The B Word

There seems to be a love affair with the B word in New Zealand education: bullying.

There’s no denying that bullying occurs. That would be like denying breathing keeps us alive. But the use of the word disturbs me in the fact that, from what I have encountered in my professional life, the B word is thrown around a bit too freely and a bit too quickly at things that are not usually bullying.
Read The B Word

Worlds Apart

By the time you read this, I’ll be jetlagged to here and back in Chicago on the first evening on our a six-week visit.  I honestly am excited beyond words.  Well, as excited as I can be with depersonalisation (although it does come ashore and retreat like the tide, and really depends on the day and how much stress I’ve had that day).

I was texting back-and-forth with my sister-in-law Darcie on Sunday, and the subject of living in New Zealand and visiting my stomping grounds in Chicago came up.  I have spoken about this before with other people, so the concept isn’t exactly new to me, but I thought it seemed timely to bring it up again.


Since I’m not well for the second day in a row, I thought I’d share a blog from Scholars and Rogues about gay marriage in the USA. Enjoy!

Progressive Culture | Scholars & Rogues

CATEGORY: LGBTIt’s been an interesting few days.

  • The American Benefits Council and 278 employers, organizations and municipalities have filed a friend of the court brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in a case regarding the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
  • Earlier today the far right Drudge Report was linking to a story outlining a new study that suggests gay marriage may save lives.
  • A large and growing list of prominent Republicans “have added their names to a legal brief urging the Supreme Court to declare that gay couples have a constitutional right to wed.” The list includes Mitt Romney, “prominent commentators and strategists Alex Castellanos, David Frum, Rich Galen, Mark McKinnon, Mike Murphy and Steve Schmidt; Mary Cheney; Ben Ginsberg, counsel to the Mitt Romney presidential campaign; George W. Bush administration officials Kevin and Catherine Martin, and Mark and Nicolle Wallace; and operatives ranging from Ken Duberstein, former chief of staff to Ronald…

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Miscommunication Between Cultures, Part 3

Hopefully Vladimir doesn’t kill me for posting this story.  Sorry, Vladimir!

Noel and I met Vladimir on a penpal service.  He was a Russian guy moving to New Zealand to be with a Kiwi guy he’d met on the same penpal service; they felt they had a lot in common and they’d get along fine.

When we’d met Vladimir and his Kiwi boyfriend after the boyfriend had picked Vladimir up at Christchurch International Airport, Noel and I had a strong feeling that it wasn’t going to last.  Here was the Kiwi boyfriend: checkered flannel shirt, work jeans, down-on-the-farm boots; and Vladimir: leather pants, flamenco dancing shoes, black dress shirt buttoned to the bottom of the pectorals, red bandana tied around his head.  The Russian guy from urban Moscow, the Kiwi guy from rural Otago in New Zealand.

In short: different as chalk and cheese.

I said to Vladimir, in private, that if things didn’t work out, he always had a place to stay with us.  Having moved to another country, I knew what it was like, and I wanted him to know he had options if things didn’t work out.

A few weeks later, he called on the phone, crying, to say it wasn’t working out.

So, Vladimir moved to Christchurch and lived in our spare room.  (This is all a story in itself that I’ll cover another time.)


One day, Noel, Vladimir, and I went to the liquor store to get some booze.  When we walked in, we could tell someone had dropped a bottle or three of something sweet smelling because it hung in the air.

Noel went off on a mission to find whatever he was looking for, and Vladimir whipped out a small book, looked something up, then proudly announced: “It smells like crotch in here!”

I looked at him funny and probably said, “What?!?”  Then: “I think you have the wrong word.”

“No, no.  Crotch.  It smells like crotch in here!”

“I think you should look that word up again in your book.”

Vladimir got more adamant as the five other people in the store were staring at him.  He pointed at the book.  “Crotch.  It smells like crotch in here!”

I snatched the book out of his hands, trying to flip open the book, but half of it was in Russian so I had no idea what I was looking for.  “Find the word again and show me.”

He started to flip through the book, turning a page over, turning another page, and then, running his finger down the lines on the page he’d been on before, he found the word.  He smiled, but the smile faded into a frown.

“What word did you mean?”

“Oh.  Cranberry.  I meant it smells like cranberry in here…”

“That makes more sense.”  I felt all the eyes in the shop veer back away from us.  We resumed shopping.

