Busy Town, Busybodies

My wife Jacquie lived in the States for eight years.

Every November, at least one American would ask, either from cultural myopia or absentmindedness, how people celebrated Thanksgiving back home.

The answer, of course, was obvious. People don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in New Zealand at all because (duh) Kiwis are deviant, godless ingrates. Which happened to be one of the strongest selling points for moving here.

I mean, Thanksgiving? Pshaw. Whenever someone says “all the trimmin’s” I want to give myself a lobotomy.

“That’s fine,” I bet you’re saying. “But who could tell the difference?”

Kiwis could. They may not be grateful, but they are very observant and they give a crap. Guaranteed, if you were stumbling aimlessly around Queen Street one afternoon after just having had your prefontal cortex severed, a Kiwi would say something. Not out loud, but they’d say it.

In my opinion, Kiwis care too much. For example, the day I landed my first full-time job, I was at a party for a friend Jacquie knew from her job. The party was in a crowded bar and most people there I’d never met before. Though I’d only just been hired that day, many of Jacquie’s coworkers seemed to know all about my employment situation.

One strange guy stepped up to me and shook my hand.

“Congratulations on your new job, mate,” he said. “Well done. Nobody thought you’d pull it off.”

“What do you mean?” I said.

“You know: because of your disgusting, slothful habits.”

“Excuse me?”

“Oh, sure, you spent eight months finishing your little novel and you did the odd freelance job and we all know how busy you are updating your blog every six-to-eight weeks. But a full-time job, for someone like you? Shocking. Well, anyway. Good luck.”

“Thanks,” I said. “And, so, I take it you work with Jacquie?”

“Who’s Jacquie?” the guy said. “I just came in for a pint.”

Then he went and sat by himself at the bar.

If that weren’t odd enough, the next day, I was in a cafe in Ponsonby I’d never been to before. There was a tip jar near the register. It’s rare to tip in New Zealand. Cafes and restaurants generally don’t expect it, let alone keep a tip jar near the register.

The barista served me my coffee and I left without dropping any change.

“There’s a fine howdy-do,” the barista told the cashier. “You’d think that now he was rolling in it, he’d at least drop a few cents.”

“I’m sorry, what was that?” I said.

“Don’t bother with that yank, Kiki,” the cashier said. “He isn’t worth it. New Zealand gives him all these great opportunities; just gives and gives and gives, and he just takes and takes and takes.”

“You’re right,” Kiki said. Then Kiki turned to me, and with the most sarcastic curtsy I’ve ever seen, she said, “I shan’t detain you longer, your highness.”

“OK,” I said.

Later that afternoon, still puzzled by these strange encounters, I went to a gas station in Mt. Eden to fill up my car. I went inside to pay for the gas and a bag of Cheezels I grabbed on the way to the counter. The cashier stared at me for a minute.

“Normally,” he said, “I’d offer you two bags of Cheezels for the price of one. But, no. Not this time. Not for you. Not after what you did to Kiki. Now, get out.”

“I don’t want two-for-one bags of Cheezels,” I said.

“That doesn’t matter because you wouldn’t get two-for-one bags of Cheezels if you wanted it. I wouldn’t even sell you one Cheezel.”

Oh, it was terrible. Later, there was a story about it on the evening news.

If I learned anything from these insane strangers, it was this: maybe I should be grateful. So on Thanksgiving, I took a walk through Auckland to count up all the things for which I’m thankful:

A giant "For Lease Now" notice consisting of free-standing wood letters, in a vacant commercial space window on Normanby Road.

Ball point pens and disposable razors.

A familiar logo in an unfamiliar pose.

The old Colonial Ammunition Company shot tower. A furnace at the top heated lead that would be "rained" in its molten state down to a cooling tank at the bottom, forming tiny spheres along the way, perfect for shot.

A copy of Michelangelo's Moses in Myers Park.


"Downtown" Auckland

A giant Santa's reindeer on Whitcoulls corner.