Freedom to say our piece helps make us laid-back lot we are.

When a coffee stall at the French Market in Parnell couldn't change my $50 note, a stranger said, "Put it on my card."

I told him no thanks, but this would only happen in New Zealand. I'm always struck by how friendly Kiwis are and more so living outside the country for most the year.

Staying in a fourth-floor Viaduct apartment, I get to observe humanity. That's predominantly Kiwis but a swag of tourists too.

The bars and restaurants rock seven days a week. Watch how most kids see the tile patterns as fun obstacles to jump over and how many littlies have a cuddly bear or rag.


The America's Cup yachts bring back customers applauding the experience. Love is out in every shape and form. In the late hours quite a few drunk people, but only guilty of that booze-exaggerated jollity. No one looks dangerous or angry.

We live in a truly lucky country, of tolerance and a general cheerful outlook on life. The majority are secular thus religion, in our small and mild doses, has mostly a positive effect. No mad dictator with a police state.

No religious leader telling us how to behave and think. Our cops are straight, the judicial system is too - all our institutions.

Our form of "Thought Police" tend to have a pretty tame Green tinge. Maori radicals make a lot of noise but never hurt anyone. No moral mullahs watching our every action for some behavioural breach then imposing sentences from time in prison to death.

No such thing as a Kiwi suicide bomber or a terrorist with fanatical religious beliefs. We do life easier, with a smile and tolerance for one another.

New Zealanders can do more or less what we want, believe in anything we wish; eat, drink, think, practice - BE - whatever we choose. New Zealand has always sat near the top of every survey of the world's freest and least corrupt countries on earth. They should measure our tolerance.

The atheist, nutter Christian extremist, Hare Krishna, vegan, serial protester, rabid right-winger, screeching mad leftie, caravan owner, Pakeha red-neck, angry brown-neck, fundamentalist Muslim - all sorts - have an equal right in this blessed country. They do in France too. Just Kiwis do the limits more interestingly.

We're free to become fat or thin, alcoholic, smoker, dope freak, for God, against God, gay, bisexual, ugly parent on the sports sideline, loud, crass, a social bore. But rarely objectionable and just about never do we see some horrendous act of violence in the name of their beliefs.

Even our fringe citizens still reflect the general niceness prevalent in this country. Probably because they still feel, if not quite included, then at least members of the same club.

But we'd never boot them out. Not unless they crossed that line - which they don't. Because, I think, they are allowed to vent, they have the freedom to be odd and ill-fitting and rebellious, eccentrically joyous or miserable, to have independent thoughts and belief in whatever the hell they wish to believe in.

For a nation of squabblers and objecters over every possible petty issue - as in the Resource Management Act - we are yet one of the most friendly, thoughtful, approachable, helpful people on earth. Not saying we're the perfect country. Because we're not.

Culturally, we've been dumbed down so much there might come a day we no longer have writers, artists, philosophers. In their place radio and television "stars". Thinkers will be ignored. Few will read. The danger flags are more than fluttering.

Too many of us are materialistic. In comparison to the French, hideously so. But, mate, give me a Kiwi barbie any day to a French dinner party that never quite lifts off.

Then again, the talk at the barbie won't be about the latest literary masterpiece or an art exhibition. Rather, it's how much so-and-so made in capital gains on a house he/she sold. But there'll still be noise and laughter and easy talk.

I reckon Kiwis and French could learn a lot from each other. Swap rugby knowledge for cultural awareness. We show them how to lighten up. They dumb us up. Sound a fair exchange?

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