“What’s a crotch?”  The question came out of the blue.

“Uh, I think we’ll talk about that on the way home…”

Miscommunication Between Cultures, Part 2

Hopefully Yves doesn’t kill me for posting this story.  Sorry, Yves!

When I was studying at Northern Illinois University, we used to make supply runs to the local Jewel grocery store.  Of course, this necessitated us having a car, so when someone with a car presented themselves, to Jewel we could a-go.

One day, my friend Yves (originally from Switzerland) and I were wandering through Jewel, dodging the local old ladies who seemed to always be there, haphazardly pushing their shopping carts around with three items in them.  It was kinda like running into the middle of a bumper car ring, hoping you wouldn’t get hit… more than 20 times.

Suddenly, Yves remembered something and started to walk faster.  I tried to keep up.  “What’s the matter?” I called out after him.

“I remember something I need…”  Dodging old ladies, he dashed down one aisle, only to emerge as I got there.


He frantically went to the next aisle and looked down it.  “Stuff… You know.  Stuff.  To douche with.”

I kinda cocked my head and said, “Um, I don’t think that’s the word you’re looking for.”

“Yes, it’s right.  Stuff to douche with!” He was getting more agitated as he looked for the aisle.

“I think, just maybe, you’re talking about soap…?”

Bars of Soap

“Yeah.  Soap to douche with!”  That time was a bit too loud, because a little old lady and her cart collided with an end-cap.

“Ah, here it is!” His voice sound relieved, although he had a look of concern as he looked over at the group of little old ladies and a shop assistant trying to clean up the spilled contents of the end cap.

Yves was going through the soap to see which brand he wanted, cheerfully inserting the word “douche” into every sentence he could when another old lady passed him and gave him a scolding look.

Our following conversation went a bit like this:

“Uh, I think we need to stop using that word.”

“Which word?”

“Douche,” I hissed under my breath.

“Why?  It means, you know, to clean your body.”  Using a voice everyone within 3 feet can hear…

“Not in American English it doesn’t!”

Yves looked puzzled, like Data trying to comprehend something not programmed into his experience on Star Trek: The Next Generation.  He found the brand he was looking for and placed it in the cart or basket (I can’t remember which).  “Oh.  So what does douche mean in English?”  Still in the normal voice.

Quiet conspiracy voice: “It’s a female thing.”

Normal voice: “What kind of female thing?”

“I’ll tell you in the car on the way home.  I’m not discussing this in Jewel!”

Miscommunication Between Cultures, Part 1

I was tired.  And jetlagged.  But I was desperately trying to stay awake.

I’d only arrived in New Zealand the day before, and Noel and I were going to the supermarket to pick up some groceries.

Getting out the car, Noel said to me, “Is there anything you want from the supermarket?”

The sun was too bright, so I squinted back as I shut my door.  “Sure.  I wouldn’t mind some Carefree.”

He looked at me strangely.  “What?”

“Carefree.  You know, to chew on.”

His expression turned even more puzzled.  “Uh…”

I thought something was super-weird with his reaction, so I fished around in my jeans pocket until I found the pack.  Out came the pack of chewing gum.

Carefree chewing gum
Carefree chewing gum

I showed him the pack, and he started to laugh.

“What’s so funny?”

“In New Zealand, Carefree are panty-liners!”

Carefree panty-liners
Carefree panty-liners

You Can Say “Happy 4th of July” But You Can’t Say “Happy Waitangi Day”?!?

Many countries have a national day, a day that’s a holiday but celebrates or recognizes their heritage, culture, and history.  In the USA, we have Independence Day, more commonly called “The Fourth of July”.  It’s a day where we acknowledge the country’s brave founders, men and women who declared their independence from the British Empire in a document called the Declaration of Independence on 4 July 1776.  The rest, they say, is history.

Fourth of July Fireworks near the Statue of Liberty
Photo from The Hot Sheet Blog –

When I lived in the US, we would either gather with family or with friends (or a combination of both) and see the local parade before having a BBQ and maybe watch the village’s fireworks display that night.  It’s usually a day to hang out, celebrate, and enjoy your freedom.  The key word here is “celebrate”.

