Talking to visitors over the past couple of weeks, my attention has been brought to an interesting phenomenon: The Kiwi Goodbye. This distinctive style of farewell has three stages. First comes the rumble, a couple of remarks thrown into conversation about how ‘we really should get going soon’ and ‘it’s getting rather late.’ This stage should be initiated at least 45 minutes before you actually wish to walk out the door. Of course, this timeframe is socially accepted by all here in Kiwiland, so the initial signals of intent are inevitably followed by more conversation about gravy recipes, that hike we went on last weekend and dear old Uncle Graham, who has just suffered a stroke/ run a marathon/ wrestled a crocodile. Remarks may be made about the weather.
Next, actions creep in. Picking up a jersey, collecting a plate from the kitchen or even simply standing up to stretch one’s legs are all symptoms of stage two. Conversation continues, with each side waiting for the other to bring things round to an acceptable topic with which to close the evening. Remarks may be made about the weather. After the mutual pause that recognizes that the crucial moment has been reached, the thank yous begin. If you have not already discussed the heat/ cold / wind, this is the opportune time to do so, whilst adjusting footwear and moving into the hallway. Finally, we actually walk out the door, sending farewells back and forth like mountain echoes until we reach the end of the driveway. Then it is home time.
This social convention of stretching out goodbyes like the end of a Tolkein film does not strike most of us as strange – it’s just the way we operate. Visitors, I discovered, sometimes see things differently. A farewell that lasts less than the length of an episode of Shortland Street? For some, this is actually the norm.
A friend of mine was visiting from Norway and was completely unaware of the local three stage process. Instead, at the first mention of home time, she responded with a most polite ‘thank you very much for having me’, and left. Everyone assumed she had gone to the bathroom or had finally given into the temptation to have one more slice of pavlova, but she was already counting sheep. Any local who attempts a Norwegian goodbye in these parts is likely to have a search party sent out looking for them to ensure that they are OK and haven’t just wandered off a bluff at the bottom of the garden and broken a leg.
Next time you are out socializing, try looking out for the three stages. Unless you want to spark a Search and Rescue call out, it is time to embrace the lingering farewell as a cultural icon.
Originally published in The Ashburton Guardian