It is my favorite holiday, and has been for as long as I can remember.  I really didn't know how much I'd miss it, or how wrong it feels during the Spring.  We often plan our US trips to coincide with Halloween for this reason.  Perhaps we'll see some of you next year...

A pic of us in 2013 wearing the last elaborate costumes we made (at Disney World).

January 03, 2015

How to Speak Kiwi: The Sequel

Way back in 2007, I wrote a blog post on "How to Speak Kiwi".  I see that the post still gets quite a few views, so I thought I'd finally write an update.

Eight years into this adventure, I still very much have my American accent.  It is not really region-specific, except for the few times I drag out the "y'all" or say "Aunt" the Yankee way.  Darren still has his accent too, although he (and many people in the US) seem to think it has faded quite a bit.

We have both integrated many of the Kiwi words and phrases into our everyday speech, though.  Kiwis are much more subtle than Americans, and don't care for superlatives or strong emotions.  The word 'keen' is used if a person wants to express interest or show eagerness in a particular activity or to find out if someone else is "I want to see blah blah movie, are you keen?".  And if someone does me a favor or a customer service person actually solves an issue, I typically respond with 'sweet!' or 'nice!'.  Words/phrases used to congratulate someone are 'well done' or 'good result!'.   Conversely, if something goes badly, the most common utterances are 'that's not ideal' or a simple 'stink'.

To agree with someone, I often say the simple 'same!' instead of 'me too'. 'Cheers' is often used in place of 'thank you' - and Darren definitely uses it that way, but I only use it at the end of emails instead of the typical American use of 'Sincerely'.   Speaking of emails, I am (mostly) used to addressing business associates by only their first names, but I definitely never say I will 'flick' an email to anyone. Flicking is for boogers.

Another Kiwi term we frequently use is 'sorted'.  It is an incredibly useful word, which can mean a project is done or a conflict has been resolved.  I have also completely replaced my use of 'tons' with 'heaps'.

I still haven't gotten used to flashlights being 'torches' (all I can imagine is an actual torch with fire and monsters), or saying an item is 'on special' instead of on sale. 'Special' for me means...other things. And whenever I hear or read a news report about 'appliances' attending a fire, I can only imagine a heap of toasters, blenders, maybe even a couple stoves sitting on a sidewalk (err..I mean 'pavement' or 'footpath') outside a burning house.

The news also reports crimes or other activities happen to an address 'in' a street, as opposed to on such-and-such street.  As I read or listen, I always mentally correct the statement, as I just can't reconcile how a house or business is *in* a street.

A word I've only come to hear in the last couple of years is 'paper'.  Here, it means a university level course.  Instead of saying "as part of my degree, I took an Economics course", one might say "I did a paper in Economics".

Another term that is very much an English term is 'cuddle'.  Except it is often used to mean 'hug'. I still find it a bit creepy when an adult friend asks if I need a cuddle...

Ah! That reminds me of an awkward exchange during my first few weeks of work: the newbies of the tax group were forced to do a weird comical role play in front of the rest of the group as sort of an icebreaker each year.  Even though I wasn't a graduate, I was still expected to participate.  I emailed a (Kiwi) coworker about my hesitation, and he responded "you'll be sweet".  I immediately sent a text to Darren freaking out about such harassment.  How *dare* this guy tell me to be sweet? What the hell?!  Fortunately, Darren was already up with the Kiwi lingo and explained what it meant ('you'll be ok').  Phew!

Something else I learned early on was that Kiwis don't describe poultry meat as 'dark' versus 'white'.  Instead, you have to specify which part of the bird you are after (i.e. thigh, drumstick, breast).  Fortunately, I only had one awkward experience before I learned this!

Pronunciation of words can be interesting at times, too.  [Disclaimer: not every Kiwi pronounces every word the same way].  Over the past couple of years, I've become acutely aware of words ending with 'wn' being pronounced with an extra 'e'.  For example, 'known' = 'know-en'.  I've heard this from random acquaintances as well as news announcers (!).

Many French words/names are also mispronounced [read: 'herb', where the 'h' is pronounced!], especially if they are street names, but 'debut' is always pronounced "day-boo" here.  Even though both the UK and the US pronounce the word "day-bue", the original French pronunciation is followed here.

And buoy!  Americans typically pronounce those floaty things "boo-eee".  However, here (and likely in the rest of the world), it is pronounced "boy".  I giggle every time I hear it.

I also giggle whenever I hear "duty" or "tainted", and most people I've come across here do not understand why.  They just end up repeating "duty" several times in a row, as if the subtle difference in pronunciation changes how funny it is.  It does not! It just makes it sound like a fancy version of "doodie'!

And drawers - as in, dressers with drawers - is written and pronounced 'draws'.  There are just two more letters! Two!

Let's see...I still say 'elevator' instead of 'lift'; (movie) 'previews' are not the same as 'shorts' (to me); I haven't yet switched from saying parking lot/parking garage to 'car parks'; and 'plaster' instead of band-aid is too weird for me.  Plaster goes on a wall.  Oh, and we have a front lawn and a back yard...not two 'gardens'.  For the longest time, I thought everyone spent their weekends maintaining beautiful gardens!

And here's a two-fer:  the kitchen counter is called the 'bench' here.  And combined with the Kiwi accent, it sounds like "bEANch".

When I first met Merrin, we were hanging out at Darrel's house, and I asked about a particular item.  She stated it was on the bench.  Since I was not quite familiar with the Kiwi accent yet, I had no idea what she had even said! She repeated it several times, until she finally said "kitchen bench".  Now, Darrel's kitchen at the time was the size of a small closet, and there was NO way a stool would fit in there, much less an entire bench! Still, I wandered into the tiny room and found what I was looking for...on the counter.  And thus, I had been thrown into the deep-end of the Kiwi language and accent!

