Deborah Hill Cone
Deborah Hill Cone is a Herald columnist

Deborah Hill Cone: I fear I'm not really a genuine Kiwi

I see no reason why I should have any more right to be a New Zealander than Peter Thiel or Kim Dotcom.
I see no reason why I should have any more right to be a New Zealander than Peter Thiel or Kim Dotcom.

It was 1981 when my family attended the oath of citizenship ceremony to become New Zealanders.

The deputy-mayor, a kind woman, knew my mum as they were both Marriage Guidance Counsellors (quaint term, eh? Well it was 35 years ago).

And the kind deputy-mayor had a surprise announcement during the ceremony. Apparently 14-year-old Deborah Hill would get on the stage and say a few words about what it meant to her to become a New Zealander. (At the time I have to admit, I thought maybe that mayor lady was not so nice.)

Because, really, let's be honest, just say a few words doesn't mean what it says. Let's have a bite to eat, doesn't mean just one single bite, does it?

So I had to get up on the stage and give an impromptu speech.

I remember I had my frizzy hair in two plaits pinned up like Heidi. (I was very jealous at the time of a girl my age called Heidi who was starring in the Hamilton Operatic Society production of Annie. Boy that envy really dominated my life - let it go, Deborah! Let it go! I was still convinced my great musical theatre talent was just waiting to be discovered. Ba-dum-tish)

Other memories of that ceremony are more vivid: I was wearing a homemade dirndl skirt, a crocheted top from Trade Aid (mum worked there part time, when not marriage guiding, obviously) and handmade leather shoes as round as soup tureens with pictures of toadstools tooled into them. We really did dress like a bit of an Amish family, don't ask me why. I guess it was the last gasp of the seventies.

And don't ask me what I said in my speech. Perhaps I took the opportunity to do jazz hands, feather kicks and a verse of "The sun will come up Tomorrow!" Betcha bottom dollar Heidi!

After the ceremony we went home and toasted ourselves with the traditional Kiwi tucker of crustless egg sandwiches and tea. Helped along by the boost of post-public speaking euphoria I tried to chat up a handsome family friend, younger than me, who later went on to be an international tennis player.

I'm not sure my flirting has got any better over the years, or my dress sense, but more than 30 years later I do know one thing: I'm still just as confused about what it means to have "become a New Zealander".

The same year we became New Zealanders my whole family protested against the Springbok tour.

And yes, of course, I ought to say something about Maori culture, but back then I think I probably knew more about show tunes than about tikanga Maori. (Shame).

Frankly, the whole idea of being a "real" New Zealander, seems a lot like an idea invented by marketers, a convenient fantasy used by corporate and governmental advertising.

I wasn't much better at the other aspects of being "Kiwi", as set out on the website newzealand dotcom and in a recent Colmar Brunton study.

The study found attributes that Kiwis most identified with included a can-do attitude, being proud, easygoing and outdoorsy. I am none of these things.

I pay a nice man to do my garden. I am neurotic. I am on anxiety meds. I've never been camping. Actually I did go once. We didn't take enough Dimp. And even when mosquitoes are the only predator you have to worry about, I still find the outdoors terrifying.

As for other New Zealand things, it's great we were the first country to give women the vote, but I don't understand why Parliament is used to launch the Rugby World Cup squad. I do not care a fig about Richie McCaw's wedding. Or any other sport.

I wouldn't be able to tell Number 8 wire from any other number of wire. I have only seen the Lord of the Rings trilogy ONCE.

The longest time I have been on a farm is one night and that was only because I drank an entire jug of Singapore Sling and threw up in my shoes. That night, I thought I was going to die. See? I am obviously not stoic, another supposed Kiwi trait.

Oh, I admit I have a broad Koi-wi accent but I try not to go up at the end of sentences? Because it sounds like you don't know what you're talking about?

I don't own a barbecue or a pair of jandals. Last time we went boating, one of us returned minus a digit.

Getting the idea? And I must hasten to add, I am not saying this because I fancy myself some high brow intellectual either (43 per cent of New Zealanders don't consider the word intellectual to apply to them). The only original art I own is framed pictures painted by my children.

So having considered my hopeless lack of New Zealandness, I see no reason why I should have any more right to be a New Zealander than Peter Thiel or Kim Dotcom. Because frankly, the whole idea of being a "real" New Zealander, seems a lot like an idea invented by marketers, a convenient fantasy used by corporate and governmental advertising. But there is now a musical called Moana, so if I had my chance on that stage again, I might get to do a New Zealand themed razzle-dazzle 'em number. You're Welcome.

- NZ Herald

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