Everyone expects a certain amount of misunderstanding and confusion when they move to live in another country as an expat. We know that the weather will be different, the food different, sometimes even the language is different. We know this and expect it. It makes the expat life adventurous, if not glamourous. And then there are those other little things, the real whoopsies, the nuances of another culture of which we are sadly mind blind.
My Mum, an Australian moved to New Zealand in the 1950s after meeting my Dad, falling in love and marrying him. She tells me now that she didn’t expect much of New Zealand in those days. She felt Godzone was a little hokey even a little backward. To illustrate this she tells the story of how she made coleslaw for a family BBQ and nobody ate it, because “it was uncooked cabbage”
“The women didn’t even shave under their arms” she remarked in disgust, one night as she was regaling me with stories from her early days in Auckland. For my mum, who had grown up on the beach culture of Queensland, this was beyond the pale.
Even today there are a number of subtle differences between the Australian and New Zealand way of life, and language. Australians call the fluffy feather thing they throw on their bed a doona, the local shop a 7/11 and their swimsuit a cossie. In New Zealand we call those things – a duvet, a dairy, and togs.
Of course some of those things tripped Mum up back in those days too – like searching for a dairy farm in the middle of Auckland city when she went out for a pint of milk, for example. And then there was the party etiquette.
“We’d been invited to a BBQ by your father’s boss’s wife and desperate to impress, I rushed around and organised something nice to wear and made a bit of a fuss. It was on a Saturday so your father was out at golf when another friend rang about the party. She asked what I was wearing, and that seemed all good….and then she said that ladies were asked to bring a plate.”
Mum was a little confused about this request but decided this was all part of the Kiwi way of life, so she didn’t say anything. Dad came home and the dashing young couple left for the party. When they arrived Dad introduced his new wife and Mum smiled her hellos.
so far, so good.
Then she walked out into the kitchen and ceremoniously handed over a plate from her wedding dinner set and placed it on the table alongside the plates full of salads and desserts.
Her beautiful, fine china, empty plate!
“No one told me there was supposed to be something on the plate!” she muttered to my father on the long drive home, her cheeks burning with embarrassment in the dark.
In New Zealand ‘ladies a plate’ is code for please provide something to eat and share preferably something you’ve made with your own fair hand.
What funny cock-ups have you made when you first moved to a new country, or town?