In recent weeks there has been much discussion about what Mid Canterbury is like for newcomers. Auckland is no Asia or Africa, but the being new part is something that resonates, wherever you have moved from. It can be hard to start a life in a new location, as distance sees differences in attitudes, habits and cultures loom out of proportion. From shopping hours to the foods available in said shops, there is much to adjust to.
Sometimes you have to go far away from the familiar in order to be able to see of what those adjustments might consist. I first found out what it is like to be different when visiting family in Denmark. My (then) blonde hair and blue eyes went down well, right up until I opened my mouth. It’s often said that when people speak Danish it sounds like they have a hot potato in their mouth, but apparently my potato was a Dargaville kumara because all I got back were puzzled brows and the polite suggestion that perhaps I should try again, in English. Soon after that it became apparent that I had a real taste for Marmite, and my citizenship was revoked with immediate effect. (The spread is not approved for human consumption under local laws, while the immigration minister at the time pointed to any weakness for the salty black stuff as proof of questionable national allegiance: no Dane could ever stand the stuff).
Getting fired from Denmark was hard, as a tangible link to my heritage was amputated with a single official letter. It took away a sense of belonging, but at the same time it made me take note of the many small and forgotten ways I belong to New Zealand. There’s the taste for yeast spreads, the pride in prize-winning A&P show produce, and the unmistakable ‘Nuzild’ twang. And yet, down here I still don’t qualify as a local.
When I arrived in Ashburton I was told very matter of factly that people either stayed for 3 years or more than 30. While this statistic is unlikely to have passed through a rigorous peer reviewed process, it’s an interesting anecdote about how long it can take to find your place as get to know the one you’re living in. Three years may not sound like much, but it’s the same amount of time many devote to studying at universities up and down the country. After 3 years, surely newcomers deserve a certificate too: Degree in Midcantabrian Studies, signed by two locals who have roads named after their families or recognize Hakatere as their tūrangawaewae.
That graduation could also be a way to facilitate conversation between new and old. It is often easier to meet foreigners or people who are new to a place than those who have been in the area for many years and live deep in the maze of their day to day lives and habits. Being new to a place has many advantages, as outsiders’ eyes often see everyday things from a new perspective. Certificates or not, a little openness, a friendly smile and a thin spread of Marmite can go a long way towards carving a place called home in the midst of a landscape of firsts, that’s for sure.
Originally Published in The Ashburton Guardian