Thursday, December 30, 2010


Every year, I start many blog posts that for one reason or another I never publish. This is one of those abandoned posts, hauled out, cleaned up and presented as one that didn’t make it—until now.

It rains during Auckland’s winter. In fact, it rains quite a bit—well, it would, being the wettest time of year, and the coldest. Maybe it’s that seasonal dampness that’s behind the anti-Auckland jokes the rest of the country likes so much, right? Well…

The jokes are old and stale, but they go like this: Q: What do you call two days of rain in Auckland? A: A weekend. Q: What do you call three days of rain? A: A holiday weekend. Q: And what’s four days of rain in Auckland called? A: Easter Weekend.

It was probably the first anti-Auckland joke I heard when I arrived in New Zealand, and I quickly found a disconnect: It clearly didn’t rain nearly as much in Auckland as the joke suggested, not even in Winter, so what was the deal?

Weather data shows that in an average year Rotorua receives far more rain than Auckland, and Wellington gets more, too—yet neither gets made fun of. The reason becomes apparent in the stats from the South Island: Christhurch, Dunedin and Queenstown all get less rain than Auckland in an average year. If you want to know the source of the joke, look South—and know the rest of the country will gladly join in telling the joke.

People in the rest of New Zealand refer to someone from Auckland as a JAFA—Just Another Fucking Aucklander—as if everyone here’s the same. They say we’re all rich, arrogant and have no concept of anything “south of the Bombays” (the hills at the south of the Auckland region).

Why the antipathy?

According to the 2006 Census, 37% of people in the Auckland region were born overseas, most commonly in the United Kingdom. Auckland has been the destination-of-choice for migrants who typically don’t move to rural areas (while many migrants choose other cities, Auckland rates the highest). Add in the Aucklanders who were born in other parts of the country, and it turns out that a large percentage of the region’s residents weren’t born in it.

However, it’s unlikely that the large foreign-born population is the issue. Some people, especially those who think all those foreigners are Asian, may focus on this, but I doubt it’s the main reason for the antipathy because racism just isn’t as big a driver in New Zealand as it is in other places.

Is it size, then? The Auckland Region has 32.4 percent of New Zealand's population. In fact, Auckland has more people than the entire South Island. Moreover, the economic activity in the Auckland region was estimated at 36% of New Zealand's national GDP, and 15% more than the entire South Island. This is what I think is at the heart of the issue: Auckland is bigger and more economically powerful than any other city in New Zealand and that has bred resentment.

To be sure, Auckland has sometimes done itself no favours, occasionally focusing so much on its needs that the rest of the country feels put upon. However, as has been well documented in many places, Auckland pays more in all taxes to Central Government than it receives back in funding: Auckland has been subsidising works projects in other parts of the country. It took Central Government decades to agree to fix Auckland’s broken motorway system, which by conservative estimates cost the New Zealand economy millions of dollars a year in lost productivity alone.

The newly unified Auckland will probably affect this in two ways. First, it’ll make Auckland’s lobbying of Central Government much more efficient and, potentially, effective. But it will also surely increase resentment of Auckland in the rest of the country. That could create new political tensions, but with the size and dominance of Auckland—which are projected to increase substantially over the next 25 years—the rest of the country will have to learn to live with the reality of Auckland. They may not like it, some will resent it, and they’ll certainly continue to make dumb jokes, but none of that changes the reality of Auckland’s importance to the country.

So, if someone asks, “what do you call two rainy days in Auckland?” the correct answer is: “Two days of rain. What’s it called where you live?”


Reed said...

ok, so now I am confused -- I thought Auckland had really sweet weather all the time and that was why we were supposed to poke at you all.

I'll have to consult with my cultural adviser when people start coming back to work. But shes from Christchurch so...

epilonious said...

Sounds like the whole "JAFA" thing is just the usual regional "taking the piss" that can be found anywhere...

I live "Outside the Perimeter" in Atlanta, and that creates all sorts of friction with the ITP folk...

Arthur Schenck said...

Reed: Maybe I can help: The reason that the rest of NZers make fun of Auckland is different from their excuse—the weather (which isn't half bad, IMHO). And most don't limit their, um, "joking" to just the weather, but it's one of the most common focuses of jokes.

I have theories about the reason for the jokes, some of which I touched on in the post, but the rest I'd best keep to myself. For now, at least.

epilonious: Yes, that's it exactly. When I lived in Illinois, there was a HUGE rivalry between Chicago and Downstate. In the Republican collar counties, where I grew up, we hated Chicago as much as the rest of the state, but when I went to University in Southern Illinois, I found out that to them I was from Chicago, too. It changed my perspectives—and banished my antipathy—completely. I eventually even moved into Chicago.

So, when I moved to NZ, I had a different perspective on the whole thing, a bit like you must do with all your travelling. It seems kind of silly to me, to be honest.