Some thoughts on being an expatriate (expat)…An American in New Zealand….
We’re somewhere between Tapanui and Gore, New Zealand…
I grabbed two bananas on the way out. The perfect portable snack. I give my Significant Other one, and she peels the skin off it completely, and eats it naked. Well she’s not naked. The banana is, I mean.
Though there was this one time–
She also takes the wrapper off her baby McDonald’s cheeseburger completely and eats that naked, too. The hamburger. Not her.
Maybe this has nothing to do with her nationality as a Kiwi. Maybe it’s just quirky. But I’m quirky too, so it all works out.
We’re in the car, and I’m riding on the wrong side, since there should be a steering wheel over here. And I notice she’s also driving on the wrong side of the road, but it seems to be working out, because everyone else is also driving on the wrong side. I still getting a little fright when I see the speed limit sign on corners that say 100.
I’m trying to recall place names. All the street signs might as well be in Navaho, because I can never read them. We’re almost to the town of Pomeranian…No, pomegranate… No Pukaurau. Yeah.
But she’s still the most familiar thing to me, here. I’ve concluded that she is, indeed, human, and I do, indeed, like her very much. (Aside from the fact that I also LOVE HER MADLY AND WITH AN IRRATIONAL INTENSITY). Even if she does refuse to get under the covers when she’s freezing, because it’s just wrong to do that unless you’re actually going to sleep. She will instead cover up with a robe or blanket. Go figure.
But I’m well cared-for. She waits on me hand and foot, and I feel like I’m some kind of royalty. She cooks every night (I guess that’s normal when you’re a mom, but for me, it’s odd). But she brings me my dinner each night; She goes out to buy things I’m out of; she refills my distilled water jug to make my coffee and brings it up to me; brings me my frozen bottle of water (because I like it cold); brings me bagels with cream cheese, sandwiches, homemade cookies and cupcakes, and other snacks, while I’m tippy tap typing away here at my desk. She pretty much does everything but bathe me and change my nappy.
Although, there was this one time…
She does all these things, plus takes care of the kids and writes her own books, too. Amazing, really. I don’t know how she does it. I often feel I don’t do enough, but I’m also not used to being in a family unit, and I have read materials on blended families, and apparently it takes 2 years to adjust. I hope not. But I’m certainly finding it a challenge…maybe because it’s a new blended family, and one of us moved from another country. And just who I am, individually. Who knows. Haven’t seen any self help books called, Blended Lesbian Families With One Expat HSP Introvert.
I’m lucky, though, to have a partner who is so understanding and thoughtful, and who will also hold my hand and kiss me in public, and I don’t have to worry about what part of town we’re in, anticipating a hate crime. In fact gay-marriage is legal here, and that’s one thing I wish America would implement, nationwide. Still, there are times when we get looks. We were once sitting on a bench by the street, holding hands, and a car passed by and the driver nearly went off the road looking at us. Like we were a novelty. Like we were two giraffes sitting on a bench. But nothing scary. In fact, most people we pass smile at us, like they are enjoying the show, or like we are this brand new species they’d heard about but never seen in person.
I also noticed that when you’re walking on the sidewalk or anywhere around other people, here, they walk on the wrong side of the footpath, as well; and pass each other on the left, too, just like they drive. That’s something I would have never even thought about. So I always end up bumping into people, and excusing myself for being on the wrong side. I half expect doors to open like drawbridges, or something. It seems that everywhere I look, I see something unfamiliar. Even sounds…you just don’t think about things like that, but a different environment also has different sounds.
New Zealand could be called BirdLand. Birds are only outnumbered by lizards. In the A-frame house we moved from, our bedroom was upstairs within the apex of the structure. Each spring, birds get inside those walls and build nests, and I could hear them skittering about – it was a sound that seemed to belong in a Stephen King novel. A little creepy. At best, they sounded like mice.
I was taking a break from my writing one day and still had my computer glasses on. So I wasn’t able to see clearly farther than 10 feet. In the garden I thought I saw a mouse. Then I realized it was not a mouse, but a bird skittering along. I surmised this only because the mouse flew away. I’ve noticed that birds in New Zealand like to walk around a lot. It’s as if they don’t know they can fly. Hopping, sprinting, or strolling. Likely it’s some inherent evolutionary trait since the birds have no natural predators. The few predators that do exist were accidentally introduced, so the birds seem to only remember their wings if they need to get to a tree limb somewhere. And while Kate watches the birds, she says things like, “It must be so weird not to have arms.”
