In January 2010, I wrote a post in which I said that , in my opinion , the nicest people in the world were the Italians closely followed by the Spanish. Well, I just got back from a trip to Australia and New Zealand and my opinion has changed . The Italians and the Spanish are great and so are the Australians( except maybe Ricky Ponting !!) but the New Zealanders … they are in a class of their own. Nowhere have I met so many genuinely nice people , always polite, always willing to help , so unfailingly good-natured.
People are a product of their environment and New Zealanders are a reflection of the relaxed , low stress society that they live in . As our coach driver , Peter ( “call me Pete” ) explained to us , ” We New Zealanders are so laid back we are almost horizontal ! ” Pete himself was a good example of the Kiwi personality . Always ready with a joke or a funny observation, he never lost his temper even where others might have found themselves sorely tried. Once , when driving down a one-way street, he braked to a stop because a woman driver was coming the wrong way, blithely disregarding the One Way sign, and the arrows clearly marked on the street. Instead of leaning out the window and giving her a piece of his mind , he merely waved her past ,(” There you go , luv”) before observing sotto voce ” She must have got her licence at the bottom of a cereal box.”
Another incident : We were in Christchurch on the way from the airport to our motel when our coach suddenly pulled over. The driver had seen a family stranded by the roadside and the husband had waved her down. It turned out that they were waiting for a bus which had inexplicably failed to turn up. It was a deserted road and the next bus was not scheduled to come by for another hour . What to do ? The coach driver turned to us and asked if we minded if the family squeezed in with us . We agreed , of course , and they did. In how many other countries do you think this could have happened? I can’t think of any , can you ?
We made place for the couple and their child , a cute toddler, and had a good chat as we proceeded on our way. It turned out that their house had collapsed in the earthquake and that they were temporarily living in a motel . The husband showed us pictures of their ruined house on his phone as we commiserated with him . It was a big loss and what were they going to do he wasn’t sure , but something would turn up. We wished them well they got down at their motel.
The Christchurch earthquake was insignificant compared to what happened in Japan but it was pretty bad . As we drove to the motel ( a last-minute change since our original digs in the Central Business District were uninhabitable ) we saw hundreds of buildings in various stages of damage. In spite of it all , New Zealanders have maintained their sunniness . Even then , they were experiencing severe aftershocks four and five times a day ( we were to experience one that night and it was scary even though it lasted only a few seconds ) but it fazed them not at all. As one of them said , March 20th might see another quake since the moon was at its closest that day but “ If it happens , I guess I won’t have to come in to work !”
Even before we went to New Zealand , I had been very appreciative of New Zealanders sportsmanship and sense of fair play. The sports fans in New Zealand admire good play even in opponents and are generous with their applause. Since New Zealand is such a small country ( only 4.5 million inhabitants) , they can’t compete with heavyweights such as Australia , South Africa and India in cricket but that doesn’t prevent them from giving it their all. Currently , at the Cricket World Cup, they have qualified for the quarterfinals but I don’t think they have a realistic chance of going much further . Regardless , I will be rooting for them in every sporting contest where they do not come up directly against America or India. Later this year , New Zealand will be hosting the Rugby World Cup and I will be rooting for their team , the fabled All Blacks , to win it all.
P.S Statistics and newspaper accounts don’t strike home the way individual stories do. At our motel , we found many of the rooms were occupied by young Japanese men . We found that they were reporters sent there to cover one of the side stories about the earthquake . Twentyseven Japanese students who had come to Christchurch to learn English were missing and presumed dead. It put a human face on the tragedy in a way that a news story did not .