Sally’s Long White Cheese Knife

It’s not just the jandals that throw you a mile.

Anyone would think there’s not a huge culture shock to be experienced when you spend a lifetime in Australia and go visit New Zealand for a spell. The accent’s a little different, sure, and there are more hobbits and taller mountains, but NZ’s supposed to the seventh state, right? I mean, I was born there. How weird can it be?

Let’s start with the mountains. It’s January. A fine, sunny day, which in itself is a miracle in the land of horizontal rain. A week has already passed, during which “blanket cloud” has described the fairer daily forecasts. The flight on the way in was telling. Clear blue skies over the Tasman, then a wall of cloud beginning right at the very edge of the never-so-aptly named Aotearoa. But somewhere between Rotorua and Taupo, after a cluster of severely localised dirty downpours, it clears.

This is Tongariro National Park, by the by. (Itself not between Rotorua and Taupo, so I’m really getting quite used to this “fair weather” lark by now.) A trio of awfully large volcanoes, even the shortest putting flatland back home to shame. We ascend one. There’s snow on the peak. Did I mention this is a bright, sunny January day? You know, the same January that’s usually located dead in the centre of summer in this hemisphere.

I’ll allow that one. It’s the altitude. Anything’s bound to feel the chill at two thousand metres. There were snowflakes on the aeroplane windows, so fine.

Not really. Because these natural anomalies lull you into a false sense of security. They tell you, “The rural areas are greener,” but they don’t say anything else to prepare you.

Even more deceptive is the sight of hundreds of sheep parading around in fleeces no less yellow than the ones in Oz. This may not be Kansas, but nor was home.

Rotorua stinks – literally, not figuratively. But there’s an insanely incompetent mob staffing one of its more popular Indian restaurants. Their vegetable jalfrezi, though explicitly ordered completely dairy free (just in case; there were no dairy ingredients listed on the menu), emerged with cubes of what I suspect was cheese. In place of cashews. Which were the main reason I’d ordered the thing. A replacement emerged in long order, sans anonymous cubes but equally absent of cashews.

(A jalfrezi ordered days later in Taupo was infinitely superior, and positively laden with the desired nut.)

So back to jandals. Not thongs. I’ve always been fine with this. Grew up calling them jandals, and it makes sense not to name footwear after anus-encroaching underwear, despite the design similarities. But “Countdown”? As names for supermarkets go, I didn’t really want to have to deal with one that brought on images of anagrams, giant clocks and Carol Vorderman. (Actually, I take that back: all images of Carol Vorderman are most welcome.) Its stiffest competition, New World, was an ‘80s throwback, reminding me of a childhood spent in Brisbane doing groceries at Coles New World. It’s a pity I have a Coles aversion on the whole, because an eventual visit to a New World in Wellington revealed it to be the superior supermarket option.

Unless you count Pack ‘n’ Save, a cheerily downmarket Franklins-like megamart that’s low on bling but blessedly high on pick-and-mix whole foods.

Most troubling as name variants go – but the least concerning of what New Zealand radio advertising has to offer – was an insistence on abbreviating the Salvation Army as “the Sallies”. I’m still not sure why this troubled me so, particularly as Australia’s “Salvos” sounds, on reflection, so very Australian. In that “Johnno & Danno in the arvo” kind of way.

Still, it could have been worse. It could have been Countdown’s radio spot advertising a knife sale. In which the speaker jovially suggested that potential customers were welcome to browse the supermarket chain’s range of blades for such potential purposes as chopping vegetables, slicing meat and, erm… engaging in knife-based gang warfare. The tone was frothy, but it’s the sort of thing that would have had Graham Kennedy pulled from the airwaves in days gone by. Is there an advertising content regulatory board in New Zealand or is there not?

Because if there is, they ought to prosecute and shoot whoever wrote the jingle for the Noel Leeming ads.

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