In fact there are no natural predators here at all. No bears, no wolves, no large cats…(Even though the indigenous possums make sounds at night that will curl your toes, and sound like…well like American possums LOOK. Scary. New Zealand possums look all cuddly like koala bears, but everyone here hates them, as they’ve become quite the pest).
People here think nothing of walking around barefoot. Even in Winter. Perhaps this bothers me because I have this aversion to letting my feet touch anything that isn’t clean and soft. Like socks. Or velour. Or kittens. One would think I regularly ate dinner with my feet, the way I always have to protect them and keep them clean. So when one of the kids walks through the house onto the wood or stone floor and out to the patio, I cringe. Shoes. Where are your shoes, child?
Things are a tad more “normal” in Dunedin, than they were in Tapanui, since it’s a larger city. In Tapanui, I had sheep for neighbors. Their birthing sounds during lambing season woke me up at night. I never thought I’d be awakened by sheep-noise.
Then again, if you had told me a few years ago I would drop everything and fly (ME< THE ONE WHO’S TERRIFIED OF FLYING) to another country (ME< WHO’S TERRIFIED TO GO TO ANOTHER COUNTRY) and merge my life with a woman who has kids (ME< WHO NEVER WANTED KIDS AND NEVER HAD THEM)…well, I would have laughed you out of the room. What an absurd idea. I mean really. But here I am. Never say never, I guess is the caveat emptor, there.
Although the language here is English, it often sounds like gibberish. What with the accent that is slightly British and slightly Australian, and something else, maybe some native Maori, I am still training my ear to understand everyone. And the words for things are different, too…
For cars, a trunk is a boot,
and a hood is a bonnet,
a windshield is a windscreen,
a fender is a wing,
a freeway is a motorway.
A wrench is a spanner.
Stealing is pinching.
A counter is a bench, except when it’s actually a bench.
An elevator is a lift.
A garbage dump is a tip.
A sweet potato is a kumara.
Cornstarch is corn flour.
Fries are chips and chips are crisps.
Hamburger/ground beef is mince.
Lobster is crayfish.
A cookie is a biscuit.
Cotton candy is candy floss.
A corn dog is a hot dog, but a hot dog doesn’t really exist. When I longed for my dill and sweet relish on my hot dog bun, which was not a bun but a roll, everyone looked at me funny.
Oatmeal is porridge.
Jelly is jam.
Green onions are spring onions
Cantaloupes are rock melons
Bell and sweet peppers are capsicum.
A rutabaga is a swede. (Imagine my dismay when I saw a sign on the road for Swedes, 3$, and I thought they were into human trafficking)
To broil is to gill, and to grill is to barbeque
Ketchup is tomato sauce (and it’s not the same).
Carryout is takeaways.
A pharmacy is a chemist.
A trash can is a rubbish bin.
An ice chest is a chilly bin.
Gas is petrol.
A diaper is a nappy.
Sheet rock is gib board.
A carpenter is a chippie.
A farmer is a cockie.
A street musician is a busker.
A ladybug is a ladybird.
When you’re pissed here, you’re drunk, not angry.
An apartment is a flat.
To phone somebody is to ring somebody.
A paper cutter is a guillotine (Kate said one day she needed a guillotine, and I remarked “Was it something I said?”)
An eraser is a rubber (I thought she was REALLY confused when she asked if I had a rubber)
Hiking is tramping (when she said “let’s go tramping” I was not enthusiastic)
Galoshes are gumboots
Bathing suit is a tog
A store is a shop – one of those things that actually makes sense to me, considering we call it “going shopping” not “going storing.”
And one that continues to come up–pudding, for Kiwis, is any dessert. So when they ask you if you want pudding, best to ask which kind. The first time this happened, Kate said we were having pudding, and there was this meringue-ey type thing called pavlova in my bowl.
“I thought we were having pudding?” I said.
“That is pudding,” she said.
Frowning, I said, “This is not pudding. Pudding is one specific thing. How do you people understand each other?”
For instance, once she said, “Let’s have a squizz, shall we?”
I thought she said Squids, at first. I’m not even going to tell you what I use the word Squids for.
“No, squizz,” she said.
I wasn’t sure if she was inviting me to have a specialized coffee drink made from some native plant, or what. But she explained that squizz means LOOK.
See why I’m always frowning and saying “What?”
Confused communications can sometimes cause discomfort. Like when she said, “It’s 21 degrees” and I get my coat and then I’m hot and realize she meant Celsius.
New Zealand is the land of few words. They believe in economy, I suppose. No need to use all those variations, just pick something, and call it that.
