Being Pakeha

With another Waitangi Day just around the corner I found myself trying to explain the ‘meaning’ of this day to a new immigrant. Even worse – she had to ask me what it ‘meant’ to be kiwi. My answer was about as clear and insightful as when I tried to explain Easter to my girl last year and we somehow ended up with death, bunnies, chocolate and Jesus. (When she asked if we ate all the chocolate bunnies would they come alive again – I just answered yes. It seemed easier that way.)

I couldn’t tell this newcomer to our not so unified and quite often unhappy family of Aotearoa that traditionally, Waitangi is an ambiguous commemoration where Pakeha pretend it’s the national celebration of the barbeque and hum loudly and drink a lot, and Maori get all pissed off like the treaty was Nana’s will that eventually got found in her undie drawer and all the wrong people have already got all the good stuff. This would be embarrassing so I quickly moved on to that national pastime – pin the identity on the pakeha.

We, apparently, like to ‘give things a go’. Except I don’t. I don’t feel the need to ever go on a Japanese game show nor will I learn to change a tyre… because; I don’t want to. There. That makes me much closer to Latin American female (although I would probably have to throw in flirting and crying to get someone else to fix it and frankly I never really learned to do that either).

So what then, makes us Kiwi?

In the Hispanic new immigrant community a common joke when someone is about to go for their citizenship is; ‘got your trailer yet?’ This is met with roars of laughter and is usually rejoined with ‘No but the gas barbeque gets delivered next week.’

Being a pakeha kiwi bloke to these guys means owning a trailer and driving around with it permanently attached to your car – and I hate to say it but a gas barbeque to Argentines is…well, what tinned spaghetti sandwiches are to your average café dwelling Ponsonbyite. Yup. They are not laughing with us.

Being pakeha female to these guys is also not knowing how to walk – I am constantly told that I walk as if I’m a military dictator on the brink of a coup – I’d better get where I’m going before I get shot. Whereas we stomp stride and march, Latin women wiggle, sashay and proll – which is a mix of rolling and prancing that means you need a double jointed spine so that both tits and butt get thrust out to full advantage. I once got A grade coaching from an entire staffroom in Buenos Aires. After 2 hours they gave up. Going for a walk with these guys is excruciating. It took me months to realise that… there actually is, no destination. Ever. The words dawdling, mooching and idling come to mind. The word tramp – does not. It’s all in the journey. Unless of course, you actually want to get somewhere. Hell for me would be a moonlit night through an enchanted fire-fly lit forest – with Germans in tight neck scarves, or escaping an invading army with Argentines, both endeavours would end in tears.

I remind these guys as they mimic my Presbyterian striding that if they’d come from a proud maternal lineage that waded in half a haberdashery shop’s worth of crinoline through knee deep mud so that they could give birth before doing the lambing beat they’d have evolved to walk like this too. They marvel at how anyone could get close to being pregnant, walking like I do. I don’t find this funny and think about voting for the Neo Nazis and a slammed shut door on immigration then realise this would be bad because it would affect the father of my child and then who would change my tyres? Oh yeah.

We have a sense of humour and we’re tolerant of other nationalities too, except that is when new immigrants don’t immediately embrace pavlova and endless English lessons about dolphins and the fabulous ‘Kiwi Way of Life’ . Or they laugh at us.

Being Kiwi is sacred business – even if we’re still (yawn!) not sure what that might mean.

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