Month:

January, 2012

Hmm…where do I begin? I ended my last blog post with a promise to write more about my first impressions of New Zealand. I also revealed some of my New Year’s resolutions. One was to learn how to be more patient. It turns out both of those ideas are intertwined in my new life Down Under.

My family and I are still in temporary digs (a renovated townhome) while searching for a permanent home. One major reason: the country pretty much shut down for Christmas vacation just after we managed to orient ourselves and decide in which neighborhoods we’d like to live.  I could not interest any of the real estate agencies in personally helping us with our search because they were in vacation mode.  For my immediate needs, that was incredibly frustrating. Ultimately, though, this is part of the reason we moved here – to learn what slowing down really means.  Here’s a twist: now that things are just about back to business I have several agents working hard to help us and I probably appreciate them more than ever. They also seem rested and ready instead of stressed and over stretched. What a concept.

Doing basic business isn’t a rush-rush affair here either.  At most shops in Wellington, I’ve found the people behind the counter take the time to talk to their customers.  In fact, when I hurriedly tried to buy some hand-crafted cider at an indoor market, the salesman wouldn’t even take my money until I had tried and appreciated the product. Boy did I feel like the stereotype of an “ugly American” when I asked “how much?” without paying him the simple courtesy of a moment of my time and interest.

I have already whined about my frustration over not having access to affordable, unlimited internet data. Apparently, I was a data hog in the United States without even realizing! I didn’t even know how to check how much data I was using.  When I first got here,  I checked my totals obsessively.  I am starting now to say to myself “you don’t need to get on the internet right now”.  Then I breathe deep. When I first pulled out my phone to Google something or even look up a recipe, it appeared to be novelty (at least to other women my age). So yes, you can wean yourself…or learn to a spend a little less time online. People clearly do survive without a technological umbilical cord.

Driving was something I was downright afraid to tackle, because of course, they drive on the left-hand side here in this former English colony. I did live in England for nearly 5 years but, as a student, only rode my bike to get from here to there.  You should have seen how slowly I tackled getting behind the wheel!  Given the choice I would take 20 minutes more and walk wherever I wanted to be.  I finally sucked up my courage only to discover navigating a bike on the wrong side of the road (it really always will be to me) translates fairly well.  A few tricks I’ve learned to adapt to a four-wheeled vehicle include making sure I (the driver) am always near the middle line of the road and following the flow of the other traffic. I did have to re-learn the “yield to the right” rules of roundabouts but overall, I am feeling pretty confident. Still, I walk as often as possible.  It is the first time I have had the opportunity to live in a city and I prefer to see it from the sidewalk.

Another leftover from living in England has kicked in over here as well:  I am dusting off and using old slang and phrases like “sussed” (for figured out) and “chuffed” (for pleased).  My old habit of picking up new phrases and using as many of them as possible has also reared its head.  So I have found myself unable to stop saying things like “pop in” more than I would like to admit.  

My nightmare would be picking up the accent, which I did after all that time in England.  I can’t bear to listen to old recordings of myself because they sound so affected. I call it the “Madonna effect”. It starts innocently enough. You find yourself enunciating more just to be clearly understood. But I believe something more significant factors in too. Americans can feel like they stick out like sore thumbs in England.  It doesn’t bother everybody but it sure did me. I was the blonde Yank with the brash accent. Here, though, my being from the U.S. doesn’t seem to irritate people immediately.  I don’t feel like I want to hide.  The American accent is also more similar to the Kiwi sound with harder ‘Rs’ and broader vowels than the more “clipped” English.

There are plenty of Kiwi words and phrases that differ from American (and maybe even English) vernacular.  Here are some of my favorites: someone or something can “punch above his weight” meaning perform better than average.  Someone told me they attended an “after-match gathering”, meaning a wake. What made it so funny was that “match” usually refers to a sporting event.  I heard a man on the street telling his “mate” that his doctor diagnosed him with a “grumpy hip”!  Loved that one.  I learned quickly ordering a “flat white” coffee was similar to ordering a latte.  But I had to ask what a “fluffy” was: a cup of foamed milk parents give little ones who want a grown-up drink too. I was flummoxed by the phrase “white wear included” in real estate listings.  Turns out that means washing machines and dishwashers (clothes dryers are rare).  And at Christmas (which is of course the start of summer down here) everyone puts on “togs and jandals”, or swimsuits and sandals, before heading to the beach.  

Now, I have found the Kiwis do tend to “diminuitize” some words – turning things like Christmas presents into “Chrissie prezzies”. That used to irritate me back in England…and it still does. I may have picked up the accent, but I studiously avoided saying “let’s go out for drinkies” with my college friends and I won’t be taking my dog out for “walkies” here anytime soon.

So, that’s my little “top-up” (another popular New Zealand phrase) of news from Down Under.  Despite the new words and life skills required, I really do feel like I am home. Yes, already…that doesn’t count as being impatient, does it?

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Our family’s move to New Zealand is a dream come true. It is an international adventure for us all, in a country filled with natural beauty. My husband’s job offer was like manna from heaven – we felt starved for time with each other and exhausted from the harried pace of life we’d fallen into in California.  It was surprising, really, with the Golden state’s reputation for being so laid-back.  But long hours at work, and a packed schedule of kids’ activities have become a way of life across all of America it seems.  

