Culture Shock

Arriving on a cold, gloomy day, after spending four weeks at sea feeling seasick a lot of the time is probably not the best introduction to your new country!

It was the early sixties I was ten years old, and no-one had asked me if I wanted to leave my home, friends and family in Holland to live in New Zealand. One very vivid memory is watching as my cousins visited before our departure and were allowed to make their choice of my toys.

The only person in our family who spoke any English was my Father and we were totally left to our own devices. We eventually moved into rental accommodation, an old villa, huge by our standards, with a garden, something we had never had before.

The landlord, a Yugoslav, suggested I attend the local Catholic School, where he said the nuns would take good care of me. What a shock my first day at school was. Going from a very liberal school environment to one where the nuns ruled with an iron fist, was not easy. The nuns had decided to put me in the new entrants class to help me learn English. There I was, a very self-conscious 10 year old, sitting on a tiny chair, at a tiny table with 5 year olds I couldn’t understand. To make matters worse, I was dressed in my “dutch clothes”, standing out a mile from the other kids who were, of course in school uniform.

Some of my most vivid recollections? The wide, empty streets of Christchurch and the old cars. My Mum trying to communicate with the local butcher and grocer. The children at school and in the neighbourhood who befriended me. Pies in brown paper bags and fish and chips wrapped in newspaper. Our early New Zealand camping holidays. The five of us and our camping gear packed into a Ford Anglia, setting up camp in a dry river bed on the West Coast and being washed out of our tent in the middle of the night.

There’s a lot more support around for immigrants to New Zealand today

Anyone else like to comment on their experiences of Culture Shock?

8 thoughts on “Culture Shock

  1. Laraine 24 February 2010 / 6:53 am

    It was a pretty big culture shock for my husband arriving from England aged 16. But at least he spoke English. He’d come straight from school to a workplace full of men who, to him, were “old”. He never did get over it. He still doesn’t appreciate he’s better off here than he would be in England. He is what most people used to call “a whinging Pom”, which I suspect isn’t a politically correct expression these days. I too was taught by nuns but that was in the fifties. I had the same experiences with them that you had. As far as I am aware, all schools in the fifties (and probably the sixties) had very strict discipline. I hated all 11 years of my schooling. You were lucky to have a car though. In the eyes of my family, even in the sixties, cars were something only rich people had.

  2. Marion 24 February 2010 / 11:29 am

    I remember a Dutch family moving into our street and we thought their clothes were very cool. I also remember the Dutch boy in my class at high school. He spoke good English by that stage but at primary school the first thing the kids did was teach him to swear and that got him in a lot of trouble.
    Cheers to all those Dutch people who stuck it out and brought us good coffee, good deli food and great bakeries.

  3. Wendy 24 February 2010 / 7:17 pm

    My culture shock was going to the Catholic school from age 5. Granted I was a timid only child and a “non-Catholic” so the iron fist was even more shocking. My friend next door was Dutch – her parents came over in the 60s too. My memories are of salty, salty licorice, sugared cinnamon sandwiches and the smell of real perked coffee. She had a very strict father who, amazingly, let us go-go dance at the Dutch club – in our minis.

    • Nickie 25 February 2010 / 12:05 pm

      Teaching with an “iron fist” was really a nice way of putting it.
      I remember one Nun walking around the classroom with a long ruler in her hand and if you did’nt know your times tables you got a wack over the hands…ouch. She was seriously scary!!!

  4. Donna 25 February 2010 / 9:04 am

    I had a minor version – North to South Island culture shock.
    I was about 9 when we moved from Papatoetoe in Auckland to Gore – it might as well have been another country it was that different.

  5. Peter 25 February 2010 / 12:51 pm

    Weren’t you lucky to come in the 20th Century. How would you be treated by the New Zealanders of today? I wonder.
    Having gone through a catholic school system back then, I know how free they were with the corporal punishment It was teaching by fear, with only a few exceptions, and we did learn. Congratulations on your ability to live and develop in your new environment and you have a good occupation.

    • Laraine 25 February 2010 / 3:15 pm

      Peter, perhaps a little bit of fear in the classroom today might not go amiss. I wouldn’t like today’s schoolchildren to hate and fear their teachers the way my sisters and I hated the nuns but good healthy respect is absolutely vital. Years after leaving school I was able to test whether my memories of one particular nun were correct. I saw her at a family funeral and went over to talk to her. She was far from easy to talk to! So, for the sake of something to say, I commented that she must find her new habit much more comfortable than the old one and said how sorry we felt for the nuns when they ran their hands under their chins trying to make the cloth binding their faces more comfortable. I didn’t put it into words; I demonstrated. She replied, sourly, “You should have been paying attention to your lessons instead of watching us.” After telling myself (with considerable glee) that I was no longer a kid and could answer her back, I put on a smile and said brightly, “Sister, you wouldn’t REALLY have wanted such unobservant pupils would you?” I could see she didn’t like that; she bridled, and strong waves of disapproval came across at me. But she didn’t object verbally. How could she? 🙂 I wished her a happy retirement and departed. I got no thanks for taking the trouble to come and speak to her. Yes, I told myself, she really was as sour as I thought.

  6. CharlieBean 25 February 2010 / 3:49 pm

    My grandfather came out from (then) Yugoslavia when he was 14, couldn’t speak a word of english, got a job on a farm and ended up starting the first restaurant in Palmerston North – a steak house type thing. Hard to imagine doing that even when you speaka da english! It’s nice having a bunch of ancestors who really do wine though!

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