From a cultural standpoint, the US is not very different from New Zealand, so adjusting to the customs and language of the island was pretty easy for all of the Americans visiting for the first time. Aside from remembering to look right rather than left when crossing any street, there were only a few choice words which took some learning or getting used to. After two weeks traveling around the North Island of New Zealand, here is one American’s interpretation of some of the most useful Kiwi lingo.
This is an important one, as the word takes on three distinct meanings and is almost central to the New Zealander identity. First, you have the green-on-the-inside-hairy-on-the-outside fruit that the people of the rest of the world know, love and are sometimes allergic to. That’s still a kiwi in New Zealand, although there it’s usually called “kiwifruit.” But the Kiwi is most formally recognized as the small flightless bird endemic to New Zealand. With this, Kiwi has also become a common description for any person from New Zealand. So in theory, one could say, “Look, there’s a Kiwi eating a kiwi with a Kiwi on her shoulder,” without actually repeating the word “kiwi.” Unfortunately, that’s not something I ever saw.
This word still has the same meaning as it does in the rest of the English language, only it becomes much more widely used in New Zealand in replace of words like “very” or “a lot.” You hear it heaps.
This is probably my favorite word to hear regularly in New Zealand, generally used to describe a willingness or eagerness to do something. For example, when Dave Chami asked if I was keen to go to New Zealand, there was no question in my mind. I was keen. Heaps keen.
“Sweet-as,” is a common saying used by New Zealanders that’s essentially a nod of recognition, much like “cool,” “good,” “right on,” “thank you” or even “see you later.” “Sweet-as” is most favorably followed by “bro,” which at first just sounds like “sweet ass bro,” a bizarre compliment to hear from your waiter or passing strangers watching you skate. I think what has happened in New Zealand is that over time its people have accepted the omission of the noun in what would otherwise be a simple simile, like “sweet as honey.” It is as if one day some Kiwi couldn’t think of what to follow his adjective with, so he just said nothing. “Oh that trick was sweet! It was sweet as…sweet as….” It wasn’t long before the Kiwi people decided that this was a good way to simplify any description or even just end any conversation. You also might hear this simile incompletion with other adjectives, like “good-as” or “keen-as.” But “sweet-as” is really where it’s at.
To “whinge” basically means, “to complain.” For example, one day on the trip I was having some difficulty skating a waxed ledge in a park.
“I don’t understand, this ledge won’t tail slide! I hate it!”
Dennis promptly leaned over to me and said, “Quit your whinging and just put some balls into it.”
He then proceeded to smash into the ledge and slide a backside tail slide with ease. I tried to refrain from any whinging in front of Busenitz from there on out.
I love the word “rubbish,” even though in New Zealand it just means trash with every negative connotation that accompanies trash. But when used to describe something like, “That 5-0 grind was rubbish,” when spoken by a Kiwi it almost has a positive ring to it. So even though Dave just told me that my 5-0 grind was rubbish, or in other words shitty, with his accent and friendly demeanor it sounded more like, “That 5-0 grind wasn’t that good, but it was still pretty cool.”
While in US the C-word (that rhymes with runt) is one of the most crude and vile words one could speak next to offensive racial slurs, in New Zealand this word casually rolls off the tongue with an almost endearing quality. Kind of like how “kook” might describe someone who both annoys you and entertains you, or someone who you love with equal disdain.
“Ranga,” pronounced with a hard “g,” is a word I especially appreciated as it describes someone who is a red head. Ginger is also used of course, only with a hard “g” sound as well. As a Ranga, I feel the word invokes a more bad ass sound to it, as I believe it’s in reference to an Orangutan. Sadly, just like the rest of this cruel world, it’s still not very cool to be a ranga in New Zealand.
So to briefly summarize the trip using the vernacular, I’ll put it like this. While we skated with locals in every city we visited, Dave Chami and Bill and Craig Bycroft were the only Kiwis traveling in our van. They handled everything we needed and were pretty much as sweet-as as they come. Damn, I think I messed that one up. We never saw a Kiwi in person and we were careful to avoid purchasing any kiwifruit at the super markets, as they all were imported from Italy, which just didn’t seem right. Fish and Chips meals were easily the most popular cuisine of our trip while camping was the preferred method of sleeping. Dennis Busenitz got heaps of footage, even at spots that some would consider rubbish. Josh Matthews and Joey Pepper were keen to start and finish every day by jumping in whatever body of water that was nearest to them, be it the ocean, a lake or a freezing cold river. Nestor’s checked bag failed to arrive with him in Auckland and despite not receiving it for ten days, he never once whinged. Like most skate trips, I was the only ranga in the van. This was fine, because fortunately no one in the van was the kind of C-word who would bully a ranga. In general, the entire trip was incredible, or in other words…incredible-as? No, no, that doesn’t sound right. The trip was sweet-as? Let’s just call it sweet. It was a sweet ass trip.