Deborah Hill Cone

Deborah Hill Cone is a Herald columnist

Deborah Hill Cone:Thanks for coming, now leave us alone

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Exports, not fawning over foreign visitors, is what we should focus on.

Deborah Hill Cone.
Deborah Hill Cone.

If I keep writing this column long enough I can flat-out contradict myself about absolutely everything. One predictable tune I like to hum is that we should embrace service culture and realise it is not demeaning to take pride in doing a good job of waiting on people.

This is spoken as a former shopgirl, who thinks selling is righteous and noble work. I think wistfully about those lovely Buenos Aires restaurants with distinguished old codger waiters in their impeccable starched white aprons who are proud of their job.

But now, just to sound psychotically inconsistent, I think we are on the wrong path devoting ourselves to tourism as our economic saviour. I recently went to Rarotonga on holiday.

It is a beautiful place but I got the distinct impression the locals resented tourists and although they certainly wanted your moola, they felt diminished by having to work for it and frankly wished you would just bugger off.

The incidents were not dramatic: I waved at a local fella on the beach, he gave me the finger; the local bus driver tore a strip off a tourist for wearing a sarong. It might be paradise but I sensed there was a mood of barely disguised aggression to outsiders.

In New Zealand we've always prided ourselves on our welcoming and friendly atmosphere - we always seem quite pathetically grateful that people choose to come so far to visit us. "What did you think of us, huh, huh, huh?" And with the Rugby World Cup I am sure we all going to be exhorted to be super-perky.

Frankly, I don't feel so inclined to put out the welcome mat. I wish New Zealand could concentrate on industries where we could generate export returns without turning into an open house or having to paste on a rictus-like grin.

Funny though, the industries that really do make countries rich don't seem to find much favour with the ordinary punters who could end up being waiters and shopgirls. All those trendy slebs who protested against mining might consider which will ruin the land more: some prospecting for minerals or having 100 tour buses of obese tourists schlepping through our pristine reserves?

Maybe it is because we are so far away that we have always had a weird fixation with getting people to come here. Why? We started our own fashion week although the designers who really succeed at making it on the world stage go where the action is. The finance hub that John Key has suggested sounds promising, but there doesn't seem to be much action on that front.

In February the Capital Markets Taskforce reported to the PM but kept its recommendations secret. Since then, nothing much has happened that I could fathom. It seems what is needed is some tax changes to attract foreign investors. Of course, the aforementioned waiters and shopgirls won't like that.

Strange, since the really enticing prospect is to make money over in the dirty big world, but preserve our reclusive backwater serenity. It could be a chance to become rich and antisocial. Then we can really give the world the finger.

dhc@deborahhillcone.com

- NZ Herald

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