However, between getting the job offer and getting here, there were some giant challenges.  Some would be hard for anyone to handle.   A few, though, are real hot buttons for me…and my frustration’s led to some New Year’s resolutions!

The challenges began with the rush to turn in the proper paperwork for a move overseas.  We needed fingerprints of every family member to send in for an FBI background check.  Yes, even our 10 year old needed to be screened… My impression is the New Zealand government is pretty darn careful about who they let in. I am sure they also wanted to make sure our kids were actually ours and we weren’t  trying to kidnap them and flee the country.  (It happens). There is also the issue of universal health coverage.  Almost anyone who lives here can get free health care. So,  it didn’t surprise me to learn we also needed full physicals. Those even included chest X-rays (to rule out highly contagious TB).  To my surprise, mine showed a shadow.  I tried not to panic while I waited for a follow-up CT scan.  Of course I envisioned the worst case scenario; suffering some deathly disease or every family member managing to pass this test but me.  Crazy thoughts took over: would they go without me?  Of course not – but would the thought cross anyone’s mind?  Their loyalty, however, would never be tested…I got the all clear! And all that crazy talk in my head was silenced. Stress can do strange things.

The flurry of activity on the paperwork front was counterbalanced by hours of hard work cleaning and prepping our home to put up for sale.  We had just a few weeks until school started and the market essentially died.  We were also trying to pare down, because everything we owned was supposed to fit into a container to be shipped overseas. All this, while my husband and I continued to work full time and get the kids ready for the start of school. We wanted to try to keep their lives as normal as possible as long as we could (although keeping the house neat as a pin 24/7 was nowhere near normal – but you know what I mean…)

Once our paperwork was turned in, the house was picture-perfect and the kids were back in class – all we could do was wait.  And wait.  We waited for a home buyer but no one came.  We waited for word from the feds – of anything.  The FBI couldn’t even confirm they had received our fingerprints  until 4 or 5 weeks in.  When I asked them about simply finding out of any were smudged or unreadable, they said we would still have to wait until the entire process was complete.  Unbelievable.  And stressful.  The waiting went on for almost 3 months in the end.  Far longer than any of us had expected – even the company that hired my husband in New Zealand.

It was, as the somewhat annoying saying goes, character building.  First lesson: patience.  That’s always been a challenge for both my husband and me, both classic type “A”s.  And when it became clear how powerless we were, we also had to learn to trust it would all work out – to believe.  That’s hardest for me to do. We decided to take the calculated risk of moving forward as if the move would actually happen.  We rented out our home and agreed to move out in the middle of November.  Knowing we might not visit friends and family in the US again for years, I booked a family reunion tour with the boys.  It meant pulling them out of school at the end of October.  The idea was to re-start their school year in February, when Kiwi kids go back to school after their summer break.   My kids weren’t too upset, but for Mom, interrupting their education was a giant leap of faith!

While not yet conquered (if indeed that will ever happen) I will say we have made big strides toward having patience and believing in the future.  That old phrase “fake it ’till you make it” has helped.  I do admit to having mini break-downs now and then and right now my trust is being supremely tested as we try to find a suitable home to rent in Wellington.  It has proved more challenging than expected – especially during the holiday season.  Ironically, really, when all the seasonal signs remind me to “Believe”.

The one other key virtue this move has required, and one which I still really struggle to achieve, is letting go of attachments – to my belongings.  Clearly, accumulation is a past-time in America.  Not even the recession has stopped some of this behavior.  The popularity of “garage saling” (for fun,  not  for basics) proves that.   And even though the sour economy slowed some of us down, many had already accumulated quite a lot before the downturn.  Just  stuff.  You know what stuff is: everything from t-shirts to toys to all kinds of kid gadgets…the stuff that crowds our closets and overflows into our garages.  

I’ve taken this opportunity to try valiantly to conquer our “stuff”. While cleaning out and packing, I took load after load to various charities and tried to keep as much out of the landfill as possible.  But I still kept too much…we all did. One big challenge was that we had to pack for the 3 months we would spend traveling, and in variable weather.  We could take two bags each – under 50 pounds apiece.

We struggled. I carefully weighed each suitcase and had to keep pulling out shoes and clothes to leave behind. Not that I really left them behind.  They ended up on that container ship that’s due to arrive in February.  I will have to continue my cutting back then, because we likely will have to move into a much smaller home than we had in the United States.  In the meantime, I am hoping the other half of one pair of shoes I somehow managed to separate in my luggage is in that container somewhere!!  

Clearly, this isn’t just about clothes (and all the furniture we are bringing across too).  My over-arching goal while living here is to learn to live more simply, naturally and s-l-o-w-l-y.  I have quite a l-o-n-g way to go.  But I have started – the most important step.  And we have all made measurable progress.  I try regularly to remind us all not to get too impatient, or we actually will be moving backward, not forward. So…maintaining patience, trust and getting rid of attachments – how are those for New Year’s Resolutions? Oh – and I promise to blog more about living in New Zealand…

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