It's more about me than about New Zealanders. But I've written this so many times it seems I've memorized it, more or less. Chalk it down to another identity crisis and anxiety, rather than anger. I mean it to be funny.
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When I meet people for the first time in New Zealand, in a friendly, casual setting (say, a friend’s birthday party), I almost hold my breath and count the seconds from the time I’m introduced to the stranger till he or she pauses meaningfully and makes what’s become the most boring Kiwi greeting; “Do I detect an American accent?” Never a North American accent, mind.
You bet; almost 100% pure, standard, Mid-Western speech broadcasters around America once strove for, free of charge. And you don’t detect it; you’re bombarded with it, by me, an Asian… Hello, my name is Meg and I will be your sociolinguistic anomaly for the evening…
For some folks, it’s the only notable thing about me; never mind they can’t remember my name, I’m Asian, so I must be May… But she speaks with an American accent.
The question can also be disguised in different ways: “Where are you really from?” “Nelson” and “Tokyo” don't cut it, notwithstanding the fact that in most Asian countries, English taught in schools is of the North American variety.
I like the few people who have made the effort to come up with “Are you Hawaiian?” There are Asian-Americans all over the continent, having lived there for three, four and five generations, but never mind, you gave it your best shot to bridge the geographical/ethnic chasm.
But why are you so concerned with the way I speak? Do you ask others with noticeable accents, “Do I understand you’re from the wop-wops?” or declare, “You speak like a moron.” And would you ask me if I were, let's face it, a white girl, or would you just assume?… I don’t have a problem if your interest is genuine, and I got my geographical history down to a 90-second spiel for your amusement, but the inquisitors are usually uninterested in the answer. It's a statement in disguise. They seldom give me the 90 seconds before walking away, so I’m been answering, “Yes.”
What more do you want? I’m sorry for Pearl Harbor and POWs; I’m sorry whaling, our stupid manga, and the electronic industry. I'm sorry for the used cars and the bus tours. I’m sorry I’m short, fat and loud. But guess what? Between Bill Gates, the Internet and Hollywood, your grandkids are gonna sound more like me than you, so get used to it. …
Here, have a cookie.
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In 2001, during an announcement on board a Fullers Ferry to Rangitoto Island, Auckland, I first heard the word "cookie" being used by a Kiwi; "biscuit" or "bickie" is still the norm, though one does hear "cookie" more frequently of late. You can tell I started writing this much earlier than 2001, and how startled I was to hear the word in Auckland. By then we had been living in Nelson for five years.