Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

Dita De Boni: Cram in a real Kiwi experience

Urban dwellers know what it is like to endure the daily commute

Illustration / Anna Crichton
Illustration / Anna Crichton

Hurrah for the news that more and more New Zealanders are cutting short their OE to return to the (currently brown) grass of home.

So many of them will feel they're coming back to give their children a "real Kiwi" upbringing, just like they had. Except that upbringing has been moderated by the years and by new sensibilities and is, despite the constant carping of the anti-PC brigade, a vastly improved experience.

They may remember when the captain of the first XV was king, when soccer was for poofs, drama and art classes for no-hopers and all the Maori kids seemed to disappear from the school system after form 5. When Deka was where you spent a windfall, and Cobb & Co constituted a special treat.

People who venerate that way of life seem to live on in in our advertising agencies, but the rest of the country has moved on. But if religiously watching test rugby or getting a spiral perm for the school social are a thing of the past, the question needs asking: what is a "real New Zealand experience"?

I've recently started riding a peak-hour inner-city Auckland bus and I think it qualifies. For a start, most Kiwis are urban, with the bulk of those in Auckland. The bus population is young, largely Asian, and stoically enduring the indignity of crammed quarters before bursting forth to the expanses of the university, or Queen St, or the legal chambers.

The bus drivers are usually middle-aged and male. They can make a ride endurable with cheerful pleasantries or plunge it into misery by snarling at passengers and barking at other road users. Sometimes they do all of that on a single trip.

In typical New Zealand fashion, there will always be one passenger who blows his fuse at not being dropped off in the right place, or another, generally female passenger, who will assume her best fishwife voice and growl at the slacked-jawed yokels milling at the front of the bus to "get back!" But in general, people silently endure being jostled in the throng, inherently understanding that a New Zealand public service will always be run on the smell of an oily rag, getting you to your destination, often at warp speed, but with a minimum of style and comfort.

When crisis strikes, the Kiwi character will assert itself. The other morning I was crammed cheek by jowl in the aisle of a completely laden bus, trying to adjust the ankle strap of my shoe without leaning my head against the billowy buttocks of the woman in front. Suddenly, the bus lurched and braked. A woman behind me slammed into the small of my back and I fell forward and thwacked an older lady with my lunch box. She apologised to me, I apologised to her and the woman behind me, and so on back through the bus - a nattering of apologising women.

The one man, he who had started the domino effect, picked himself up, dusted himself down and exited at the next stop without saying anything.

See what I mean? It's New Zealand life, writ small. Not the hobbits that tourists are promised, or the clean green pastures that people picture when they envisage our country; it's the business-hours-only bustle of the mass of the urban crowds, experiencing, if just for a few minutes, the crammed discomfort of a real big city.

- NZ Herald

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Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

Dita De Boni is a columnist, commentator and TV producer/journalist. She first wrote columns for the NZ Herald in 1995, moving to daily business news in 1999 for four years, and then to TVNZ in Business, News and Current Affairs. After tiring of the parenting/blogging beat for the Herald Online she moved back to her first love, business (with a politics chaser), writing a column for Friday Business since 2012.

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