I’ve been in New Zealand for about two and a half weeks now, and you might have been expecting lots of posts about all the really exciting things that I’ve done. Except that I haven’t really done a lot of visiting of things, and have been focussed on finding my way around, finding somewhere to live (minor detail), sorting out my research project (you know, the reason I’m here), and all the various other random administrative faff that moving and starting at a new university entail. Oh, and attempting to make friends. But I’ve made a bit of progress – I’ve explored quite a bit of central Auckland (see one of the many views from the harbour below), I’ve managed to find a flat, which I get the keys for tomorrow; I have a (perhaps slightly over-ambitious) research topic, which I’m now trying to iron out the details of; I’ve sorted out a phone, bank account, etc.; I’ve been given a desk in the postgrad lab; my swipe card to get into the Biology buildings finally arrived yesterday afternoon (although it doesn’t appear to work – sorting that out is today’s ongoing adventure); and well, I’m working on the friends thing (I’ll have a kitchen from tomorrow. I suspect that the power of cake will help significantly with that one). Until writing all of that out, I hadn’t quite realised how much I’ve managed to get done. I’m fairly proud of myself actually! So, as of today I’m going to end the blog mini-hiatus that seems to have imposed itself for most of the month of February and get back to blogging more or less regularly.
Actually, here’s a little secret (don’t judge me too much): I’ve always been slightly fascinated by the 29th of February , a date that only exists every four years. When I was younger, my fascination revolved around the people born on this funny quirk of a day – imagine only being able to celebrate your birthday every four years! I obviously valued the really important things in life… Now though, I just think of it as a bit of a peculiar yet special day. I quite like February the 29th actually, because it’s a bit of a quirky day, but there’s a very logical and scientific reason for it existing.
So because today is a bit of a quirky day (in case you think I’ve got the date wrong – it’s already the 29th in my timezone), I thought I’d write a post about a few of the quirks that I’ve come across in the process of settling into my new country (some endearing, some baffling). Well, quirks might not be quite the right work, more the confusing little differences that I’ve noticed:
The curious lack of ovens – Whilst flat-hunting, I looked at a lot of flats online. Now I know that space is at a premium in the centre of any city, so I wasn’t expecting huge kitchens, but I was surprised at the number of flats (perhaps around half) that didn’t have an oven. Much to my bafflement, a large proportion of these oven-less flats did, however, have a dishwasher. Now, up until now I have always considered an oven as a basic requirement, and a dishwasher as a luxury. Especially in a small 1-person flat. So how much washing up does a single oven-less Kiwi create?! And how do they bake cakes?
The sun, part I – I have an excellent sense of direction, but I rely heavily (and unconsciously) on the sun. Which is fine in the Northern hemisphere which I’m used to, but in the Southern hemisphere the sun is suddenly in the wrong place. Even though I knew this would happen, I kept going in the wrong direction by accident the first few days that I was here. At least Auckland has the Sky Tower, which is remarkably handy for navigation. (My previous encounter with finding directions in the Southern hemisphere was when I was doing boat work in South Africa. That was seriously disorienting!!) And my brain is slowly getting used to this whole sun-being-in-the-North thing.
The sun, part II – As well as being in the wrong place (for me), the sun is also deceptively strong. Even though I read about it in all the guidebooks before I came, it still surprised me. I don’t think it’s nearly as bad as in Australia, but it’s definitely much stronger than during summer in the Northern hemisphere. Despite applying sunscreen, I’ve already managed to acquire a super-attractive t-shirt tan just from walking for 20 minutes down the partially-shaded main street in search of lunch the other day. Luckily I don’t tend to burn easily, but if I did I definitely would have been caught out, even with sunscreen.
Seasonal confusion – It’s summer going into autumn here, which still confuses me a little, mostly in terms of trying to work out what fruit and vegetables are actually in season. Seeing blueberries at the farmers’ market on Saturday briefly confused me until I realised that even though my automatic reaction was to consider blueberries in February a food crime, they’re actually in season here. I need to find myself a NZ-specific chart of seasonal foods. The trees still have all their leaves, too, which feels odd for February. I also keep getting a surprise when I realise that it’s still daylight at 7pm, and then I remember that it’s summer…
Pedestrian crossings – The sound effects of the pedestrian crossings still make me feel like I’ve just accidentally wandered into some sort of computer game involving space, rockets and lasers shooting at aliens. The green man is also animated and walks – in case you forget how to cross a road? Or to remind people not to do alien impressions because of the accompanying sound effects?
The fauna – Auckland is much greener than I was expecting, and dotted with little parks and public spaces. There’s a park just next to the university which has some beautiful oak trees (complete with acorns as it’s late summer) which lull me into a false sense of familiarity. And then I turn the corner and there’s a palm tree, or other tropical fauna. Occasionally you see a fir tree and a palm tree next to each other – I’m still finding that rather surreal. Then of course there are all the plants and flowers that I’ve never seen before.
Talking Kiwis – As in the people, not the fruit or the bird, and this is in the endearing category (before anybody gets upset). I don’t find the Kiwi accent particularly hard to understand, even though they do funny things to some of their vowels, but some of the slang is still throwing me a bit. Some of it is very much British, and some of it really isn’t (jandals = flip-flops, and one I learned yesterday, chilly, short for chilly bin = cooler box). The general rule seems that if you can shorten a word or phrase into a minimal number of syllables, then go for it. A lot of Kiwis also seem to add “eh!” onto the end of sentences for no apparent reason, whether or not it’s actually a question. I have a tendency to pick up accents and colloquialisms, so it’s only a matter of time before my accent starts changing (seriously, when I told Keely that I was moving to NZ, her first reaction was “oh, your accent is screwed… Can we Skype lots – I want to hear it!”).
Kiwi attitude – Everybody is so friendly and relaxed. Chilled. I don’t know if it’s because it’s still summer, but the pace of life seems a little slower here. Perhaps that sounds a little odd, but I mean that people seem to take the time to be outside, to stop for a coffee on the terrace, to enjoy an ice-cream, to go for a walk. Studying is obviously important, but life and the great outdoors are important, too. I could get used to that (whilst studying hard, obviously, don’t worry Maman!).
On that note, I should probably get back to my desk, eh!
Enjoy the rest of your day, wherever you are!