Today’s post is by special request. Specially requested because I couldn’t think of a single thing to write about (or, more accurately, I could think of several dozen things to write about but not one of them appropriate for public consumption) so I reached out to Alan and asked for an arbitrary topic. Alan, as usual, more than rose to the occasion and threw down the gauntlet with “differences between NZ and Canada”.
Full disclosure: this isn’t going to be a keen insight into the geo-political differences between nations a literal world apart yet united under the Commonwealth banner. If you’re looking for an intense examination on the fundamental disparity that separates New Zealand from Canada... well, stay and read a more lighthearted take on things instead. And we can get down to brass tacks another time.
Let me tell you a story.
When Nathan and I first got to New Zealand we traveled around the North Island in a campervan. That way we could dip in and out of any small town we pleased and truly sample all that NZ had to offer. While in one of those towns on an unusually warm day (New Zealand is not tropical; that is a common misconception that I would like to definitively clear up here and now) we stopped into a café. On an impulse we asked if they had lemonade. There’s nothing like a cold glass of lemonade on a warm day. The girl behind the counter said they did have lemonade so we ordered two to go with our lunches. When the glasses arrived we thirstily dug in. It didn’t taste right. It didn’t taste at all like lemonade. It tasted like... “Sprite,” Nathan said. “Doesn’t this kinda taste like Sprite to you?” It did taste like Sprite. But we were new to the country and the accents in those first weeks were wildly hard to wrap our ears around so we didn’t say anything to the girl at the counter. We agreed between ourselves that there had been a miscommunication between us. That somehow our Canadian words had badly expressed what her Kiwi ears had heard. In the next town we stopped at another café and since it was still reasonably warm and we hadn’t, after all, had our lemonade yet, we again asked. But this time we were clear. “Do you have lemonade? Fresh squeezed lemonade?” The girl looked mildly confused and then mildly amused but she nodded and said “Yeah, we have lemonade.” So we ordered two. When they arrived we again eagerly dove in but again all we could taste was Sprite. And it looked like Sprite too. Clear with the palest hint of a yellow flush and bubbly. This might have happened a couple more times before Nathan finally decided to clear things up once and for all. In yet another café he said “You have lemonade listed on your menu” which the guy at the counter amiably agreed with. They did indeed have lemonade on their menu. “Is that fresh squeezed lemonade?” Nathan asked. I felt that the entire exchange bordered dangerously (hilariously) on the scene from The Addams Family movie where the blonde girl scout grills Wednesday and Pugsley on the ingredients in their lemonade but it had become necessary to clarify exactly what we were doing wrong in ordering our lemonade. The guy looked vaguely confused. “Fresh squeezed?” he asked, uncertainly. “Yeah,” Nathan said. “You know, fresh lemons. Fresh squeezed lemons in your lemonade.” The guy frowned. “I don’t know what they put in lemonade, really,” he said then. “I think it’s mostly just some kind of syrup. Citrus flavor.” Nathan and I frowned. What on earth was he talking about? “Is your lemonade... Sprite?” Nathan asked finally. The guy nodded. He smiled. “Of course,” he said. “What kind were you asking for?”
And that’s how we learned that in New Zealand lemonade is not a mixture of freshly squeezed lemons, sugar, and water poured over ice cubes. They don’t actually have that beverage. Instead they have Sprite. Which they call lemonade. Because it’s lemon-lime in flavor, you know. It was an eye opening experience, to be sure. And to be strictly fair, lemonade could also refer to 7-Up. Any citrus flavored soda, really.
The thing that makes New Zealand seem so foreign is how similar it really looks and feels and then how subtly but utterly certain things are subverted. Let me put it this way: the New Zealand coast is strikingly similar to the British Columbia coastline albeit with different types of flora and precious little fauna. But the rolling waves, the craggy cliffs, the winding roads, the rocky beaches, the wind-blown trees, it’s all there. And the weather in New Zealand is strikingly similar to that of the Canadian west coast too. Cool, damp, often overcast, sometimes brilliantly sunny, frequently breezy or downright gale-force. New Zealanders of course speak English though at first you’d swear they weren’t because their slang and accents are so thick it feels as though you’re struggling to understand a foreign tongue. But you aren’t. It’s English. And the cities and towns are not dissimilar to Canadian cities and towns. Or British ones, for that matter. So it all feels very familiar and easy to understand. Like you’re in an unexplored corner of home. Which is why the differences, when encountered, feel so sudden and odd. Like running into a brick wall. You blink and can’t quite accept the thing that is so different in the place that seems so vaguely familiar.
You want more than lemonade as an example, I understand. Kiwis drive on the British side of the road. Which is to say the “wrong” side according to Canada. That takes some adjustment, especially on some of their more drunkenly-designed coastal roads. It also means I spent roughly the first year and a half of my life there accepting rides from friends and climbing into their driver’s seat as a passenger. I can also count the goodness of those same friends and that of kindly strangers as life saving because they stopped me innumerable times from stepping in front of trucks, buses, and bicycles while I was looking the wrong way to check before crossing the street. A thousand little things like that. You don’t go to a pharmacy to get your prescription, you go to a chemist. You don’t go to the corner store to get milk, you go to a dairy. You can’t make zucchini bread in New Zealand because they don’t have zucchinis. Well, they do. But they don’t know it. Because they call zucchinis courgettes. And they call red and green peppers capsicums. And most strikingly of all to me, in a country literally awash with pumpkin they don’t have pumpkin pie. I have never encountered so many pumpkin dishes. Pumpkin is a regular side dish there. Your dinner might come with roasted pumpkin. Your sandwich might feature roasted pumpkin in it. Pumpkin soap and pumpkin stew and pumpkin flavor and pumpkin this and that. But nothing sweet. They don’t have a single pumpkin tart or pumpkin pie. And when you ask for it they wrinkle their foreheads in consternation. Who ever heard of making dessert out of pumpkin?
In many of the homes the differences creep up on you quietly to confound you unexpectedly. In newer more modern homes, condos and the like, there is central heating. But most of New Zealand is comprised of older homes. You rent a flat (not an apartment) in a divided house and they mostly don’t have central heating. It’s not tropical there, as I’ve noted, and in the winter it gets downright cold. Whatever temperature it is outside it also is inside so you keep the cold at bay with space heaters and electric blankets. Rented flats don’t automatically come with refrigerators, either. You need to rent one of those additionally and install it in your flat. And often the bathroom is split. The shower and toilet will be in one room and the sink will be in another. Sometimes those two rooms are adjacent to one another and sometimes, as was the case with the flat I shared with my ex for years, the toilet and shower are a step down and the length of the kitchen away from the sink and mirror. That’s just how it is.
None of this is a criticism, mind you. Alan didn’t say “differences between NZ and Canada that annoy you and are hugely weird”. He just said “differences”. New Zealand is lush and lovely; frank and friendly and full of honest acceptance of effort and genuine curiosity about experiences and the differences just make it... different. Which is nice in a place half a world away. You want that place to be different. And so it is. But it is also like enough to feel very comfortingly like home too. Which may be why I am hard-pressed to consider myself as having just one home. I like to think of myself as the child of territorial divorce: having two homes I love equally but only one that I currently live in.