From my notes in November of 2003: “You paint with your left hand,” she said. “I thought you were right handed?”

“I am,” I said. “I just paint with my left hand.”

“How interesting. Which hand do you use to shoot a gun?”

My face wrinkled. “I’m from the city. I’ve never held a gun.”

“What? What kind of man will you be if you’ve never shot a gun?”

She was from Alabama. One day after she hung up the phone I said, “When you talk on the phone I can tell you’re from the South.”

She gave me a look that would corrode metal. “I speak slowly when I talk to my family,” she said.

“Right,” I said. “What’s your family like?”

“They wouldn’t care for you, not unless you can dig a hole.”

“Dig a hole? How hard can that be?”

“Why would you think it’s easy?” I walked into the yard and she handed me a shovel. I dug. It was pathetic.

Digging holes, firing guns, was I missing something? I thought so, which is why leaving America was easy. To think, a few thousand years ago if someone left their family or birthplace, they would be committing suicide. But today thanks to reality t.v. and chicken nuggets, I’m still alive!

So in New Zealand, I’ve dug a few holes and shot a few bullets1. But who cares! The most important lesson I’ve learned is about territorial vanity. I thought it was American, but it’s not. It’s everywhere.

Everyday I hear people say, “I’m from here – and you’re not. Here is better than there, because if there were better than here, I wouldn’t be here, but there.2 3

Every country in the world has its charm. They each have advantages and disadvantages, but unfortunately both America and New Zealand share the thought, “Stop complaining. If you don’t like it here, leave.”

This way of thinking is wrong to me.4 It does not make sense. You are digging your own grave.

And I thought I left this patriotic shit behind in America?

How I wish that were true.

1. Ironic isn’t it?
2. JAFA, the Hutt, the South Island.
3. Midwest, Texans, New York City.
4. In business, doesn’t complaining give the smart entrepenuer a competitive advantage? Why isn’t this principle applied?


14 Responses to You’re so vain

  1. Chris says:

    If you’re happy with what you have or are unhappy and move to where you will be happy or if you making changes to improve things – surely all of this beats having a whinge – so why are you digging your own grave if you think this way?

  2. Jeff says:

    Having a whinge is a good thing. It means problems are identified and can be handled productively.

    What I meant (and maybe this wasn’t clear) is that the cultures and countries are digging their own graves – not the individuals that are whinging.

  3. Chris says:

    It was clear, I just didn’t read it properly, sorry. But why are countries digging their own graves?

  4. Philip says:

    That’s really interesting. I haven’t run that much patriotic flag waving, you’re with us or against us, we’re the best country in the history of the universe…nonsense here.

    In fact, I think it’s just the opposite. In my experience, kiwis very often appologise for the way things are here (ie, infrastructure, parochialism). And they happily go overseas and nobody questions them or gives them shit for it when they come back.

    I do agree there are regional rivalries in NZ – particularly Wellington and Auckland. It’s identical to the SF – LA rivalry.

    But I definitely don’t get any sense of hyper nationalism or patriotic delusions.

    What are talking about Jeff? What’s the back story?

  5. Jeff says:

    Chris – it doesn’t make sense.

    I think it’s difficult to articulate, but here goes: imagine in Parliament, one person disagrees with everyone else. Everyone else says “this is great,” and the one person says “this sucks.”

    They decide (because he thinks it sucks) to kick him out of Parliament. Now everyone agrees. Can you see the implications this has on government and society? (This is getting into a philosophical explanation).

    I see your point where you’d think everyone would be happier if the whinger left (because the whinger is no longer in an uncomfortable environment, and the non-whingers no longer hear the whinging), but I don’t believe the best way to deal with a whinger is avoid dealing with the real problem.

    For example if you get a paper cut on your finger and it hurts, you don’t cut your finger off to stop the pain.

    It’s all about healing, man!

  6. Jeff says:

    Philip, over the past few weeks I’ve met some bad apples. I keep on meeting Kiwis who insist on criticizing American politics and how the American culture causes fat creases in the world.

    And then there are random comments that I hear, for example after a rugby match two fans in the street told me to “fuck off back to your own country.”

    Usually I don’t care what they say. Sometimes I defend the States, but as soon as I criticize New Zealand the conversation becomes “well if you don’t like it, leave.”

    This reminds me of the mentality in the States (which I thought was uniquely American), which is ugly and wrong. There’s some weird sense of nationalism that I don’t understand here, and I don’t see it as healthy.

    I guess I thought people would be more different when they were seperated by thousands of miles.

