This is the article I wrote for Nexus, the campus magazine. An online version of the magazine can be found at nexusmag.co.nz
Kiwis: The Original GCs
After a 25 hour plane ride, I arrived in New Zealand. In my travels, I met a nice Kiwi flight attendant, a hospitable Kiwi shuttle driver, and a friendly Kiwi resident assistant; I was sure that no one with the New Zealand accent could sound mean even if they tried. With this mentality, I found myself a bit unprepared for my encounter with the rowdy group of students that took me on my first trip to the grocery store. A mixture of male and female, largely RAs, sat in the University van deeming one of their acquaintances a "f***ing good c*** " or "GC". I sat in the front passenger's seat, what would be the driver's seat in America, staring out of the van window with wide, judgemental eyes.
In the midst of expressions I didn't understand, I could make out words here and there of the battered, fast-paced English. Who did these Kiwis think they were throwing the "C-word" around with such ease? In the days to follow, I came to learn, these were no truck drivers, sailors, or convicts with a disgusting vocabulary: the "c-word" is a much more commonly used colloquialism here than it is in America. I've slowly come to understand its use as a term of endearment, but I still don't think it's something I will be using in conversation any time soon. If a man were to use the word where I'm from he would get dirty looks and a lecture from one of the more outspoken women in the crowd. c*** is the one word in America that's so much more offensive than even the worst swear words. And so the culture shock began.
I'll admit that after being here three weeks, I still don't completely understand Kiwi lingo in its entirety. My advice to any American who wants to pick up a Kiwi accent is to start by making all of your statements into questions. Otherwise, call your friends "mates," your boyfriend and girlfriend your "partner," (a word generally reserved for a gay partner in America), your classes "papers," and if you're in a drunken stupor, consider yourself "pissed, legless, or trollyed" instead of the alternative schwasted, sloppy, or sauced.
I've noticed guys wearing some interesting apparel in town. Tweenage boys sporting Ugg boots is a mystery I have yet to solve. In America, Uggs are largely reserved for the average preppy girl who goes to bars in revealing dresses and heels, but wears sweatpants paired with the overpriced sheepskin footwear around campus. Yes, the boots are warm and comfortable for the winter months, but a twelve year old boy in athletic shorts and girly boots will never make sense to me. Similarly, I have seen more rattails, gelled hair, and mullets in the past month than I did in the entirety of the nineties. A couple of my American friends have taken a vow to not hook up with anyone with a rattail. Completely understandable.
Paired with those interesting hairdos is usually some kind of extremely tight pants. I can't help but think that if you dressed like that where I'm from you would immediately be pegged as interested in the same sex and/or be beaten up in a circle pit at some overrated pop-punk show.
Coming to New Zealand, I was interested to see what the night life would be like. Because the drinking age is 21 in America, many underage kids binge drink whenever they can get their hands on alcohol. Some people think that if the US drinking age were lowered, people would harbour a more responsible drinking attitude. I wanted to test this theory in New Zealand and see if with the lower drinking age, people drink in moderation.
At my school in New York, the Study Abroad Coordinator told us not to get too crazy in the bars because everyone was used to drinking causally, not drinking to get drunk. Wow, was she wrong. I've been to a couple bars in America and they cannot hold a candle to the amount of crazy I've seen in downtown Hamilton. People getting completely naked in front of the entire crowd at Bar 101, girls in dresses so short that by the end of the night half of their butts hang out as they stumble up to a cab, a thirty-something guy fighting with his girlfriend about how the cops are going to take him to jail for being wasted.
These are the kinds of things I don't see in my small college town where party girls and stoners alike become friends walking the streets back to campus at three am. Don't get me wrong, people at my school get wasted, make mistakes, get their stomach pumped at the hospital, and wake up in a stranger's bed, but Kiwis definitely know how to party. I assume it has something to do with the fact that everything closes in the early afternoon, and there is nothing to do for the rest of the night except go to the bars. And I don't blame you; it's an entertaining way to spend an evening. When I go home with less brain cells than I came with, I will have Victoria Street, the insane Kiwi drinking habit, and my flatmate from Waiuku, the "drunkest town in New Zealand" to thank.
In addition to the whole drinking scene, I get the impression that everyone is far more concerned with who they're going to sleep with at the end of the night than anything else. Not that everyone does it, but it seems that hooking up with a different person each weekend, each night of the weekend, or each hour of a Thursday night is a perfectly acceptable practice. I have been asked numerous times which guys at the bar I thought were hot and who I wanted to be set up with. My answer is usually just to laugh and keep dancing. Hooking up with tons of randoms is pretty much unacceptable where I'm from. Of course people do it, but those are the kinds of people that have really s***ty reputations.
Classes at the University are fairly similar to classes in America, except for the fact that my lack of a precise career ambition makes everyone look at me like I'm crazy. A lot of people come here from faraway places to study law, or engineering, or to follow some other intense career path. Most of the Kiwis I've talked to put a large emphasis on making money. Probably because America fosters all sorts of hippie inklings, I rarely hear anyone worried about how much money they'll make after college. Sometimes I think we have everything handed to us in The States, and students feel like they don't have to be as ambitious as they are here.
The first day I introduced myself in class, I tried to make a joke about my accent, but the entire class just sat there staring at me. Later, while we were working in groups, the teacher came over to chat with our group and made her comments while making eye contact with everyone except for me. This was one of the only times I got a standoffish feeling from New Zealanders. Since then, I haven't had any problems being American. I have gotten the impression that Kiwis might be less accepting of other cultures. I've heard a couple times that Maoris hate white people. Conversely, America is almost too conscientious about not being racist because of the country's history of slavery.
I've encountered a couple of American stereotypes and questions from New Zealanders. First of all, I'm from New York, so everyone automatically thinks New York City, even though I live five hours away. An Auckland native that drove me into Taupo didn't know New York was a state. He also asked me how Americans could remember all the 52 states? In case any other kiwis are wondering, there are 50 states that most Americans can recite in alphabetical order after learning a song in grade school.
Because American media is so prevalent here, I've been asked if American girls are as ditsy in real life as they are in the movies. My answer is generally, no, but you'll encounter a ditsy person once in a while no matter where you go. Although, I haven't met any ditsy New Zealanders, so maybe it is an American thing. Another American media representation that I've been confronted with is the classic frat party with red cups and keg stands. Fortunately, I can confirm these rumours. Just listen to "I Love College" by Asher Roth with the American Pie movies muted on TV in the background and you will get a good idea of what house parties are like in The States.
Overall, I've had an eye opening, but enjoyable, first month in New Zealand. Regardless of funny hair, weird sayings, and alcoholic tendencies, all of the Kiwis I've met have been helpful, friendly, and great entertainment once they get drunk. The next four months will be nothing but enjoyable, I'm sure.