So, what is it like living in a foreign country?
A hard lesson to learn and one that I gave no thought to, is what it is like to be the ‘foreigner’ in a country. New Zealand is not without racists, the Asians in particular are often their targets. A small minority pick on the Asians, because of their often obvious wealth, and different skin colour.
I have not come across any real prejudice toward me personally, but I was surprised, naively perhaps, when I was in a social situation and someone had just returned from a trip to England. A member of the party, not knowing I was English, commented to them in mock horror, “You didn’t pick up their pommie accent did you?”
Situations like that can re-inforce that you ‘don’t quite belong’. Before I arrived in New Zealand I had a vision that it would be the same as England only hotter. I arrived determined to become a New Zealander. I now realise that is as ridiculous as going to live in America and hope to become an American.
It is very difficult to explain but the culture is very different. Children enjoy a far less regimented lifestyle which often carries through to their adult life. The relaxed manner in which many are brought up is often reflected in how casual they are. As a newcomer I have had to learn to accept that standards are not as high as I had grown used to in England, but then the people are not as stressed.
I feel aware of my accent when I speak to strangers, they always ask, “and whereabouts in England do you come from?” a novelty at first, I start to feel like a ‘foreigner’ if I hear it too many times in one week. Although, quite often, the question is asked by people anxious to share with me the fact that their great grandmother came from England.
I refuse to use words like lollies which is what New Zealanders call sweets, as I find it difficult to accept into my vocabulary. I have walked around a department store looking for some sheets, but determined not to ask, because I know they call the linen department, Manchester. If I had been brought up with these words I would accept them without qualm, but as they seem slightly ridiculous I find they ’stick in my throat’.
Children pick up the kiwi accent very quickly, in an attempt to fit in with their peers. It is difficult accepting your children losing their English accent, particularly if elocution is one of your ‘tics’, but there is nothing you can do about it.
Being an immigrant does give me an occasional feeling of ‘not being part of it all’ - I cannot get excited when New Zealand wins the Rugby - I’m British after all.
There are advantages though. You are no longer stuck in a rut. You certainly go on a steep learning curve when you arrive. I can honestly say I have taken more interest in learning about New Zealand than I ever did about England. As an adult, I have found learning about the history and culture intriguing, whereas I found that all rather dull when I was at school.
You become far more receptive to ideas, and ask far more questions. You make fresh choices, based on what is happening today, not on preconceived ideas.
You have to make a lot of effort. You cannot rest on your laurels, people take you at face value. New friends have commented on talents I did not know I possessed. It is a time to challenge and be challenged.