Merge Like A Zip
Tracey Barnett © April 2005
‘Merge Like a Zip’ One measly highway sign and I knew this American ex-pat had repat-ted to the right place. Of course you merge like a zip in New Zealand. How wonderful. Here one blends, one integrates, one zips. Americans merge like J Lo onto her next hubby, or Enron masticating pension plansin its former glory. We don’t merge, we smush. We enter the fray. Then we sue.
But here in the beautiful land of Antipodean Idol, my new countrymen merge like a zip and I am embarrassingly charmed. Freeways ribbon across picture postcard views with more dulcet Kiwi tones wafting on National Radio than I can translate fast enough. I want to marry everyone on the morning show, especially Linda Clark. Sight unseen, I’m convinced she has tiny nostrils, tiny ankles and never folds damp bath towels because she doesn’t believe in it. I start salivating at the beep tones announcing the news like Pavlova’s dogs. Wonder what birdcall they’ll use tomorrow? I murmur to myself before drifting off to sleep.
Whether you’ll admit it or not, Kiwis don’t see their own undeniable charm. I see innovation where others see nuance. Here Internet sites start with “dub-dub-dub”. How wonderfully succinct. Americans stretch it out uselessly to “double-u, double-u, double-u” and nary an anti-Bush joke occurs to cross their shrub-saturated brains. When my future Mother-in-law gave me a pair of fuzzy socks made out of possum road kill for the holidays one year, it clinched the deal. I need to marry this boy, I vowed.
Ultimately, it is your unintentionally endearing Kiwi nature that is going to out-gun my meager American resolve. It is a small, personal war I’m not sure I mind losing. When passing my local hardware man one day, I watched him fruitlessly try to erect a display tent. Frustrated, he explained, “I can’t get it up-” We both stood stock still for a full three polite seconds before helplessly dissolving into laughter. This heart and mind will be won with Vogel’s shoved in my toaster and the Topp Twins yodeling in my ears.
I do have moments when my American DNA flexes its memory and reminds me it is the edginess of the American psyche that still attracts me. I miss deli waitresses who snarl at you when you ask for a straw. I miss big, ugly newspaper arguments over big, ugly American mistakes. I miss wishing Martin Sheen from WESTWING really were our current president. I miss pumpkin cheesecake, cheap bookstores and the Sunday New York Times sitting so heavy on your lap it needs its own pillow.
“What’s wrong with you people?” I secretly demand of my bloke behind closed doors at night. “Why don’t you murder a few more people per capita, or consider invading Tonga for its shell jewelry resources, or try selling a toasted cheese sandwich with a picture of the Madonna on it on E-Bay for $22,000 like my people would?” A girl needs to feel welcomed in her newly adopted homeland.
In a Pyrrhic victory, I watch the American half of my own children merge-more gracefully than I-into Kiwis. My confused seven-year-old son now speaks like David Niven with cocktail olives stuffed in his cheeks. He doesn’t even consider wearing shoes until the first frost. Surprisingly, I am so proud I could spit Jaffas.
In the end, my antipodean epiphany came on the seminal day the whole family got head lice. I knew then there was no turning back. I laundered everything down to the Kleenex. Real Kiwi Mothers thought me quaint and sweet and nearly snorted tea out of their nostrils in glorious mirth. They drove home, merging zippingly in time to catch Judy Bailey’s nightly pastel suit at 6:00. I was becoming one of them: Sigourney morphing into Xena.
Nit comb in one hand, the hair of a barefoot, half-breed, mini-David Niven in the other, I was beginning to practice Kiwi Zen. Judy does make a wonderfully peaceful complement to a double-kid nit-pick comb out– bless her $800,000 possum socks. Dare I say it– I could almost feel my new self merging like a zip into the fabric of this fine country and secretly wondered how soon I would slip and start to call it home.