Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Incomplete adaptation

The Instagram photo above was about a find, some food, junk food, really, and not important. And yet, it’s actually about something else: How even after all these years I still find ways of recapturing what I don’t have in New Zealand. This is a useful thing and, I think, a good thing.

In this case, it was about cookies that are very much like what my mother used to make. I’ve said similar things about the chilli from Wendy’s. Apart from that, I’ve sometimes described some cafe’s pizza as being “the most like American pizza I’ve had”, until Sal’s came along, serving New York-style pizza.

I’ve also written several times about trying to find subsitutes for things I couldn’t get in New Zealand. Recently, I also wrote about some of the problems associated with trying to adapt my American recipies. Sometimes, this is the only solution because there is no store-bought product that is similar enough to whatever I had in America.

But, of course, it’s not all about food. For example, there’s also language, another topic I’ve written about several times, including just last Friday as part of this year’s Ask Arthur series. Language can actually be the hardest thing of all.

I was reminded of this yesterday when I was writing about coming up with organising solutions for our kitchen drawers. The specific context was that about the same time I was actually working on the project there also just happened to be several Kiwis writing “draws” on Facebook posts when they meant “drawers”. This is because in the New Zealand accent, the two words are homophones—words that sound alike but that have different meanings, and often different spelling (“bare” and “bear” are more good examples).

I’ve run into this same thing for as long as I’ve been in New Zealand. The most common is when Kiwis write “sort” when they mean “sought”. Again, they sound alike in the Kiwi accent.

The version of HGTV in New Zealand is running a commercial for House Hunters International in which a perky young American woman says she was searching for overseas job opportunities “and New Zealand popped up on the list”. Later in the ad she says, “although the accent will take some getting used to”. It’s the homophones that can make it hard even for me, not because I can’t tell what they mean (context usually tells you that), but because it hints at how vowels and stresses can be very different from other English speakers. Every once in awhile even I get caught out—and it’s usually kind of funny when I do.

Taken together, what all this means is that even after 22 years in New Zealand, I’m not totally assimilated, and that means my adaptation to New Zealand is incomplete. I tend to think this will always be true in some way, no matter how long I live here, and I bet I’m not the only English-speaker this is true for.

This probably doesn’t matter—it doesn’t affect the quality of my life, and it doesn’t cause any problems. But it’s something that most people would never even think about when beginning an expartiate journey, and that IS important because it implies that at least in small ways, being an expat never ends.

But, I’ve only been here 22 years so far. Ask me about it in 2039.

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