Posted by: thezedword | December 22, 2008

Kiwis say the darndest things

Apparently, this British Muppet thing is also a Womble.

This British Muppet thing is a Womble.

Did you know “womble” is a verb? Actually, did you even know it was a word? Stacy and I just started lifeguarding shifts at work and on the hourly duties check list are jobs like “Womble gallery” and “Womble gutters”. Legend has it, the phrase became popular because of a British children show about puppets that would pick up trash and eat it.

Back when we first got here I did this post about a few phrases that were completely foreign to us. In that time, I’ve heard a few more, and need to amend one in that post. I said that “Ta” meant “good-bye”. It actually means thanks. From what I’ve learned in swim lessons, while people will regularly use it at any age, it’s primarily taught to children because “ta” is easier to learn at a young age than the “th” of “thanks”.

Unlike back home in the States, there’s a huge amount of respect for the native peoples here, both in the government and in the general public. OK, that’s not exactly fair. Most Americans may now have a great deal of respect of Native Americans, Hawaiins, etc., but only after whiping them out and destroying their culture. The Europeans that settled here obviously brought their own histories with them and that of the Maoris have somewhat been intermixed. Like Miami, all the signage is in two languages, the English on top, the Maori underneath. Some preschools and primary schools are taught entirely in Maori and Google New Zealand has a Google Aotearoa option in which everything is in Maori. Now a days, even the Kiwis of European descent will greet you with a friendly kia ora and say good-bye with an e noho ra. Here’s a list of Maori phrases with audio pronunciations and a longer one without.

Somewhat surprising is the foul mouths the Kiwi children have, no matter if they’re white or otherwise. The other day a kid in my flippaball class (t-ball for water polo) was talking with a class mate about the diving boards without realizing I was right behind him:

Kid 1: Can you jump off the five meter?

Kid 2: No, I’m not allowed.

Kid 1: Really?

Kid 2: Yeah, but Jimmy can do it.

Kid 1: But Jimmy’s a dick.

Me: Hey, watch your mouth, young man.

Kid 2: Oh, shit!

Moving on. When it comes to romance, the Kiwis are ambiguous. You rarely hear people say, “I went to dinner with my girlfriend/boyfriend last night.” It’s, “I went out with my partner last night.” Back home, it seems like when you refer to someone as a partner, they’re either talking about the law firm they work at or their boyfriend and/or girlfriend who is the same sex as them. I wonder if the practice of referring to everyone as your partner here started because of this, as in, rather than people outing themselves if their not comfortable to, everyone casually refers to their significant others as their partners, but no one seems to know if this is the real reason. To them it’s just as common as the terms “boyfriend” and “girlfriend”. Side note 1: After the election, when Kiwis asked how I felt about the results, I’d often say that I was happy with our new president but unhappy with the four states that outlawed same-sex marriage. A few times it lead to a conversation about the issue and, from what I gather, Kiwis are a little more sensible than the residents of the 19 States that outlaw any same-sex unions and the other 10 that just outlaw same-sex marriages. This obviously wasn’t a scientific poll, as New Zealand allows civil unions and registered partnerships, but not gay marriages, though it does recognize foreign marriages. Still 100% of the country legally accepting it is much better than 60% making it illegal.

In my country, they would go crazy for these two.... This one... not so much...

In my country, they would go crazy for these two.... This one... not so much...

Completely unrelated to side note 1 was when a student registered his approval of Stacy last week. Until this past Tuesday I had grown a pretty full beard since falling off my bike and another instructor, in a completely unrelated case of facial hair, had grown a goat-tee. This smart ass from my water safety class came up to us before we asked for our classes from the teacher and pointed out that the other instructor and I both facial hair. I explained that I had mine because a) I didn’t want to shave over my scrapes and b) my girlfriend said I wasn’t allowed to have a goat-tee. Stacy was standing next to me and nodded, as if she was saying “Damn right.” The kid looked at her, then asked me, “Is she your girlfriend?” “Yup,” I responded. “Good job, she’s hot!” he said, punctuating it with a thumbs up.

A few weeks ago I had class of six- and seven-year-olds who were just learning how to swim. I’m talking won’t-put-their-heads-in-the-water-to-blow-bubbles learn to swim. After a few weeks I had them floating on their stomach with their face in the water while I was holding them. A Samoan child, however, was still a little nervous in the water. Side note 2: Samoans don’t call themselves Samoans, or at least the kids I’ve met don’t. First, they pronounce it Saw-mow-ah, not Sah-mo-a like people with American accents do. Second, when I’ve aksed Samoan children where they’re from they say, “I am Samoa.” I’m not sure if it’s that they haven’t fully grasped English yet, which is entirely possible considering they’re little kids, or if that’s how they really identify themselves. I like the idea of identifying yourself as a land or country, as if you’re saying that no matter where you are in the world, you are still a part of it and it’s a part of you. For a raunchy take on Samoan life in New Zealand, check out this Bro Town Channel on YouTube. It’s a locally made cartoon (def. not for kids) about a group of Samoan youth trying to fit in in New Zealand.

Anyways, so I got the Samoan kid to dunk his face in the water and he popped up, whiped his face, and said “Aww, fuck me!” (Sorry, Mom, for cursin’.) He is six! When I asked him what he said, he quickly denied saying anything. Another kid in the class clarified that “he said the Samoa f-word!” Sounded like English to me.

Another morning Stacy and I rode the bus to work and an Asian man got onto the bus at a stop in front of a grocery store. The Kiwi sun is incredibly harsh, as the ozone layer is thin over the country and the UV rating regularly reaches 12+ (all I know is that means you should wear sunscreen in a basement), and he was wearing a big hat, had long sleeves and gloves covering his hands. He moved slowly, looked old and seemed pretty quiet. He rode a few stops then moved to the back of the bus to get off. Before he could get to the door, the driver shut it and started taking tickets from a long line of people that were waiting to get on. The Asian man called out t0 the driver to open the door, but the driver didn’t hear him. He called again and again, quickly growing more frantic, fearing that the driver would take off and leave him at the back door with all his groceries. A Good Samaritan in the form of an enormous Samoan (or possibly other Pacific Islander), stood up and bellowed, “HEY, DRIVER, THERE’S A CHINAMAN STUCK IN THE BACK DOOR!” The door flew open and the appreciative Asian took his groceries home.

Really, I think the funniest person I’ve met since coming here is a very French Frenchman who sounds like Pepe Le Pew and says things like, “You smell like wet Burger King, American,” or, when addressing an attractive woman, declares, “You take my breasts away.” However, I think the humor of him would be lost if you can’t mimic his gestures or accent, so I’ll leave you with this, my favorite commercial campaign I’ve seen since arriving in New Zealand.



  1. Your bus ride sounded like one of ours when we visited Wellington! Gotta love those accents and listen lively!
    Here’s a great NZ commercial, appropriate since you are going rural to the South Island and will be encountering more than your share of SHEEP.
    Hope you can view this one – lots of Kiwi laughs!
    BTW – Chester will miss you, unless you are thinking of taking him with you……… Sorry, Stacy!

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