Foreign Contact

We moved many times during our married life because of the demands of my employment, this has meant our living in cities, as well as small country towns. We have been lucky too with our neighbours, many of these were never born in New Zealand. These people over the years became firm friends, and they introduced us to their various cultures. How our life was changed and enriched because of these contacts.

My wife and I were both brought up in a small Seaport and Fishing Town. There we lived with a mixture of many ethnic groups, mainly because over the years seamen had jumped their visiting ship, married a local girl and settled down in our area. They were soon completely assimilated to our way of living, and only their names gave them away as new arrivals from outside the normal pool of immigrants.

We also had many Germans living in New Zealand, but during the World War One, they were quick to deflect any connection with anything Germanic. Most if they hadn’t ready done so, quickly ‘Anglicised’ their names. But in a small town you needed a little more than that to go underground. Braun became Brown, Smit became Smith. In a wave of patriotic fever at this time they didn’t stop at family names, even food such as German Sausage became Belgium Sausage, this item remains the same today. It wasn’t even our only locals who were busy making a change. The Royal family were also busy as well, they were too were involved as well in this renaming exercise. Changing from Sax-Coburg to Windsor, for the Queen’s family. Her husband Prince Philip, his family as well changed their names from Battenburg to Mountbatten.

Our initial close contact with a foreign family was with the Chinese. They have been here as long as many of our early arrivals. They stubbornly clung to their traditional way of life and culture, and were only interested in their work and bettering life for their family. My father was a mentor for one local Chinese family who called on his help when they were faced with a situation they couldn’t understand. Their totally different methods of food preparation and cooking slowly rubbed off onto us over time. We were always eager to try new methods of food preparation and presentation. How lucky we were to meet other Chinese later who were just as helpful in teaching us how to cook and eat in the Oriental fashion.

Later after the war and when I had returned from overseas where I experienced many diverse cultures, I had the good fortune then to meet up with a French Family. They didn’t speak any English, and my French was limited to ‘Bon Jour’. However, with the aid of a ‘dictionnair bilingue’ we got by, but to conduct commercial arrangements I required much more. I mentioned this to my wife, she went out and purchased for me a set of French language instruction cassettes. I then took a thirty minute lesson every morning while I performed my daily ablutions. Later when we made a visit to New Caledonia, we were introduced to every other culture that had been, or still was part of the French Colonial Empire. That was Marocain, IndoChina, Algeria, and many others. The common link was their language, but all of their cuisines were different. There I was introduced to Chillies, Wow! what a difference they made to my diet. I once had a Japanese student living with our family for some six months and he too was fond of this hot spice. I was preparing his lunch one morning, busy making sandwiches onto which I was adding generous cold cuts of lamb, with large slithers of hot chilli on top. I inquired as a matter of interest, ‘Has anyone ever stolen your lunch Tetsu?’ Knowing what a surprise awaited anyone not used to eating a chilli when they bit into it. He replied with one word that said it all. ‘Once’.

I can recall one word that spurred me on to learn more about the French language and that was ‘Calihou’. I was on a boat speeding through a reef on the east Coast of New Caledonia where a crew member was pointing and calling out this word from time to time. I inquired what was he saying, and was told ‘rock’. At this time we were about twenty kilometres off shore. While staying at a small village we had been passed around various families of different ethic backgrounds which introduced us to many exciting eating experiences. It was like taking a trip around the world without leaving home.

How things change, I now live in Christchurch and you can now take the same culture trip without leaving Colombo Street. Every block has a different foreign eating establishment, it seems that all our recent immigrants, either open a restaurant or drive a taxi.

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