We arrived in Auckland, New Zealand, to begin our first trip “Down Under.” This relatively new country was settled over 100 years ago, meaning when the Europeans arrived, as if the Maori people who had been here for 1,000 years hadn’t settled anything. (I detect a kind of international pattern in this observation.)
Things do seem upside-down here. March 1st was the first day of fall. The kiwis, as local people call themselves, are putting away their summer things and preparing for the onset of some serious snow in May in the nearby mountains. A glass of iced tea can cost five bucks. A gallon of gas, if they sold it by the gallon, would be about nine bucks. A liter of the precious stuff costs about $2.15. Squirrels are burying nuts for the winter. As we go from north to south in New Zealand, the average temperature drops, partly because winter is coming and partly because going south here brings you closer to Antarctica and those enchanting penguins that march until they drop.
Some people in areas of the U. S. outside the South look down their noses at Southerners. This is partly because the South lost the Civil War, and partly because the South was on the morally wrong side of the slavery issue. Another reason that some non-southerners in the U. S. look down upon Southerners is because of an accent that to the Northern ear sounds unsophisticated or maybe even backward, the way a bunch of hicks or rednecks are imagined to sound.
Just the opposite is the case in New Zealand. The Southern man is revered throughout the country. He is seen as tough, heroic, independent minded, romantic, what boys want to be when they grow up.
Arriving farther south in Queenstown, we sit in a local establishment called Speights, whose deft marketing campaign captures this sentiment exquisitely. The company now has seventeen branches throughout New Zealand, after having started in the Scottish-dominated city of Dunedin. Here we notice several things “Southern” that on first blush we might expect to find in Mississippi or South Carolina. First was a display case of fine hardwood mounted high on a wall with a bold newspaper headline-type layout saying, “HOW TO BE A SOUTHERN MAN.” Surrounding that headline is the silhouette of a Marlboro-type man riding his horse in front of a snowy mountain range, a larger image of a cowboy in a hat like many of those seen in Texas, an image of a grimacing rugby player who is going all out for the team, and a full-size miner’s lantern.
Next we saw a table with a heavy metal rim below the top that reads, “Pride of the South.” This motif is repeated on all the tables in the restaurant bar area, as well as on the matching barstools. Again, this felt like walking into a prideful restaurant and bar in the southern region of the U. S. Adding to that feeling was a place full of happy and friendly people who speak with a distinctly British accent and carry a trademark look of merry mischief in their eyes.
Finally there was a large poster that could be found in a southern Alabama catfish shack titled, “Southern Man Song.” Here are the lyrics that could bring a tear to your eye:
Lyrics to the Southern Man Song
So much seems familiar here in New Zealand! It’s a whole nother take on what it means to be Southern.