Sunday, 4 December 2016

sweet as

The R. Tucker Thompson
crew hard at work during
The can said “tomato sauce”. I should have known better, but I was in a rush and there was a hungry crew to feed. I already had mince (that’s what they call ground beef here), and some vegetables. All I needed was the tomato base to make Spaghetti Bolognese. I had gone to the dairy (corner store) to pick some up and cooked lunch. I think what surprised me the most, was that the crew ate what I gave them and didn’t complain, at least not to my face. Though, I also believe one of the crew’s dog secretly got a great feed that day. You see, in New Zealand, tomato sauce (pronounced toe-maw-toe sauce) is not pasta sauce. It’s ketchup. I made spaghetti sauce using ketchup.

I’m a Canadian expat in New Zealand. Welcome to my life.

Yes, they speak English here and it’s easy to assume it won’t be a problem to communicate. Let me tell you, that’s not true when it comes to the finer points. The first time someone said “Sweet as!” to me, I thought they were referring to my ass. You can imagine the look on my face. It means something like “No problem!” or “That’s great!”  The word as (not ‘ass’) is used as an amplifier to the preceding adjective in all kinds of combinations… I have heard “Cool as!” (very cool) “Cheap as!” (very cheap) and a myriad of variations since we sailed into the Bay of Islands. What got me at first, was that it, whatever it is, is not sweet as anything in particular.

New Zealand’s official languages are English, Maori and NZ Sign Language.  The way Maori and English are interchangeable in conversation here, reminds me of the Frenglish one hears in parts of Canada. Though England’s influence is felt more in New Zealand. For example, if you get a flat tire, you’ll need to get your spare tyre from the boot, not the trunk of your car. Oh, yeah, and don’t confuse tea (which they drink a lot here) with tea - That’s dinner. I’ve begun to pick up some Maori words too, and would like to learn more. I say Ai all the time now: that’s yes in Maori.  At least now when one of my Maori friends says, hoha, I know something’s annoying (hopefully not me), and of course, Kia ora is a very common greeting.

Expats together
Living in a new country involves a lot of deciphering. What’s polite? What’s rude? Why wouldn’t you use this expression in that circumstance? When you are an expat, you need to let go of the fear of making an idiot of yourself, (because you will). Since you are the foreigner, you get used to receiving blank looks. Kiwis love to laugh at your expense if you use “funny” words, like garbage can instead of rubbish bin. It took me a while to figure it out, but I think that “Yeah, naw” means no, and “Nah, yeah” means yes, and Yeah, naw, definitely – means it’s a sure thing. But I’m not entirely sure.

Sometimes, it’s just the Kiwi accent that throws me, not an actual word. For example, someone once introduced themselves to me as Been. I kept calling this guy Been, thinking, “What an odd name.” Until Rick asked me, “You know his name is Ben… Right?”

There is a lot a Canadian like me finds confusing in everyday conversation. It’s funny, because the North Island doesn’t feel so different from parts of Canada and at the same time, it is very different. The longer I live here, the more I become aware of what makes this land and its people unique, and I don’t just mean the lingo. I have come to appreciate certain traits of Kiwi culture. I don’t get every joke, but even to me, it’s obvious that Kiwis generally have a great sense of humour. It’s very tongue
Beautiful Bay of Islands, NZ
in cheek. Road signs, advertisements – they are not afraid to use a good pun or joke to drive the point home. We have also witnessed time and again, the “can do” attitude of Kiwis especially in the Far North. People figure stuff out for themselves, fix things in imaginative ways and make do with a very practical attitude. Maybe that’s why we like it here so much.

When I’m tramping (hiking) on Moturua Island, and I hear the Tui birds playfully taunting us… I realize this land really is inimitable. These days, I would say New Zealand is sweet as. I guess that's proof that I have fallen for New Zealand, even if I still think Canada is pretty skookum. (Try using that Canadian expression in New Zealand.)

No wonder Kiwis think I’m weird.

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