Vanessa Honor: Moving to New Zealand, yeah-nah, it’s sweet as –

Posted: January 9, 2022 at 4:15 pm

Vanessa Honor can speak multiple languages but adapting to the Kiwi slang has presented a new set of challenges since moving to Aotearoa about five years ago.

I noticed a lot of people saying, sweet as and Im thinking, sweet as what? What is sweet?

And then not long after that I found myself saying, yeah-nah, just as a joke but its a normal part of conversation now.

I cant wait to absorb more Kiwi quirks and slang.

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Christel Yardley/Stuff

Vanessa moved to New Zealand for about five years and now lives in Hamilton.

Honor is among 752,000 internationals who arrived in New Zealand 5-7 years prior to the 2018 Census report.

Census data showed in Waikato, 16 per cent of the regions 458,2020 population, thats about 7300 people, arrived from overseas countries during the same period.

Honor is no stranger to learning a language or dialect of a new country or region.

The 40-year-old was born in Bordeaux, France. Her mum was of mixed Polish descent and her father was from French Guiana, near Brazil in South America.

Christel Yardley/Stuff

She now works as a senior strategic planner for Waip District Council, setting a strategy for how and where the district will grow and develop over the next 30 years.

My mum is white and shes from continental France, thats what they like to call it, the mainland.

My dad is from Guiana, he is black and so I am of mixed race.

Bordeaux is a well-known destination for wine lovers, its museums and public gardens.

French Guiana is a former colony of France, most of it is covered by rain forest and its drawcard is the Guiana Amazonian Park.


Bordeaux in France, a city said to be built on rivers of wine. It is where Vanessa was born.

I grew up in both countries. My dad didnt like the winter in France so we would spend about six months in each country.

But by the time I was 14, I lived in France all the time.

Honor said people in Guiana speak a local dialect of French but also lot of Creole too, which has Portuguese origins, with a little bit of English and some French.

Creole is such a beautiful mix of languages, all around South America you have different types of Creole, especially in the Caribbean which is very much attached to its history around slavery.


Vineyards of Saint Emilion, near Bordeaux.

We picked up Creole because we lived in Guiana but it wasnt something my father put forward in front of us to learn, he was more interested in making sure I had accurate use of the French language.

Her father grew up in a period when there was change in the Caribbean, politically and socially. It has a history of colonial exploitation involving the slavery trade, and next to that, a growing multi-racial Creole society.

He always thought it would be challenging for black people and for a woman of mixed race, if we couldnt master the French language first.

Honor studied evolutionary genetics at university in France, its the study of how genetic variation leads to evolutionary change.


The Amazon forest near Brazil. Vanessa says river trips through the Amazon forest in French Guiana are popular with visitors.

While at study, she met a friend from Scotland and followed him to Edinburgh where she lived, studied and worked for 13 years.

She is passionate about conservation, the environment and decided to study ecology and later, applied ecology, which focused on how to understand, protect and enhance ecosystems.

Living in Scotland gave her a chance to improve her English language skills too and learn about the regional dialects and slang from various parts of the country.

She began working as a planner and for a while Scotland ticked all the boxes.

Mark Taylor/Stuff

Beef Bourguignon is a French beef stew braised in red wine. It rekindles memories of family sitting down to eat together, Vanessa says.

But in the back of my mind, I had always been thinking about New Zealand. Its a place I wondered about ever since I was a child.

When I started looking into it, I could see that planners were on the shortage list for New Zealand, so I knew from a career perspective, it could be a good move.

Honor tried not to have too many expectations of what life in New Zealand would be like.

I knew there was a lot of change happening in New Zealand but I didnt realise how rich it was in its history, culturally and politically.

Christel Yardley/Stuff

She is a planner by trade and there is a shortage of planners in New Zealand, which prompted her to make the move from the other side of the world.

I thought people were more relaxed here than people in France, which is what I was looking for.

I wanted to get away from a stressful society and New Zealand has got this wonderful work-life balance.

Honor worked as a graduate planner for Aurecon in Auckland for three and a half years before moving to Hamilton in 2021 to work for the Waip District Council.

The Waip council was a client [with Aurecon] and I loved working with the people there.

She joined the council in August during the lockdown and she had been working remotely from home, away from her new team.

Christel Yardley/Stuff

Vanessa says its never too late to travel, to change careers, to study or to try something new.

As a senior strategy planner, shell be helping Waip prepare for its projected population growth for the next 30 years.

In the next 10 years, for example, Cambridges population will reach 24,000 requiring 2300 more homes while Te Awamutu and Kihikihi combined would reach 15,500 people, requiring 630 new homes.

I am a planner by trade but the planning system here is quite different from Scotland.

The RMA reform is changing New Zealand and there is a new generation of planners coming through much more focused on spatial strategic planning.

If she were to write home to family in France, describing what life in New Zealand was like, Honor would say it feels like the best of each country shes lived in.

You have the best of Scotland, France and Guiana. You have this urban background in Hamilton but then suddenly you can be in the country and that reminds me of France.

Then you have the forest areas with trees so high you cant see the sky, its so intense it reminds me of Guiana.

But then I go back to work and its Scotland.

Honor also has an accent which is a blend of all three countries too, with the Scottish slang coming through the strongest during the interview.

Ive been told my accent is unique and its even more unique when you see what I look like.

People say, do you know that French girl, who has a Scottish accent but looks like shes from Brazil?

Honor said her father lives in Spain now and shes been able to speak some Spanish on visits there. She can also manage some Portuguese if you put me back into Brazil for a week.

English and French are my fluent languages though.

She wont compare Edinburgh with Hamilton, that would be unfair, she said.

But Hamilton right now is evolving, it is writing a new chapter in its history.

New Zealands beach culture has allowed her to revisit her love for surfing, at Raglan while shes also enjoying Hamiltons Japanese-Korean food which is new to her.

I like to discover new food but I hate Brussels sprout, dont cook that for me.

If she were to host visitors for dinner, it would boeuf bourguignon on the menu, made with some instruction from her grandmother in France.

Its just the attachment I have to that particular dish, memories of growing up in France with my grandmother and grandfather, sitting down to eat at the table surrounded with food and people.

Honor doesnt normally like being the centre of attention. Appearing in a story and photos took some convincing.

The main reason I wanted to do this story is to show people youre never too old to try something new.

I hear people say, its too late for me to travel or to change my career. But I went back to university at 33 and then I moved to New Zealand at 36.

Working in strategy planning is really what I was looking to do and its something I love doing in a country I love living in.

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Vanessa Honor: Moving to New Zealand, yeah-nah, it's sweet as -

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