Letters from Southern Man

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Letters from the Southern Man

Migrating is more than just filling in forms and submitting paperwork, its a complex process that will test even the most resilient of people. 

Understanding New Zealand is paramount to your immigration survival and to give you a realistic view of the country, its people and how we see the world, read our weekly Southern Man blogs. Often humorous, sometimes challenging, but always food for thought.

Life in the (big) City

Posted by Iain on Nov. 11, 2011, 2:58 p.m. in Immigration

Life in the (big) City

I was a little reluctant to go live with this piece and few have created in me more angst. I’m either going to sound like an Environmental Crusader or a middle aged control freak busy body!

But this blog is about my take on this part of the world so here goes. You all get the chance to post your comments and your feedback would be gratefully received. 

I have often written about how my city is changing.

Sometimes the changes are subtle and sometimes they are not.

So much of the change is positive and for the better but at other times I feel some of the city’s inhabitants might just be in danger of losing their humanity a little. Becoming a little more selfish. Speaking as an Aucklander (in the sense that to be an Aucklander is not necessarily the same as to be a New Zealander and our values might increasingly differ from the other inhabitants of this fair land) our sense of community and awareness of one another is arguably diminishing which is at odds with the way we have historically perceived ourselves - open, friendly, egalitarian, sensitive to others and tolerant. Or, and this is meant as a blunt warning (good advice?) to my own client base, perhaps it’s not the locals who are changing but migrants who are arriving and bringing with them attitudes and behaviours that can at times be viewed as, well, foreign.

So in the interests of helping migrants settle here allow me a wee rant – call it Cultural Assimilation 101.

Auckland is home to 1.4 million people and covers a huge area making it the 5th biggest city in area in the world (bet you didn’t know that). Auckland now has a population density greater than a city like Melbourne.

As a consequence and especially in downtown Auckland where I work we are having to physically interact more and more with other people – or ignore them. 

I like walking down my suburban street, smiling and offering a ‘Good Morning’, ‘Hi’ or similar greeting to those who I pass. I am not looking to stop and chat but a simple acknowledgement of your fellow man can go a long way. It’s just what we do here…..

I appreciate in downtown Auckland it is not possible to greet everyone – for starters people will think you are loony (and in my case I concede they might be right) or in terms of simple expediency you’d never get to where you are going given there are so many people.

However, there are plenty of examples of how new arrivals understandably bring with them behaviours that are quite ‘normal’ in their country of origin but interpreted quite differently by locals. 

It appears, for example, to be absolutely acceptable to gather in a small group of three or four people on the footpath outside my office and force every other pedestrian to walk around you – even if this means stepping in the gutter to do so.

Or the drivers that don’t let other cars merge into their lane. Aucklanders, to be fair are not as bad as drivers in many other countries and thank goodness there are still plenty of drivers who will let you in. This I should also add is not a behaviour migrants have a monopoly on but it is true to say that certain immigrant groups do at best appear oblivious to other road users and be over represented in the ‘I’m the only person I’m aware of on the road’ group.

Or my local dairy (convenience store) owner here in our own historic and beautiful High Street who every morning enjoys a couple of cancer sticks and when he has finished chucks them in the gutter. I bite my tongue every time I walk past his store as he is either standing there poised to flick a butt into the street or there is a small pile of two already lying at my feet. Maybe I should just man up and explain to him that as a new New Zealander I want to know if he ever gives any thought as to where his cigarette butts go once they have been washed into the city’s storm water system.

I know the answer – into my harbour where I like to fish and my children swim – but he either doesn’t know or doesn’t care.

I have never said anything – I don’t want to be accused of being racist, or insensitive or rude to a migrant but it is clear that where he comes from the road is a rubbish bin and once out of sight his personal rubbish is out of mind.

Should, dear reader, I be saying something?

Well I now do. I am tired of it (but equally am a little concerned that having written this I am starting to sound ever so slightly like the Gestapo….).

A few weeks ago I was walking downtown to a favourite Dim Sum restaurant to have lunch with a good mate of mine and this fellow walker was about a meter away from a rubbish bin when he dropped his cigarette butt and extinguished  it with his boot. I couldn’t help myself – I asked him why he would do that when 3 feet in front of him was a metal rubbish bin designed for such things?

My friend put his hands over his face and kept walking. But I thought “Bugger it, this is my city as well – this guy is just lazy. If it was a KFC packet he wouldn’t do it so why do smokers think our footpaths are their personal ashtrays?”

The old fella simply stared at me. He wasn’t angry – I think he was a bit surprised that someone had pulled him up on this. 

I did notice that he did not pick up the cigarette butt. And being the consummate Diplomat I am, I didn’t push it.

My only hope is when he sucked his next one to death he might dispose of the butt in an appropriate receptacle.

A few years ago the then Mayor of Auckland absurdly copped it as being a racist for stopping a young man in the street, who happened to be of Asian ethnicity and telling him that while spitting in the street where he comes from might be acceptable he would prefer it if he kept his gobs to himself rather than shared them with the good folk of Auckland’s premier shopping and business district.

I couldn’t believe it!

Some of you might wonder if the Southern Man hasn’t turned into a middle aged grump but really am I wrong to point this out and be frustrated by it? 

You want to smoke, then smoke. All I ask is that as a fellow Aucklander you use rubbish bins.

If you want to congregate in small groups, wonderful, just pull over to the left and get out of the flow of pedestrians.

If you are driving – remember you aren’t the only car on the road and being aware of those around you is not a bad thing. And learning the local road rules isn’t always the worst idea.

We are all products of our environment – of that I am sure.

I am not cross about these things, there is no anger and I don’t believe I need counselling – I just observe things. And some of the things I observe I wouldn’t have 20 years ago.

My city is changing and those that are new to it need to adapt to us and we to them. 

That’s what migration is all about.

Seminars – don’t forget the last round for this year is currently underway in South Africa (Johannesburg is done, Durban and Cape Town next week) followed by Singapore and Malaysia at month’s end. If you are interested in attending or you know anyone who might like to – they can register here.

Until next week...

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