Wednesday, March 28, 2012

speaking American

"You're an American, right?"

I hear this question at least twice a day. I'm still not sure how I feel about it. Do they mean to squish me into their idea of how Americans act? Am I fulfilling my own stereotype?

In my opinion, I'm not a horrible tourist. I'm polite to strangers. I don't talk loudly. I think it's embarrassing to walk around in a big group of Yanks. I don't like Toby Keith or rusty vehicles, and I try not to drink Starbucks' coffee unless it's free.

I figured I'd get along swimmingly with the soft-spoken Kiwi folk in their happy little country. People are really friendly. They love to ask what state I'm from and then pretend to know where it is. They love laughing and talking about the weather. They make great desserts.

But here's what I didn't realize: things would actually be different here. I'm not used to people who act like Kiwis.

Sometimes I feel like there's a barrier. I hesitate to call it a language barrier, because I can understand about 93% of Kiwispeak (except when people talk really fast about fish n' chups n' jandals on yer mates). Maybe it's more of an ideological barrier.

Next to the quiet, chilled-out Kiwi, I feel like a loud-talking ball of East Coast American nerves. I can't quite get a handle on the dry humor either. Most of the time I feel un-funny and tacky.

And you can't sue people here. In other words, shit happens. Unprepared backcountry hikers and whiny students who can't figure out the library printers before their assignments are due get no sympathy (although the former might get an emergency helicopter ride if they really need one).

There's also less immediacy in business transactions. You want your latte faster? Tough shit. Everyone else is waiting too. But nobody will actually say that to you. They'll just suggest it with their eyes.

The passive-aggressive Kiwi is a sight to behold - the texting girl who charges down wrong side of the the narrow sidewalk until you move out of her way; the driver who zooms through a pedestrian crossing without flipping the bird or shouting obscenities; the clerk in the expensive trinket shop who refuses to acknowledge you because you and your strappy hippie sandals clearly can't afford a $75 Pirates hat. Their brand of rudeness is so polite it's almost invisible.

Still, these are little things that only bother me on bad days. I can usually cope with having to ask the waitress to translate the menu. I'm used to getting lost a lot. I understand that they can't have Thanksgiving because there aren't any turkeys. I can even forgive their liquor prices for being so high. There are few things I dislike about the lifestyle in NZ.

Mostly I'm just surprised to realize how very American I am.

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