[The Same but Different]
Living in Hawaiʻi has made a lot of who I am in a way. I view my home as a very special place that is like no other place in the United States. And this is not just me wanting to brag about where I live, but Iʻve heard from many people that the customs and way of life in Hawaiʻi are very different than the rest of the U.S. Coming to another Polynesian country, I was interested to see the parallels and differences there were from Hawai’i and so far I’ve learned that there are a lot of both. First of all, Aotearoa is the original Maori name for New Zealand and I will refer to it as so from here on out. Now the similarities. The Hawaiian and Maori languages are very similar. There are many parallels in certain words. For example, the word for water in both languages is “wai”. In Hawaii, we use the word “aloha” to mean hello, goodbye, and love. In Maori, the phrase “Aroha Nui” means much love, or with deep affection.
When listening to the Maori language being spoken, I feel like I’m back home because the language sounds so similar. The history of both cultures is quite similar as well. In both countries the native people were colonized by European settlers who took possession of the land by force. Native people suffered greatly from the colonization and were forced to give up their home and their way of life to foreigners. In both Hawai’i and Aotearoa, I see a push from people to strengthen traditions and culture that were once repressed. This effort is something that I truly admire about both my home and Aotearoa.
I find these cultural traditions truly beautiful because they are rooted in a deep and intimate connection with the land and the world around us. Being someone who loves nature, these traditions and ways of life are very appealing to me. The differences I’ve experienced are definitely in a lot of the slang that is used around here. What I would call slippers, they call jandals or slides. What I call a shopping cart, they call a trolley. When I would say something like “sweet” or “cool” they say “sweet as”. The list goes on. I’m actually quite enjoying learning all of the cool slang and shooting to adopt a sweet kiwi accent before I head back home. I’m well on my way because today I actually used the word “cheeky” in a sentence. Cheeky can have a load of meanings such as, mysterious, flirtatious, sly, cunning, sassy, rude, naughty, etc. It all depends on the context of the word.
It’s interesting being here as an American. I knew that around the world there were bad stereotypes about Americans, and my goal coming here was to try and prove that we weren’t all bad people. I also knew that I would most likely face some of these stereotypes but I don’t think any amount of preparation can prepare you to actually face these stereotypes when they come your way. When I was first met with blatant stereotyping, it was difficult because it was a situation where I actually fit in with the stereotype. I was talking to someone who was trying to recruit members to a wildlife conservation group and was immediately interested because that is really what I’m all about. Turns out I couldn’t be a member as a non-Kiwi, so I just ended up chatting with the dude.
He ended telling me that he was from Albania. He then proceeded to ask me if I knew where Albania was. I answered honestly saying “No I don’t” he then replied with, “of course you don’t, your American”. Honestly, the statement rubbed me the wrong way at first. I think there is a stereotype that Americans are uncultured and self-centered therefore they don’t know geography really well. Personally I don’t remember a huge emphasis being placed on geography when I was in school. I also moved around a lot so every time I moved, my school would be at a different place of learning than the last school I was at. This left a lot of gaps in my knowledge of certain subjects that other people had covered in school. Geography was one of them. On top of that I believe living in the middle of the pacific ocean somewhat isolates you to the rest of the world, but who knows maybe the stereotype is true.
Either way I didn’t appreciate being put into a box that was associated with something negative anyway. After a brief moment of being offended I decided to brush it off and continue talking to him. He actually turned out to be really nice and gave me lots of great suggestions to do while I’m here. Funniest thing is that as I was writing this, he messaged me with more suggestions for places to go. I haven’t spoke to him since our encounter so its pretty ironic! In the end I think it was a bit of a lesson that a lot of people stereotype without even really thinking about it, or having bad intentions at all.
I know I’m probably guilty of it. I think when being stereotyped by a person, its good to try and put those opinions or assumptions behind you and let them get to know you first (if they are willing). Hopefully they get the opportunity to form another opinion about you if their assumptions are wrong. In my situation I actually did fit into the stereotype, and you know what came out of it was that I went home and looked up where Albania was shortly after that. I learned something, and now the next time someone asks me if I know where it is I can tell them exactly where (Its on southeastern Europe’s Balkan peninsula in between Greece and Italy in case you were wondering).
There are other small hints at stereotypes about American culture and american people that friends from the U.S. have experienced as well, but these are just small tiny moments that are thousand times outweighed by all the love and positivity and support there is from and for all of the people here. Especially in light of recent tragic events. Events that remind us all about the dangers of putting people into categories based on where they come from or what they believe in. This event shows what happens when people take stereotypes to extremes.
On March 15th, there was a mass shooting in Christchurch. 49 People lost their lives. This type of event is so unusual in Aotearoa, it hasn’t happened for about 20 years now. Seeing the strength and support from multiple communities who have come together in this time of immense sadness was truly touching. We had a vigil at our school where we lit candles and many people came to give their condolences. It made me realize how much of a peaceful country this is, coming from a place where mass shootings happen relatively frequently. This is a beautiful place where this event has brought people together closer than they were before and its something I want to bring back to my own country. I truly am falling in love with this country and the people in it as well.
I didn’t take a lot of photos this week so some of these are a bit outdated :P