    I don’t know if this answered your question… I’m still trying to make sense of my thoughts about this.

  7. Kim says:

    Whinging? Kiwism?

  8. Kim says:

    Nationalism is great. I really do tear up when I sing the national anthem and honestly respect the office of the president even if I’m not taken with the guy currently holding the post, but it can definitely go too far. I hope that the NIMBY shut-the-door-behind-us attitude is not yet another thing that we’ve begun exporting to the rest of the world.

  9. Jeff says:

    Whinge is a British word for whining, complaining, etc…

    I don’t think I like nationalism too much. It’s probably because in Illinois you only deal with the government if you break a law or file your taxes.

  10. Chris says:

    Hmm – I don’t think the answer is to kick out whingers & I don’t think everyone would be happier.

    The answer is simply to include their perspective in the solution. If this doesn’t happen then graves will be dug, case in point where civil wars/genocide/lack of fair politics has ravaged humanity in countries such as 1990′s Rwanda – certainly not the case in modern day New Zealand…

  11. Chris says:

    Nationalism, per se, isn’t bad because as Kim said, it rouses people in pursuit of a common goal; often expressed through a national anthem. But, like you say Jeff, it does have the potential to be bad if negative traits mix with perceived abuse of power.

    Jeff, having known you for 2 years it must be difficult for you to hear comments about your country when those comments don’t explicitly apply to you.

    I think what you’re experiencing and writing about isn’t New Zealand nationalism, rather it’s anti-Americanism – the fact you’re in New Zealand is irrelevant as this sentiment can be found everywhere in the world. In fact, being in New Zealand is probably easier for an American than being in lots of other countries.

    Why Not New Zealand Nationalism?

    The answer is simple – our collective psyche is such that Kiwi’s are passionate about three things. 1) Wars – remembering our contribution to historic wars and moving towards a peacekeeping focus, 2) Sport – any sport, particularly the All Blacks, 3) Attitude – making do with what we have, anti-nuclear, number eight wire, developing our economy, perhaps green image, tourism, and rivalry with other countries in a social environment where the end result is a laugh or a beer.

    These three things combine to formulate our international image – insignificant one might even argue. The point is that the nature of Kiwis’ nationalism is weak but growing and, in itself, does not pose a threat to other nations or countries however you define the word ‘threat’.

    Like Philip said, I think most Kiwi’s can take a bit of criticism, but our reaction depends on who gives us shit and what the criticism is about. And when the States is involved, the rules change.

    Why Anti-Americanism

    I think the main negative issues for the States are perceived abuse of power, selfishness, ignorance and excess – a few traits of American nationalism. There are some positive traits too, but possibly there is a worldwide perception that the negative traits outweigh the positive ones.

    The States is a country of money and power yet the world is filled with inequality. When you have a small majority who control most of the wealth and resources, the masses will build resentment and, unless resources are shared and pressure is relieved, eventually the masses will fight back. Perceived abuse of power leads to feelings of oppression by the minority with two outcomes; 1) resentment in the form of negative sentiment, or 2) acts of retaliation in the form of terrorism.

    Different people express their opinions differently; some may make a cheap drunken remark, others might give a philosophical critique, and others might commit an act of terrorism. I don’t think it matters how people react because the fact is that they will.

    What matters is the underlying cause of why people, individually and collectively, build resentment and act the way they choose. I think the world is holding a mirror to the States but the States is merely giving an occasional glance, and this perpetuates the minority’s view that the majority doesn’t give a shit. In a world of increasing transparency, everything is open to scrutiny from people from all countries.

    I think the challenge for the USA is to learn to be humble, limit waste, limit selfishness and to educate themselves about the world.


    Herein lies the challenge for the world. Until equality is reached or until those with power are generous with their bosom, resentment and frustration will fester from the masses who perceive their own hardship and the masses will resent or fight.

    It is simply the USA’s turn that they have power and history suggests that one day they will lose their power. Whichever countries become powerful in the future, let us hope their culture fosters peace and equality throughout the world with little resentment and little perceived wrong to fight about.

    Let us also hope that China’s perceived negative treatment of Falon Gong practitioners is not indicative of future Chinese nationalistic traits, irrespective of whether or not China comes to power.

    “When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace” – Jimi Hendrix

    “I hope our wisdom will grow with our power and teach us that the less we use our power the greater it will be” – Thomas Jefferson

  12. Niamh says:

    Chris… Do you have a lot more time on your hands these days?!

  13. Chris says:

    nah, just bored at work!

  14. Jeff says:

    You should see the unedited version! I can only imagine…