There are also many uses for the same word– like, turn signal is an indicator. Even though that word doesn’t specify what it indicates. At least turn signal makes clear you’re signaling a turn. After tossing that debate around a while we decided to agree on BLINKER.
I was surprised to learn that the things I had become accustomed to having at my fingertips, are not available here, which served to make me more thankful for the abundance I enjoyed in America–it really is the land of plenty.
New Zealand has a population of about four and a half million. About a million less than Colorado, where I’m from. Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state, and New Zealand is therefore a constitutional monarchy. Executive political power is exercised by the Cabinet, led by a Prime Minister. Maori is a native tribe and one of the official languages here; the Maori name for New Zealand is Aotearoa, which translates as “land of the long white cloud.” Experts believe New Zealand was first settled by Polynesians between 1250 and 1300 CE. King Edward VII proclaimed New Zealand a dominion of the British Empire in 1907.
This is a young country, as the age of countries go. I have to remember that things are a little more primitive here, because New Zealand is an island country, and most goods are shipped in at great expense. I mean, 80 million years of geographic isolation has consequences. Those costs are reflected in what we pay at the register. So prices here are three or four times higher. And the products tend to be of poor quality. So when I pay four times more for something, and then it doesn’t work right, or it breaks, I have a little American fit.
That being the case, and even though there are some of the most beautiful sights in the world, here, there are all kinds of things about this Land of New Zeal that I found foreign.
Houses have no central heat and air, (and no window air units either), and no screens on the windows. And American TV is not available. You have to buy DVD’s or rent them from an online service, and they usually only have old things. We use a VPN service to hide our IP and fool the Cyberspace Powers into thinking we live in California, so we can get programs online sometimes and use the laptop to stream it to the TV. No premium cable with Showtime, or HBO. And I miss my DVR. Although I have discovered an affection for Dr. Who.
Most everyone here uses a plunger contraption, or a “jug” that heats water that you pour over instant coffee. Drip coffeemakers– They’re a little hard to find.
And they use milk for cream. No flavored creamers. No more Belgian Chocolate Toffee and White Chocolate Macadamia Nut. Even plain Coffee-Mate creamer is rarely available, and when it is, it comes in a tiny jar that costs about 6 bucks. But fortunately, I have discovered some Nescafe instant coffees that are really good, and I drink them everyday. Cappuccino, Mocha, Hazelnut and Vanilla latte. Yum.
Some things that I have always taken for granted as a staple in the U.S. isn’t even here. Like rubbing alcohol and peroxide are specialized items, and when you find them, they’re in tiny bottles and are expensive, as if they were made of gold bouillon shavings. I was spoiled by the huge bottles in the U.S. available for 69 cents (not huge bottles of bouillon shavings, but of peroxide and alcohol).
Speaking of alcohol…The wine and beer I so enjoyed is either not here at all, or hard to find and crazy expensive. I have found that I like Speight’s cider and a thing with Ginger and Lime…sort of tastes like wine; and this German cooler thing with berry flavors called something that looks like RECORDING. I’d have to look at the bottle to tell you. But it’s really good.
If you smoke, it’ll cost you $20 to $30 per pack, depending on if you buy 25′s or 30′s. Most people, therefore, roll their own, and that’s still expensive. And forget about finding many American brands. If you try to ship American cigarettes over, it will cost you about $200 per carton in customs fees.
That fat bottle of Reunite Lambrusco I used to buy for $6, is something like $20, here, when you can find it. If you want an ice chest (I mean, a chilly bin) it will cost you $100 or more.
Other things I miss—my Teeter Table, which is really great for my back issues. My Cherryot (AKA Chevy Blazer) with heat and air. Finally got a vehicle I loved, got it paid off and then realized it wouldn’t fit in a suitcase to take with me. And my cats, Monkey and Biscuit, whom I couldn’t bring, so had to re-home. Perhaps I miss the Cherryot and the cats more than anything else. Strange, the things you discover about yourself in circumstances like this.
But I also miss vanilla wafers, fried okra, bacon (they have bacon here, but it’s not crispy, and it tastes different).
I have been ordering some things, when I can afford the forwarding shipping services, like my Arm & Hammer toothpaste. But I miss my Krispy Kreme donuts, Fritos corn chips (for Frito-chili pie), 8 O’clock Hazelnut coffee, pistachio pudding (not Kiwi pudding which can be anything, but American-pudding-pudding), dill pickles, Miracle Whip, and crab legs. It’s impossible to get an all-you-can-eat buffet of crab legs here, like you can in America. No Red Lobster or Joe’s Crab Shack either. Which I find odd, since New Zealand is, after all, an island in the middle of the ocean.
