An American Trying to Blend in (in New Zealand)

Walking the Makara Walkway track outside Wellington, New Zealand.

Though I am back in a country where I speak the same language as everyone else, there are still some things that just aren’t quite the same as back home. There are the obvious, such as the plastic and colorful currency, the use of Celsius over Fahrenheit, and the whole driving on the opposite side of the road thing.

Since New Zealand is a commonwealth country, I think for Daniel, transitioning back to an English-speaking country hasn’t been such a difficult adjustment. It’s probably part of the reason why he loves New Zealand so much: it reminds him of England. For me, however, I’ve needed to adjust a bit more than him.

I have previously discussed that after living somewhere new, the cultural norms start to rub off on you. You start to do things their way and mimic their behavior, whether it’s intentional or not. But what influences this behavior? Is it because we want to blend in? Or is there some other reason? For me, I want to blend in.

Whenever I would travel somewhere else in the States, I didn’t want to appear as a tourist. So when the time came and a couple asked Daniel and I where such and such a place was in New York, it was a bit of a compliment. The same thing happened here in Auckland. Ah, ha! We don’t look like clueless foreigners after all. (Though Clueless Foreigners  is our pub trivia team name.)

However, being a foreigner in South Korea, it was easy to stand out as being different and not belonging there. I’d always look like a tourist. Now that I’m in New Zealand, I have a better chance to blend in more. At least by my outer appearance. As soon I speak though, people know I am different. They hear a funny accent, although not always entirely sure where from. One boy who I work with thought I was Irish.

A tourist in Thailand.

The mimicking behavior isn’t limited to being in a new country, either. Being surrounded by certain people can start to rub off on you. Having been around Daniel for so long, I’ve started to mirror some of his words, which actually has helped me understand New Zealand terms. I know that when a kid asks if I have a rubber, he means an eraser, and not a condom. I know the word fanny should be avoided because it means something entirely different outside of the US. And I know that jelly doesn’t belong on a sandwich, but jam does.

Even though I want to blend in, I feel like a big, fat phony. You see, Americans tend to have a bad reputation overseas: we’re loud, we’re proud, and we want everyone to hear our opinion. Me, though? I’m not anything like that. I know that I belong in one of these commonwealth countries. I’m not a gun-totin’, red-white-and-blue wearin’, and hamburger eatin’ Amurican. Am I embarrassed about the place where I come from? Maybe. I don’t want others to hear my accent and place me into that category.

I try to blend in as much as I can, even if that means talking like a Kiwi. It started when I found myself saying the words, ‘Go put it in the rubbish bin, please.’ Rubbish bin? That word sounds so… unlike me, and I felt silly saying it, but the kids never questioned it.

Was I finally blending in New Zealand?

Sitting on Kapiti Island near Wellington, New Zealand.

Nope. I’ve been pronouncing pukeko and kumara, two things I’ve grown to love here, wrong the entire six months. All that time I thought I was blending in, but really I was just looking like an idiot. The polite Kiwis were just too nice to say otherwise. I now cringe at the thought of ordering kumara (sweet potato) fries all those times before while they no doubt secretly laughed at me.

Even though I want to, I don’t think I’ll truly ever blend in. Unfortunately, I will always be an American!

Have you ever tried fitting into a new place? What did you do, and how did it go? Share with me your experiences below. 

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