Posted by BE on February 22nd, 2015
We Kiwis are as a rule not a highly articulate people. We tend to the taciturn and, when we do have something to say, struggle to get the words out in a coherent flow. We ‘um’ and ‘er’ our way through the simplest proposition. Even those in the speech-making business, whom you might expect to be fluent –Trevor Mallard, John Key and the lovely David Shearer come to mind – pepper their responses with time-to-think, space-filling noises. And you could have driven trucks through the late lamented Rob Muldoon’s rasping ‘ers’.
I sometimes think that this phenomenon may reflect the emphasis placed in Kiwi culture on the virtue of humility. Our heroes blush when praised and pronounce themselves “humbled” by the nation’s applause. The word seems to indicate they feel their success wasn’t deserving of such acclamation. Overt celebration of a win or achievement might suggest vanity. People might think they were “up themselves”. So they keep their heads down and communicate through half-closed mouths and clenched teeth.
To be absolutely fair, the fear of public speaking – from making a two-minute speech at an office “do” to addressing the United Nations – is recognised as being near the top of the commonly accepted list of debilitating phobias. But our Kiwi inability to express ourselves fluently can be observed in everyday conversation and not just in those scary situations. We stammer and stutter, mutter and mumble. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted by BE on February 18th, 2015
I was 18 or 19 when I told the local Church of Ireland minister in Dunmurry, Canon Robert C Ellis, that I was an atheist and could no longer sing in the church choir or superintend the Sunday School classes on the council housing estate in nearby Seymour Hill where I lived with my aging mother. [Note the background similarity with John Key, though it stops there!)
Canon Ellis, whose initials ‘RC’ were a cross he had to bear, was a liberal on most things, including sex, but his liberalism did not extend to the Roman Catholic faith which he could not stomach. He was a gentler man than Ian Paisley, though cut from the same cloth in matters sectarian.
My declaration that I no longer believed in God did not faze the Canon one bit. His brilliant son Stuart had, like me, found and then lost religion. The university did that to impressionable young minds.
“You can,” RC said, “continue to attend church, sing in the choir and teach Sunday School. Just don’t say The Lord’s Prayer or take communion and confine your teaching to the historical account of Jesus’ life.”
I spent a day or two considering this solution before deciding that it really wasn’t feasible for the person of conscience I considered myself to be. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted by BE on February 3rd, 2015
Dizengoff on Ponsonby Road is one of the area’s better know eateries with a particular reputation for excellent coffee. There are plenty of tables for diners inside the cafe but, like several other local establishments, the acoustics aren’t great. When the place is less than half full you can’t hear yourself think.
Like most Auckland cafe patrons, if the weather is temperate, I prefer to sit outside. Dizengoff boasts two pavement tables, one on either side of the entrance. Each table seats six people, three a side. You are cheek by jowl with anyone sitting next to you.
As a general rule diners aren’t particularly comfortable sitting immediately next to strangers and least comfortable if there’s very little space between the chairs or tables. This is in part a reflection of our sense of personal space and in part because we neither want to eavesdrop on other people’s conversations nor to have them intrude on ours. Common courtesy dictates that when seated next to a stranger in a restaurant or cafe – not to mention in a cinema or theatre – we keep our voices down.
On a recent Jim Mora panel I confessed to a penchant, as I was leaving a restaurant after a meal, for approaching any diner whose loud or droning voice had annoyed me, making an ironic or sarcastic remark and walking off leaving them (and their fellow diners) to contemplate their crimes. Read the rest of this entry »