And there’s no–horror of horrors–Walmart. I know, because once I asked someone where Walmart was, and they directed me to the place in the picture—>>>>
But I do have the love of my life, so all that is secondary. How often does a person find their perfect partner? No one ever said she wouldn’t be in ANOTHER COUNTRY. It is what it is…
So…back to these expat differences….If you order electronics, or as I did, have your computer shipped over, that will be another $300. And you won’t be able to use it because the plugs are different. I had to buy an expensive converter just to charge my Sonicare toothbrush and Nook Color. The outlets here have three holes, and they’re canted in such a way that I have to use a flashlight and keep turning it this way and that, to figure out how to get something plugged in. And most houses only have one electrical outlet per room. Amazing how many things we Americans are used to plugging in.
There seem to be primarily houses with only one bathroom, too. Even 5 bedroom houses usually only have one. We were lucky enough to find a house in Dunedin that was large enough for all of us, and had a sort of master bedroom upstairs with a bathroom and walk-in closet combination. Like a master suite. But it’s rare to find that. In fact, it was the only house listed that had two bathrooms.
Speaking of bathrooms….let me just tell you my first vivid experience in that regard.
When we still lived in Tapanui, we had to go to Dunedin to shop a few times…that was, at the time, two hours away. After walking around forever, I had to use the facilities. Kate led me to an outdoor public toilet. It was like a large booth. It had an electric sliding door (which reminded me of the aforementioned Dr. Who police booth). I thought that was weirdly cool. When I got inside, and did my business, I noticed that the toilet paper dispenser wasn’t manual. It was also electric. And it decided how much you needed. You hit the button and got brrrrrrr…. two sheets. I kept hitting the button. Brrrrr...two more sheets….brrrrrr, two more.
That’s when I discovered my Aunt Flo was in town. (Hopefully you’ll all know what I mean).
Dammit. And me, with no feminine hygiene products.
The toilet paper dispenser was certainly not helpful. It took a while to create a temporary solution while we walked back into the mall area where there was a Countdown supermarket, where I purchased my supplies, along with ibuprofen because of that, and because we were both getting sore from walking.
Then we had to find an indoor toilet, because I was in no mood to deal with brrrrrrrrr-–two sheets, again. As aggravatingly comical as that was. It’s amazing how everything is different in another country.
So I’m in the stall, trying to get the pads open because I need those first so I don’t have an accident (all you female species out there know exactly what I mean). I’m pulling on the package trying to get it open and I flip the whole package into the air and naturally, it rolls under the door out into the main part of the bathroom.
I know other women are standing out there and I am horrified. So I just get it over with quickly, opening the door and saying “that was fun…” grab the package and dash back into the stall.
So I put the 2×4 on, and start on the plugs. But these are tampons from another country. Foreign plugs. The plunger was recessed, and like an idiot I tried to use it without pulling it out first (so to speak) but of course it wasn’t working, so I’d wasted one and had to throw it away. But again, bathroom trash receptacles are also different in NZ. There was a slot in the bin attached to the wall, and I thought that was where I was supposed to put it, but discovered that wasn’t the slot at all…the tampon fell down and into the stall beside me where I hoped there was no one else who heard it hit the floor and looked down to see way too much of my personal business.
Freshly horrified, I pulled out a second tampon and pulled the plunger out ’til it rested behind the cotton wadding, (like it was SUPPOSED TO–see, I went to college) and then I get that where it was supposed to go.
Now, I didn’t want to leave the stall, because I’m afraid the ones who’d seen the pads roll out, and more horribly, the person in the stall who’d seen the discarded tampon, might still be there, and I simply didn’t want to face them.
I turned to flush, but then couldn’t find the flushing mechanism..these toilets were also of a foreign nature…there was a panel on the wall behind the toilet, and I tried to figure out why, hoping to find the button to push..finally realized the whole panel was a button, and pressed it to flush. I’m used to a handle on the side of the tank, and to find myself standing in front of a toilet, trying to figure out how to flush it was sobering and a bit humiliating and also a little funny.
By now, I’m laughing, (maybe because the screaming meemies were building) because I felt like not just a Stranger in a Strange Land but the grandest idiot in the village. It was like being in a coma and then waking and forgetting how everything worked…having to relearn everything.
So I waited for what I thought was an appropriate amount of time and came out to wash my hands and make faces at Kate…laughing, and unable to tell her all that had just befallen her beloved.
I’ll stop there, because this has gotten way more lengthy than I intended. And now that I have shared the Aunt Flo Fiasco, I can’t take any more, nor, probably, can YOU.