Tips for Avoiding International Incidents During BILTanz

BILTanz is only two weeks away. If you’re planning to attend from North America, it’s very important to take a moment and understand the critical differences between the A and the NZ in the BILTanz. This will help avoid accidentally creating an international incident between Australians and New Zealanders.

Let’s begin by discussing the “where”. If you’ve got a few days to travel around either country, it’s important not to die. Australia is big. Really, really big. almost the size of the US (even though you’ve grown up your whole life in US public schools where the US is right in the middle of the world map). New Zealand is really really small. Sometimes New Zealand is actually missing from hastily drawn world maps and even popular board games.


So how small is New Zealand? Kind of the size of California – except that everything to the east of San Francisco is missing and Fresno is a 3 hour, open ocean ferry ride to Sacremento. But here’s the catch: size doesn’t matter. In Australia, you’re more likely to be killed by the wildlife. In New Zealand you’re more likely to be killed by the geography.

So let’s get started. Ask polite questions of the local delegates. Go ahead and even ask them where they’re from. But don’t presume the country.

  • Good: So where are you from?
  • Bad: So where in Australia / New Zealand are you from?

Note the difference? Don’t presume their country. It’s a trap!

It actually gets more complicated with New Zealanders because they’re from one of two countries, depending where they’re born and raised. If the delegate is born and raised between Picton and Invercargill, they’re from “Mainland” and to these curious folk, those born between Auckland and Wellington are from the other country called, “North Island”.

If the delegate is born and raised between Auckland and Wellington, they just consider themselves to be someone from New Zealand. To these people, anyone else from New Zealand not living between Auckland and Wellington is from Whogivesawhakatane (a derogatory name for anyone from the South Island). Why all the inter-island name calling between New Zealanders? Glad you asked.

The population of New Zealand is slowly approaching 5 million, which may seem like a lot. But that’s only about the population of Atlanta. Now imagine if Atlanta was the size of Georgia. Suffice to say New Zealanders are really spread out. Most of the people (close to 75%) live in the North Island, and most of those people live in Auckland. And Auckland has been really, really, really hoping to build a new sports stadium and redevelop the Auckland harbor (which compared to Sydney harbor is well, hmmm…not a close second). But due to a massive earthquake in Christchurch (remember what I said about the New Zealand geography?) a new waterfront stadium Auckland not likely to happen anytime this century.

Christchurch is a city in the South Island (but merely a town if anywhere else) that’s home to about 5% of the New Zealand population. But for the foreseeable future, all the gold in Mines of Moria is being pumped into rebuilding Christchurch. What’s Auckland going to do when they host the America’s Cup in 2021 and all the Twitter accounts of the world are gathered in Auckland harbor? People will not be in awe of a new underwater stadium. They’ll be drunk and tweeting out that the top of the Vero building looks like someone left the toilet seat up. And complimentary tickets to Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquarium isn’t going to help.

Now that we’ve covered geography, economics and politics (leaving out religion and guns for another why-can’t-we-all-get-along post) let’s talk about the peoples between these two nation states. Most people from the US can’t tell apart someone from Australia vs New Zealand. And you might think that confusing these two friendly peoples wouldn’t be a big deal, considering they’re both from the happy isles of oceania.

Well, you’d be wrong. Dead wrong. Because delegates from Auckland (and this goes for the rest of New Zealand) deeply wish they were from Australia (Sydney to be most specific). And the most beautiful, bespoke city in New Zealand is like living in Trenton, New Jersey to anyone from Sydney.

There’s three main points of understanding between these peoples:

  1. Australians and New Zealanders generally do get along quite well
  2. They’re quite peace loving
  3. They’re prone to drink

Numbers one and two are fine. Number three gets tricky. Adding number three (in excess) and numbers one and two fall off the table. So if you’re headed to this year’s BILTanz conference in Brisbane, don’t try to wing if friendly BILTna style where you figure it out as you go along.

Don’t presume Kiwi’s are nicer than Australians. It’s easy to confuse nice with passive-aggressive. Think about it – Canadian’s don’t like to be asked if they’re American. People from New Jersey don’t like not being from New York. People from Portland, Oregon…well…start here. A lot of people think Portlandia is a gentle, humorous send up. It’s actually a dark and twisted place that exists in the Upside Down. People from Portland wish they were from Seattle. And it’ll make them angry if you ask them about it.

Exhibit A. This guy below Internet Famous. But he’s still from Christchurch. He really wants to be from Australia. If he makes a lot of internet money, the first thing he’ll do is pack up on a Friday afternoon and buy a house in Australia before lunch on Saturday. Watch and learn.

So how to quickly and easily tell the difference between New Zealanders and Australians? Incidentally the same goes for telling the difference between Americans and Canadians. Focus on three specific tells. Try not to stare. Kiwis will exhibit the following curious behaviors:

  • Passive agressiveness
  • An affinity for large, sensible shoes.
  • Blurting out incidental facts about New Zealand / New Zealanders like someone with Tourette Syndrome.

For example, you’re having a drink with a group of people at BILTanz. End of day Brisbane. Everyone’s relaxed. Sun setting through streaks of red orange clouds. Unusually large bats circle the tree line in the distance. You get the picture.

You happen to casually mention something about your flight to Australia. New Zealand Delegate blurts out: “Richard Pearse flew before the Wright brothers!” This outburst will be followed by an awkward silence by all nearby. Australians will look at each other and raise a glass. Total Kiwi.

Actually there’s one more tell. New Zealanders love to talk about the last time they beat Australia at anything – especially sporting events. New Zealanders love to boast about their capacity to climb, play catch and run fast. Australians actually indulge the New Zealanders in this respect. Some say Australians are prone to intentionally lose to New Zealand, knowing that by the end of this century, both countries will very likely unify government and currencies. Kiwis will outwardly say this is crazy talk. But secretly they’d love a beach house on the Gold Coast.

Exhibit B. Internet guy below is still trying to get Internet Famous. I think you’ll agree he really, really wants to live in Australia. He’d even settle for a flat in Cronulla. But he’d tell his friends he’s from Sydney.

So there you have it. Learn and live. Knowledge is half the battle. International incidents averted. Kiwis are not Australians. Canadians are not Americans. Portland is not Seattle. Everybody gets along.

And if ever in doubt presume the worst. That person you’re drinking with could be from Bluff. Or Collie. Or North Battleford. Or New Jersey. Or Toccoa. Anywhere but Toccoa.

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