Tall poppy syndrome and ‘proudly local’: The things Kiwi expats notice about New Zealand that tourists don’t – Stuff

Posted: May 21, 2022 at 7:07 pm

Josh Martin is a London-based Kiwi journalist.

OPINION: Does altitude affect your perspective? It certainly limits my ability to check my privilege.

Spread out on a Virgin Atlantic lie-flat bed, 36,000 feet above the Sierra Nevada, with a glass of Champagne in hand, I had little to toast: Sad, guilty, and gripped by a deep sense of longing mostly for my wayward phone. I had boarded the flight from Auckland, it probably sat lifeless in a Bay of Plenty taxi company lost property box.

Yes, although travellers are supposed to collect souvenirs, I decided to unknowingly gift one scratched Samsung to the city of Tauranga. Enjoy.


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Its not about the physical device that you lose when the victim of theft or your own stupidity, but about losing all the processes, contacts and memories it takes care of for you.

For more than two years, this expat had gone without new family photos, weekend-plan WhatsApp chats, Google Maps mispronouncing Mori place names and even the delightfully Kiwi call-waiting music beloved by government departments. I had made up for lost time.

Many photos were taken, many plans were made, many toes tapped along to Dave Dobbyns Loyal (still!) while waiting for a call centre operator.

But as I soared above the cloud, wondering why I didnt make better use of the cloud I realised it was fairly ironic that this lost phone was really just another severed connection to home, and that, after three weeks as a returning expat in New Zealand, there were numerous examples of a disconnect that had nothing to do with a big night out and wandering electronics.

If the Covid pandemic has taught me anything about the New Zealand psyche, its that tall poppy syndrome is alive and well. Heck, theres an entire army of Kiwis with weed-whackers waiting to mow us down just look at the lack of love for Grounded Kiwis.

And even though New Zealand has fallen from the ranks of star pupil in the Covid league table, microaggressions of anti-expat sentiment littered my three weeks at home, many structured around the idea that no matter what your passport says, proper legitimate Kiwis were those who were in the country at the time of the first lockdown and any others who came back since (or couldnt get through the MIQ lottery) were entitled bludgers out to take your home or jobs.

I wondered if the households who felt most strongly on this point were the same who have overseen the seemingly rapid rise in front lawn flag-raisers? Im sure when I departed Aotearoa in 2014 there wasnt this trend of New Zealand flags flying in front of homes across the nation. Theyre everywhere: Is it the only tangible outcome of those two referendums I missed? I wouldnt have thought living in the land of the $1.5m drafty ex-state house was worth celebrating, but again that might show my cultural dissonance.

A more welcome sign of patriotism has taken over our supermarket aisles: everything is proudly local, to be imported is to be frowned upon, which Im sure as a foreign tourist is unnerving to have fewer international brands, but as an expat is refreshing, even novel.

Every trip to Pak'nSave was a tour of the country. Given the number of tourists who drive around New Zealand, I wonder if theyll notice the sheer number of public service campaign ads that permeate radio, TV and newspapers.

Im no down with Big Government campaigner yelling Freeeeedom! but was still baffled by friendly guides telling me how to drive slower, exercise more, stop drinking, start jabbing, stop injuring yourself and please, please line the recycling bin up correctly on the kerb!

Given the glut of public service advertising money being sloshed about, it was a shame to come back to news bulletins filled to the brim with inconsequential infotainment and puff pieces at a time of huge geopolitical drama and domestic challenges.

As a tourist, your news appetite is usually low and these Meanwhile in New Zealand stories are just funny tidbits, but expats are acutely aware of New Zealands perceived isolation at the end of the Earth. We try to swim against it its disheartening that since the Covid pandemic, some pockets of NZ relish that isolationism and that gap looks to have grown into a chasm.

The worst difference is saved for last: The farewell.

While foreign tourists will float out of Auckland International Airport on a high of a once-in-a-lifetime holiday realised, the Kiwi expat chasing money, dreams or love skulks back on to the plane, heavy with emotion, constantly comparing their old life with their new, guilty for not staying longer or not staying behind for good.

Confused, because what was always home feels a little less like home each time.

And sad for the good times with family and friends ahead youll certainly miss out on, and the good times you were there for, but are captured and lonely on a Samsung Galaxy S11 stuck under a taxi drivers seat in the Bay of Plenty.

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Tall poppy syndrome and 'proudly local': The things Kiwi expats notice about New Zealand that tourists don't - Stuff

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