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Ponderings on all aspects of travel - both at home and abroad.

Proudly waving the fern

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A giant silver fern flag flies over spectator boats following a victorious Team New Zealand back to base in 2000. Photo / Brett Phibbs
A giant silver fern flag flies over spectator boats following a victorious Team New Zealand back to base in 2000. Photo / Brett Phibbs

What do we, as New Zealanders, do to highlight our nationality when we're overseas?

Sometimes, of course, displays of national identity are neither appreciated nor appropriate. And occasionally - somewhere like the Munich Beer festival for instance - the behaviour of those who have gone before makes it a good idea to stay quiet about where you come from.

But on big sporting occasions a bit of nationalistic fervour is all part of the fun, and quite often when you're travelling overseas it's a considerable advantage to be identified as a New Zealander.

On a few occasions - in places as disparate as Nepal and Papua New Guinea, Canada and Macau - I've even been asked to do something from my own culture. That inevitably means something from Maori culture which in my case, because I can't sing in tune, usually ends up being a mihi expressing gratitude for being made to feel welcome, followed by a haka, generally Ka Mate.

In that respect we're a lot better off than most travelling Australians, for whom the only option seems to be singing Waltzing Matilda.

We also have an advantage over many countries in that there are a couple of distinctive symbols we can use to proclaim the fact that we're from New Zealand.

In much of the world - including places where English is rarely spoken - we're known as Kiwis. It's a tradition which seems to have started with the troops who served overseas during the Boer War and the two World Wars whose regimental badges all featured a kiwi. Because of that, for many years our most commonly used national symbol was a stylised kiwi. A few years ago, for instance, I was taken to see a giant chalk kiwi which, in 1918, New Zealand soldiers carved into Beacon Hill, above the old Bulford Camp on Salisbury Plain. At sporting events you often used to see flags with kiwis on them.

In recent years, however, the kiwi symbol - though not the name - has rather faded away, as has the stylised tiki which achieved a temporary vogue. The koru, known internationally thanks to Air NZ, has never caught on as a national emblem. And you rarely see Kiwis highlighting their nationality by waving the red, white and blue New Zealand flag.

These days we mainly tend to identify ourselves through the silver fern. At sporting events our athletes wear the silver fern and to support them we wave black flags bearing the symbol. Much New Zealand produce bears a fern trademark. And when we travel overseas, many of us take silver fern caps, T-shirts, badges or even tattoos.

We're still known as Kiwis. But if you want to signal your nationality, whether visiting Britain or Botswana, China or Chile, a silver fern is the best way to do it.

- NZ Herald

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