Unconventional Conventions

Lindsey Holdren

From a US point of view, almost everything in New Zealand is backwards. People drive on the left side of the road, walk on the left side of the sidewalk, and pass people on the left. The location of the steering wheel on the wrong side of the car really throws me. I see people texting or putting their feet up on the dashboard while they drive and nearly shout, “HOW ARE YOU NOT CRASHING RIGHT NOW?!” before I realize, “Oh. You’re the passenger.”

Even the seasons here are backwards. I’m going to “summer” school in the middle of January. That’s messed up. Someone told me that they were considering going to the States in the fall. I think that’s awesome and want to know if I’ll be back home around the time that they’re visiting. Now I have to start doing some complicated math-y crap in my head and then I start to confuse myself even more and I get all twitchy and stare at them imploringly – “Your fall or mine?” – and receive an uncomprehending look in return. Please. Just give me the name of a month that we all know. Also, Christmas here is hot and sunny. I didn’t get any present this year because Santa had heatstroke. Dude should’ve stripped off a few layers. Maybe ditched the reindeer for some Kiwi birds – equally flightless animals who probably feel themselves more entitled than deer to the gift of flight.

In the dead of winter

In the dead of winter

Another backwards quality: friendliness precedes friendship. People here are genuinely kind to strangers; kind to an extent that I have never before experienced. I have no problem smiling at passerby on the street or striking up conversation with shopkeepers, I have yet to hear a cruel word from anybody, and in my short time here even my anti-social little self has managed to make friends. Furthermore, Kiwis know how to laugh and, even within the abysmal and red-taped confines of bureaucracy, one can find an infectious sense of humor. At least on the surface, few things are taken too seriously. Road signs and readerboards contain jokes and dangerous, death-defying activity runners approach their tasks with an unusual (some people might say inappropriate, but those people are also probably busy trying to get the stick out of their arse) light-heartedness (e.g. canyon jumpers who guffaw as they karate-kick you off a cliff). I wish that America were filled with this amount of laughter. Laughter keeps the soul young. Scientists have proven that laughing increases life expectancy. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the amount of chuckles in a society is inversely proportional to the proliferation of murderers, litigious ninnies, etc. Disney got it wrong: New Zealand is the happiest place on earth.


Happy definitely, but in the South we are also cold. In fact, the indoors are usually colder than the outdoors. And I don’t mean, “I’m gettin’ my sweat on outside, thank God there’s air-conditioning indoors.” No. It is cold outside. And colder inside. That is backwards. New Zealand doesn’t really do insulation or double-pane windows. Houses have a problem with condensation, so people are constantly forced to open their windows in order to combat the “mould” problem (‘Merica seems to take issue with u’s – we like our “flavor” but not Europe’s “flavour,” etc. Speaking of America trying to be all different in a world that could benefit from some more forms of standardization – and this is coming from a whipster (wannabe hipster): Why haven’t we gotten on the metric/Celsius train? Ok, so maybe it’s not New Zealand that’s backwards. Maybe the US is backwards). Energy is quite expensive and there’s not an overabundance of indoor heating. I’m buying an electric blanket as soon as I can rally the energy to carry said blanket to my flat from K-mart. I refuse to lick any metal in the house. This makes eating with silverware considerably difficult. I’m also getting a lot of use out of my SmartWool socks – without these lovelies my feet would have sorely and hypothermically suffered.

Want to know something else that’s strange and weird? People seem to like film majors. Say what?! Back home, when someone asks me what I’m majoring in and I say “film and media,” I usually get an “oh, that’s nice” and now pasted-on look of interest. Behind that face I just see the wheels turning, thinking “Wow, that girl must be pretty stupid and unambitious, watching TV all day, failing to contribute to society….” Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but sometimes I swear that’s what people think (although, granted, the watching TV all day part is sometimes true). I’d reached a point where I almost started to tell people I was studying “cineology.” What’s that? Oh, just a relatively neoteric and revolutionary topic that synthesizes art, history, theory, sociology, gender studies, and more in its analysis of culture and shaping of global societal perceptions. Put that in your pipe and smoke it. But I don’t need to spew this nonsense to Kiwis; I tell them my major and they are intrigued and not at all patronizing. Very forward-thinking these people are.

New Zealand also seems a bit backwards in terms of time. Kiwis exhibit a beautiful appreciation of antiquity. Retro lamps, old TVs, and ancient radios decorate various establishments, and classic rock and other oldies music often plays over loudspeakers. Sometimes I feel like I’m in a giant antique store. I love it! For your enjoyment, some sample tunes: Higher Love and The River of Dreams….

random mounted deer head

random mounted deer head