Dona’s comment here, emphasising that she was not implying that Britain and New Zealand are the same, reminded me of a dinner conversation with one of the American guests at Ulusaba. He was living in Nigeria, and we were chatting about the high cost of imported products.
“Of course,” he said, “I guess you find that too?”
I shook my head, puzzled. “What do you mean?”
“I guess you have to import everything and have high duties.”
“Import everything?” I said, still feeling puzzled.
“You know, you’re islands, so you import everything from the mainland.”
“The mainland?” I shook my head again, suspecting I knew what he meant, but giving him the opportunity to redeem/hang himself.
He chose the noose.
“The mainland,” he said again, as if I was a bit dim. “You know, Australia.”
I pretended to be very offended.
“You mean the completely separate country that is not part of New Zealand and is, by the way, a four hour flight away?”
The other Americans at the table viewed my (slightly over-acted) horror with glee. “Oh no you didn’t!” they said, shocked, to the guy.
I guess I shouldn’t be so mean. But unfortunately we encounter this lack of knowledge is most common in … well, in some parts of Asia, but mainly with Americans. The typical stereotypes we face when we travel are that
a) we’re part of Australia (sacrilege!), and that
b) we’re just off the … cough … mainland. A short flight, or perhaps, separated by a bridge.
I explained that, in fact, New Zealand has very low tariffs, when we have them at all. That we are a very open economy, active traders, major exporters, no subsidies.
The guy didn’t know when to let up though. “So, how do you survive?”
It was obvious he viewed New Zealand as a small group of islands, perhaps a bit like Fiji, or the Bahamas, rather than a country slightly larger (in terms of land area) than Great Britain. I explained a little bit more about our economy. Our world-leading agricultural and horticultural products, the importance of tourism, of our high-tech industries, etc, trying to get him to understand that we’re a relatively sophisticated developed country in our own right, even if there are only 4.5 million of us. I don’t think he was convinced. I wonder if he could pick out New Zealand on a map?