On the Fringe of Wellington Society

by Ant Stone on March 23, 2010

in New Zealand

If you’re one of the growing number who indulges me on Twitter, then you already know I currently live in Wellington, New Zealand (Aotearoa). However, this might come as a surprise to the more casual readers of this dedicated travel blog, as its pages are somewhat entrenched on the backpacking trails of Western Australia, over 3,200 miles away.

I don’t apologise. I quite like the fact I exist in two places at once. If you want the reasons, just drop me an email. I’m reluctant to forcibly bore you, so encourage you to settle for the crux of the excuse: work and family.

Yes, even we travellers must occasionally roll over like rocks on the road, and reveal that moist, moss-covered underbelly of Real Life®.

Real Life® of a Traveller

Visiting WellingtonThe writer in me has been feasting on Wellington, New Zealand’s capital city. It’s a place where things don’t so much happen spontaneously, rather they are well thought out and planned. Everything’s prim, and most of it’s proper.

The daily truth, is that I’ve never lived anywhere where people are so acutely aware of social issues.

Wellingtonians are undoubtedly, the most broadly intelligent, and culturally accepting population I’ve ever witnessed.

This is exasperated by the fact that my closest circle of friends in Welly, work almost entirely for not-for-profits, government ministries, or the major banks. Whereas I mostly just bumble around Lala land and drink coffee in any one of the cities 239 cafes. (I’m not sure about where you live, but I reckon one café per 1,598 people is a pretty high average).

However, its intelligence is not intrinsic to the country’s famed cultural acceptance. There are definite factions in Wellingtonian society. The Māori. The pākehā (white New Zealanders). The Pacific Islanders. While they are not what I would call distinct, they are definitely apparent.

Between them all, are Dairy Shops run by Indian families, and Fish ‘n’ Chip shops run by Chinese or southeast Asian families, while a large sprinkling of European, East African and Middle Eastern characters give this city a mellow, moderated feel.

I’m loathed to lazily proclaim it “multicultural”, as I don’t really feel it’s an advert for true multiculturalism in the same way as say, London or New York does. Wellington is more of a cultural experience. I’ll touch on this over the coming months.

And it would be a mistake to believe that all are accepting. Around six weeks ago I was enjoying a beer with my girlfriend, Reb and an interesting German called David who Reb had met through Couchsurfing.

Local Standpoint

Maori WellingtonHe was telling us about life in the north, where he’d been living for the past two years. He’d been welcomed into a whānau (a Māori family unit), in a far northern iwi (Māori social unit, or tribe). I can’t recall the exact details, so will abstain from guesswork (it was good beer) but what happened next really surprised me.

“Sie sprechen Deutsches, Recht?” came a roar from the next table. It was quite obviously threatening. “Yes, I am German”, replied David. “Sie sprechen Scheiße”. I knew this from secondary school. Apparently, he reckons David spoke shit. “Why do you think that?”

What followed was a tense tirade of insults; in David’s native German, and also in te reo Māori (the Māori language) and weaved with English, for the benefit of Reb and I. No punches were thrown, and though I felt sorry for David having been so embarrassed, I was full of intrigue.

The accuser was white and lean, in his mid-twenties, and dressed in funky, street fashion. In no way did he fit my pre-conceived idea of what a Māori should look like. He should have been enormously tall, broad and quite mean-looking. He should have been able to pick David up by his ears and scare him without even talking. “He was definitely, Māori” confirmed David with a tremble.

I learned from that day, that no matter how keen I was to learn about the culture of New Zealand’s aboriginal people, that I should be considerate. Māori are a strong, proud and conservative people. They learned to work beside the early British settlers — like no other people achieved. They did not bow down, and thankfully, in modern New Zealand it’s out of the question that they ever should.

The urban Māori will, it seems, stand up for their entire kinfolk in thunderous prose. It’s enthralling, and slightly raw. I’m glad, because it shows that some things never change.

© All Images: Solace in the Wind by IanDolphin24; and ~Locals~ by AmericanVirus

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

[F]oxymoron March 24, 2010 at 6:35 am

Fascinating, we humans, huh?!

As an easygoing guy, I’m always fascinated by the ways in which different cultures (and subcultures) embrace and enact chest thumping male bravado – and the reasons.
.-= [F]oxymoron´s last blog ..Clever Ways To Camouflage A Case Of Budweiser Beer? =-.

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Ant March 24, 2010 at 4:02 pm

I think it’s the chest-thumping women I’m fascinated by. Especially in northern England.

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just me May 22, 2010 at 2:08 am

sorry to hear that your evening was almost spoiled!
I am a German woman and used to live in Wellington.

Hating Germans is – all over the world – just like some common sport ;)
Interesting, how different you react each time you get insulted, tho. :D

My accent is rather weird – and I often got taken as a South African… with a slight accusing stare… LOL… admitting then, that I was indeed GERMAN left em completely dumbfounded ROFLOL

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Ant May 25, 2010 at 6:01 am

I don’t think he was specifically hating Germans, more the fact he was hating a non-Maori person purporting to understand the Maori culture.

I know where you’re coming from, I’ve heard more than enough hatred targetted towards Germany. I think the World Cup 2006 changed a lot of attitudes. I was there, and it was interesting to hear so much surprise in the voices of international football fans as they lapped up the German hospitality.

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