White Privelege

The Parnell version of nice

In my experience, it takes almost no effort to get Kiwis to love an American, particularly a New Yorker.

All you have to do is comment on whatever small change you’ve noticed in someone’s appearance, circumstance, or demeanor since the last time you saw them. That’s what makes me so popular in the shops on Parnell Road.

I’ll go to a cafe and say to the barista, “I see you’ve changed your hair color from Sky Blue to Traffic Cone Orange. It suits you.”

Bang, free coffee.

And at Subway, I make it a point to tell the cashier, “What a great suggestion: I will add cookies and a large soda to my order.”

Bang, extra napkins.

Downtown, Saturday afternoon

You could chalk this special treatment up to my Bronx accent. Aucklanders think it is mesmerizing and exotic (voted “Most Beautiful Accent of the English Speaking World” in several polls). More than that, Kiwis understand that, as a New Yorker, my life is more important and interesting than theirs.

They count themselves lucky simply to be in the same room, handing me extra napkins. I don’t blame them. I’d be the same way if they were interesting.

Being sweet to folk doesn’t just yield high returns in Social cache, at no risk. It is actually necessary for any society to function smoothly. That’s why I am a believer in the old saying, “you attract more flies with honey.”

Then again, you can probably attract just as many flies with a small pile of shit, or the carcass of a Toy Poodle.

So, on second though, fuck being nice to people. All this time I’m pouring honey all over the place when I could have just taken a much more satisfying dump.

Ferry Terminal, weekday afternoon

I have been too nice, too long. all I’ve gotten in return for it lately is grief from neighbors, plus a lot of napkins.

First, it was the sweaty, low-functioning, obese (ie, British) couple upstairs who didn’t appreciate me.

In fact, they wouldn’t to speak to me again after I said they resembled two partially melted, human sized Gummy Bears. That sounds like a bad thing, out of context, but it was just a harmless observation.

Instead of taking it as such, the low-functioning British couple returned to England the next day, for which I received this commendation from the Auckland City Council:

Screen Shot 2014-02-12 at 8.59.58 pm

It’s easy to say goodbye to obviously contemptible people like the British. But what about the nice couple across the road?

They live in the nice house across the road, a long-married, long-retired, elderly but not immobile Kiwi couple.

You can see their house with its red roofing in this animation:

The husband is a little frail, but he still gets around on his own two feet, while his energetic wife is a veritable fusion reactor. Together, they spend their sunset years writing angry letters to the editor about the need for public art, signing petitions against pollution in rivers. That’s how they give back to the community: by the wife sitting on a committee made up of other property owners, who all win commendations for their outstanding community service from other committees made up of other superannuated property owners who are in turn recognized for their public-mindedness in a never ending loop of mutual masturbation.

The image my neighbors project, and thus my impression of them until lately, has been one of, “We’re nice.”

Downtown, cruise ship, tourists

To a degree. For the past three months, contractors have been working on their house.

And for most of that time, the couple have been using traffic cones to reserve public parking spaces for their private contractors.

Despite their car port and driveway, they take up spaces at the curb in front of their manse, reserving it for days on end. They often need two spaces, and because Kiwis never question the authority invested in orange traffic cones, other frustrated neighbors have left the nice people alone.

Even the traffic wardens who ticketed me and Jacquie twice since December for our lack of a residency permit (one that Auckland Transport had told us didn’t exist), ignored what to me was a blatant arrogation of traffic laws.

And all the while that I cursed this couple under my breath, I kept my mouth shut, too. Because you’re not supposed to be assertive with nice, elderly people, even when they’re selfish pricks.

Civic Theatre, early Saturday evening

A few weeks back, after spending 15 minutes looking for a free space, I asked the wife how long they would continue reserving spaces for their contractors.

“Oh, I don’t know,” she said. “A few weeks.”

“Because, you know, it has been kind of difficult to park here.”

“Oh, that’s terrible,” she said. She was very concerned.

I told her about the truck smashing the side of our car, causing $2,000 in damages. I told her about the time I had to spend filing the insurance claims. I told her about the time wasted looking for a space.

“Oh, you poor thing,” the woman said. She clucked her tongue and shook her head. I wondered if we were sharing the same conversation.

“Did you know about the contractor smashing our car?” I said.

“Oh, no, I didn’t,” she said. “You poor darling.”

I told her the name of the contractor. She said she’d never heard of it. Flustered by her apparent obliviousness to all the inconvenience she has caused her neighbors, I kind of got pissed off.

She wasn’t nice and sweet. She was an asshole.

“You realize that not everyone has parking around here,” I said, “and that not all of us own our houses or have driveways. I’m happy and proud and everything that you’re pouring a lot of value into your home equity, but I don’t think that justifies—”

“We are not  ‘pouring value’ into our equity,” she said. She leaped into defense, and her frail husband, who had been silently listening, scurried into the house.

You can't lose with a picture of Vince.

You can’t lose with a picture of Vince.

The woman was mad.

“I’ll have you know I’ve been very good to the renters on this block,” she said.

She explained how in 2009, she was the one who went to Auckland Transport to issue parking permits. When I told her AT no longer issued those permits, as far as I knew, she said to call over there and use her name. “They know me,” she said.

Which was about when I walked away. I wasn’t going to get anywhere with her. Her idea of nice wasn’t to be courteous about parking, or thoughtful about the troubles she’s caused. Nice, to her, is pimping out favors that only a white privileged, property-owning, self-righteous person believes is theirs to dole.

In other words, she’s really, really nice. In Parnell. And I hope that Jacquie and I never get that nice when we own property one day.