January 01, 2015

New Year's 2014/2015

Today is the first day of 2015.  A new year always brings a sense of hope and excitement, and today even more-so because the weather was simply stunning.  Most of the 'backwards' seasons feel weird to me, but I do enjoy a beautiful summer New Year's day.

Like most years, we didn't make any advanced plans for New Year's eve this (last?) year.  In fact, we can't remember most of NYEs over the last 8 years. However, we both agree that the most enjoyable one we've had was 2013/2014 - we spent the evening with Merrin, Darrel, and a couple other friends playing Cards Against Humanity.

Every year I imagine I'd like to do something fancy. Perhaps get all dressed up and eat a fancy dinner with a fabulous live band in the background.  There *is* a winery just north of Wellington that puts on a great NYE dinner each year, but the band this year was not one we were interested in.  Ah, well.  Maybe next (this?) year.

Even though New Zealand is in the first time zone to see the New Year, there is no large organised celebration.  That is, none of the 4 major TV networks have a countdown or NYE special - most just play old movies or music videos.  I assume Auckland has a fireworks isn't televised.  And Wellington promises to do a fireworks show each year, but they are often cancelled due to weather.  Yes, despite it being summer, NYE in Wellington is almost always cold, rainy and/or windy!  This past one was no exception, although the crap weather stopped just before the scheduled fireworks. I can only assume they happened, because...also not televised.

Darren and I had a relatively quiet evening filled with beer, pizza, video games and the struggle to stay awake until midnight.  We made it though, and celebrated with a beer from Garage Project called "Hops on Pointe", which melds a golden lager with champagne yeast.  It was...horrible.  Truly, absolutely tragic!  We plan to lump that into the sucky year that was 2014 instead of as a harbinger of things to come in 2015.

Today, we woke up to gorgeous weather, so we headed out for a walk across Karori to the cemetery. Along the way, we passed the main Karori shops, the smaller shopping area in Marsden Village and an even smaller shopping area just before leaving Karori.  Almost everything was closed, which is not unexpected.

The cemetery is gorgeous:  

With a bit of history:

The cemetery was quiet and peaceful, as cemeteries are, I guess.  Afterwards, we headed back through Karori past the few open stores (a Chinese take-away, a Dairy), picked up a DVD from the video store (yes! we still have video stores!), a couple items from the grocery store and made it home in time for lunch.  Later in the afternoon, we streamed the NYE fireworks show from Walt Disney World via their website.  Magical!

Happy New Year!

December 26, 2014

To Be an Expat

The word I associate most with being an expat is "lonely".

Now, that may not be true for other expats - even for Darren - but after eight years living outside of the US, it is certainly true for me.  Unlike some of our friends, Darren and I didn't have the "call our parents every day" type of relationship with either of our families.  So, of all the things we considered when we decided to move, leaving family behind was not a major concern.  At the time I felt quite close to my brother Kevin, his wife, and her family.  I also had fairly regular contact with my Aunt and cousin in Connecticut.  I simply didn't consider any of that would change, even being across the world and 16-18 hours ahead in time.  

We took this leap of faith together, knowing that it would be just us for a while in our new homeland.  And we were also very fortunate to have my friends Darrel and Merrin here in Wellington - they welcomed us on our first day, and have been a constant presence since.

However we were determined to make more friends, and so launched headlong into leading a social group here for people like us (expats/people new to Wellington). We did indeed forge some lasting relationships.  And as people moved along or faded away - as inevitably happens in a transient city - we joined other groups to meet more people.  Rinse and repeat. We've even found friends at work!

But it isn't the same.  There's no replacement for the people we have left behind - the people who know our histories and our struggles.  I am a people (and memories) hoarder.  I am hesitant to let go of any significant period in my life, or anyone who was a part of it.  Email and Facebook are fantastic ways to keep in touch with what is going on in my friends' lives, but it isn't the same.  It just isn't.  I didn't realise this before moving, and I'm certain it wouldn't have stopped our journey. But still...

The loneliness is worse at the holidays (not too unexpected, though, right?).  For the first few years, I made an effort to send gifts and/or cards, as did my brother and my Aunt (the word "aunt" looks weird in lower case. Deal with it.) at birthdays and xmas.  I often was late, but the thought was always there.  Skype calls were always scheduled for the major holidays and it felt like an equal effort. But it has all faded away now - the effort is more on one side than the other, and even then, less than it was.

It seems there is an expectation that the person who leaves has the obligation to stay in touch.  And maybe that's fair, I don't know.

I wonder if we are missed, and if we are, if it is enough to make an effort.

November 28, 2014

8 Years

I started this blog post a couple of weeks ago – it was to be a reflection of the past 8 years and what we have learned about New Zealand and the Kiwi culture, especially as it is reflected through the language.

However, that version is on a now-bricked flash drive. Darren is desperately trying to fix whatever I have done to that (not backed up) tiny piece of technology.  In the meantime, I will think (and write) about how today is Thanksgiving. 

Nine years ago, while celebrating Thanksgiving with my family, I announced to my brother that Darren and I were thinking of moving to New Zealand.  Kevin responded with “cool!”.  Just one year later, Darren and I celebrated Thanksgiving with my family for the last time*, three days before we headed out on our one-way flight to New Zealand.  We landed here eight years ago today.

As our families and friends celebrate Thanksgiving, Darren and I are at our separate workplaces on an ordinary Friday.  We miss you all and send love across the world -

*so far!