Most importantly, when you see friends and family or even people you don’t or may barely know, you say, “Happy 4th of July”.  It’s just kinda a normal thing to say.

New Zealand’s equivalent to Independence Day is Waitangi Day.  Originally not always recognized as a public holiday, Waitangi Day switched its name to New Zealand Day for a while until Muldoon’s government felt the name “New Zealand Day” detracted from the significance of the day:  the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi between the British and Māori on 6 February 1840.  And so, the name reverted back to Waitangi Day.

The first Waitangi Day I spent here, I went around wishing everyone a “Happy Waitangi Day”.  People kinda looked at me like I was nuts; they were probably thinking I was some crazy Yank who had no clue what he was talking about.  Noel said that one really didn’t wish people a “Happy Waitangi Day” in New Zealand.  I knew there had been issues around the day, most significantly the injustices some Māori felt the British had created under the Treaty.  To be honest, the New Zealand Government has, for the most part, made big leaps and bounds in addressing these grievances in an attempt to help Māori achieve and succeed.  At least, I kept telling some people who’d go on about how poorly the British (and then New Zealand government) had treated Māori, they didn’t displace Māori from their land then place them on reservations or segregate them from the general public like other countries with indigenous people had done. *cough* America *cough* Australia *cough* Many African countries. *cough*

The Fourth of July in the US is a day of celebration and recognition.  More importantly, it’s a day of pride and patriotism for the country.

Waitangi Day is a public holiday.  Some people have BBQs, some just chill and hang out, some go shopping.  For more radical activists on both ends of the spectrum, it is a day of protest, activism, and division.

Protests at Waitangi Day Celebrations
Photo from Stuff.

Case in point from this year:  Titewhai Harawira threw her toys out of the cot because marae elders wanted another kuia (female elder) to lead Prime Minister John Key onto the Waitangi marae.  This is the same woman who told former Prime Minister Helen Clark she couldn’t speak on the marae due to Māori protocol not allowing women to speak on the marae yet doesn’t follow that same protocol herself.  She made Clark cry.  I wasn’t the biggest fan of Helen Clark, but the woman was our Prime Minister; she deserved more respect from a woman who claims she’s full of mana.

It doesn’t end there, good people.  No, one of Titewhai’s offspring decided to disrupt a re-enactment.  One of her other sons, Mana party leader and MP Hone Harawira, who isn’t above courting controversy himself, stated that Waitangi Day is, “about focusing on issues that were important to Māori.” Two of Hone Harawira’s nephews assaulted the Prime Minister on Waitangi Day in 2009.

(Noel said yesterday, when the whole Titewhai bun-fighting over who would lead the PM onto the marae affair raised its ugly head, that he thought the entire family should be tied to a flagpole or banned entirely…)

Those from the other end of the spectrum probably have or will emerge to say that that Māori shouldn’t have any special rights above others and the Treaty of Waitangi should be scrapped, or Waitangi Day should be de-legitimized as a public holiday in place of another national day, like ANZAC Day.  Even former ACT MP Dr. Muriel Newman called Waitangi Day “Our national day of shame” and argues her reasons why it is.

I personally don’t feel these actions are solutions to the problems.  Sure, Māori may have legitimate grievances, but there are many other days throughout the year and many processes, including the Waitangi Tribunal, to address these.  Likewise, those non-Māori calling for the abolishment of Waitangi Day (and everything associated with it) should push harder to make it a day of celebration.

I think there’s a small fringe of radicals on either side of the political spectrum, jumping up and down, making a lot of noise.  Of course, to sell papers or raise ratings, the media latch on to this like a leech to its host.  This kinda stuff sells.  It might sell, but it’s divisive and destructive.

Even Labour leader David Shearer, a man I honestly don’t have a lot of time for, expressed his opinions supporting celebrating Waitangi Day in the Dominion Post today.

In the US, the saying, “United we stand, divided we fall”, is important.  United, as a nation, we can do anything.  So, as our national day, the day on which our modern nation of New Zealand was essentially created, as an agreement between non-Māori and Māori alike to co-exist harmoniously, we need to think of ways to celebrate those things that make us different but, more importantly, those things that make us great as a nation.

Let’s go forward and use the day wisely, as a celebration of all things New Zealand, all things Kiwi, all things that makes this beautiful, wonderful country great.

Happy Waitangi Day!