I’ve been living in New Zealand for just one month, but already the people I’ve met and the things I do each day feel like staples of my life. To be honest, I’m surprised I’ve adapted so quickly to my new environment, but the saying, “Out of sight, out of mind,” rings quite true for me here. My life in NZ is much more immediate and tangible than my life in the U.S., and I’ve been more focused on living in the present and exploring my new environment than on dwelling on my life back home. I think one reason for my relatively smooth adjustment is that I’ve found elements of New Zealand that fit my personality and lifestyle better than their American versions — notably, Kiwi humor.
I’ve already used one clichéd adage in this post, so I might as well whip out another one: Laughter is the best medicine, and Kiwis have a knack for making me laugh. Kiwi humor is dry, smart, and knows few boundaries. Nearly every interaction is an exercise in banter and wit. The Big Bang Theory does not exist here, and its absence is is possibly the greatest gift I could ever be given.
The main difference I’ve noticed between American and Kiwi humor is the level of sensitivity. Kiwi humor operates under the theory that if you offend everyone, you offend no one. “Offend” could mean anything from personal insult to extreme stereotyping. While I sometimes find myself thinking, “Did s/he really just say that?” overall I’m learning that New Zealanders mean things all in good fun, and are rarely actually prejudiced or mean-spirited. In addition, as I mentioned before, nothing is off-limits. New Zealand reality TV is a rare form of art in which the narrator ridicules contestants with personal insult and sexual innuendos, and it is great. One of my favorite shows is a Kiwi version of the popular British show Come Dine with Me, where five contestants must host dinner parties for each other and then judge each other’s parties (basically, a snarky narrator’s dream). Check out one of my favorite episodes, which makes fun of uni students, for a bit of an idea: (but be warned, the humor is definitely a little raunchy!)
(Video courtesy of Channel NZ3’s website.)
Similarly to Americans, Kiwis also tease and insult their friends. However, they seem to think that New Zealand may be unique in this respect. Multiple New Zealanders have tried to explain to me that insults/teasing/messing with someone is a sign of affection, unaware that Americans do this as well. It is definitely more pronounced in NZ though, and people feel more comfortable with each other more quickly than in the U.S.
And finally, that dry sense of humor. Kiwis are masters of both self-deprecatory and cocky humor, and rarely ruin a joke by prematurely cracking a smile. There aren’t any billboards on New Zealand highways, and much less advertising in general than I’m used to, but rare is the advertisement that doesn’t include some sort of scathing wit. The HBO show Flight of the Conchords is also a good example of the general style of Kiwi humor, although it is toned down for an American audience. And of course, there “heaps” of jokes about sheep.
The humor I’m surrounded by in NZ is the type of humor that I like best but can’t always find in the U.S. Finding an element of the culture here that I like better than what I’m used to and exploring that element has definitely helped me adjust to my new environment, rather than dwell on what I’m missing out on at home. Other international students I’ve met have had similar experiences, with music, city life, sports, or other elements of Christchurch that pique their interest. Plus, I’ll return to the States with an impeccable sense of wit after a semester of practice (I hope)!