Teen quits job after boss tells her not to say 'kia ora'

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Monet-Mei Clarke was told to use the greeting 'hello' rather than 'kia ora'. Photo / John Stone
Monet-Mei Clarke was told to use the greeting 'hello' rather than 'kia ora'. Photo / John Stone

A Whangarei teenager has quit her first job after being ticked off for welcoming customers into a city centre store with the words "kia ora" instead of saying "hello".

Monet-Mei Clarke, 17, resigned from the KiwiYo frozen yoghurt store on Cameron St this week because she was uncomfortable over franchise owner Margaret Lang instructing her not to say "kia ora" as company policy was to say "hello".

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Monet-Mei is the eldest of the five children of Whau Valley Primary School principal Robert Clarke and his wife May.

Te reo Maori is the first language in the family home.

Because she had completed her NCEA levels, Monet-Mei left school two months ago and joined the staff at KiwiYo.

"I'd been there four weeks and loved working there. The people were nice. The only problem was being told I couldn't use 'kia ora' when greeting people other than friends or people I knew," she said.

"It was kind of a shock to be told I couldn't use the language I use all the time."

Unsettled by her Maori identity being minimised, Monet-Mei decided to leave.

She is looking for another retail job and considering university study.

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Her decision was fully supported by her parents, who are clearly proud of their children's bilingual abilities.

Ms Lang said all KiwiYo staff accepted company requirements on uniforms, greetings and other company policies before they were hired. She considered it was acceptable to rule out the use of "kia ora" because "this is an English-speaking country".

However, Norman Markgraaf, the former South African who is director of Yo Wild Limited and chief executive of the KiwiYo franchise, told the Northern Advocate he had no problem with the use of "kia ora" so long as it was followed by the friendly greeting for customers laid out in company policy.

The firm has established about seven outlets in New Zealand since it was formed less than three years ago.

It was about to open an outlet in Beijing where staff would be required to greet customers with "kia ora" before extending a friendly welcome in Mandarin.

Mr Markgraaf, of Auckland, said he had been told Monet-Mei had been reprimanded for omitting words of friendly welcome after greeting someone with "kia ora".

Northland Labour list MP Kelvin Davis said yesterday that te reo Maori was an official language in New Zealand, spoken daily on television by news presenters and people of status. "It should not be forbidden as a welcome when serving people in Whangarei."

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