My mind has been swirling from everything I experienced on my trip to New Zealand. I’ve been searching out where to start blogging about my experiences, which conversations to share, which photos I took.
The somewhat strange, but not exactly surprising place I would like to start with is a few differences that stood out to me.
While I was touring the South Island of New Zealand, I joined a tour group that composed of 34 Aussies (Australians), 2 Kiwis (as New Zealanders call themselves), 4 Brits, 2 Canadians, a lovely couple from India and I was one of three Americans. Since nearly everyone there was a member of the British Commonwealth, the American couple and I were asked a LOT of questions about the U.S. and how we do things.
One of the first things I was asked was, “Why do you all have clothes driers?” I had never thought about it. Especially living in Phoenix I could see their point, that we were wasting energy and money by paying to dry our clothes when we could simply hang them out.
This led to a conversation on Home Owner’s Associations, and how we pay people in our neighborhoods to tell us what we can and cannot do on our own property. (They have such things for apartment complexes, what they call blocks of units, because they are owned by someone else; but not for homes).
They were shocked that I had never been on a real train before. I explained that in the States unless you were afraid to fly most of us take a plane because it usually costs the same as a train and you get there faster. They were genuinely surprised that I had never had Pavlova before (Aussies and Kiwis argue about which of them invented Pavlova, a sugary meringue usually served with fruit/fruit sauce and whipped cream).
They were all very concerned for me and the other Americans with all the news about Hurricane Sandy. They all wanted to know if I was from there or if I knew anyone there. We explained I was from Arizona and the other Americans were from Maine, but it soon became obvious no one knew where our states were in relation to New York/New Jersey. (I knew how that went since the Aussies would tell me they were from New South Wales or Queensland, which I had heard of but had no idea where they were in relation to each other).
The biggest thing they all wanted to talk about was the election (groan). I did my part, I voted before I left. I encouraged others to vote. I had hoped to escape all the hubbub and focus on my vacation; but it was everywhere.
I think this trip, more than anything, made me understand what influence the USA has in the world. New Zealand news-breaks always included status reports on the election campaigns, with two of their reporters in the US covering both sides of the nominees.
My fellow travelers nearly all asked me if I had voted, and some asked me what I thought of the elections. I realized how concerned the Aussies and Kiwis were about the US and who was leading it. The Brits were interested and had their own very strong opinions about who should win. The Canadians talked about how they hated the US elections because for them, it meant one solid year of hearing about how their own country could be negatively impacted by this-and-that if certain things happened in the election.
The most astonishing thing for me, however, was when one of them said to me, “Voting there isn’t compulsory?” Apparently within the British Commonwealth, everyone is REQUIRED to vote. If your vote turns up missing after the election, you receive a “nasty letter and a stiff fine”.
The idea shocked me. Being FORCED to vote. Being penalized if you DIDN’T vote. It’s another freedom we take for granted. We all jump on the grumble-and-groan bus about how we are sick of the campaign ads and the mudslinging. We all agree (usually) that we wish for a different kind of person to vote for. Both sides are usually lacking so we are stuck between two less-than-our-preference options. So often I hear people complain about the current state of things, and then later they mention how they didn’t even bother to vote because “what difference would it make?”
Even though the US is in the same league as the UK and Australian and New Zealand in the countries of the world, I still came back from this trip recognizing things I take for granted as a US citizen. I have so many choices in my life. Do I really make the most of them?