Is It Really the Tourists? (or are Kiwis Worse?)

Guest Post:

We are down on the West Coast of the South Island (northern part thereof) and we have friends down here who let rooms in their house on Air BnB to tourists. It has been a busy and successful season for them so far.

We were invited to their house for dinner when they had a house guest who was a lovely young French woman, a psychiatrist working in a hospital in Berlin who was here in NZ for a walking holiday. She is very smart, fluent in French, German and pretty much in English, very athletic and is the kind of tourist we would want to encourage to come here. She loves the country and says that she has had a wonderful holiday so far.

She has also travelled from Germany to the UK several times, and so has some experience in driving on the right side of the road.

But, on her drive down from Auckland to Wellington – via Rotorua and Taupo, to visit the popular tourist spots she encountered an ugly side of the New Zealand visitor experience.

She found herself being tailgated, with people gesticulating at her, shouting comments such as “Go home where you belong” – and much worse.

She was dumbfounded by this because her driving is good. She drives in Germany where standards are high and she began to wonder if she was doing things incorrectly, and was not aware of it.

At one point, her rental car had a flat tyre, and she had to put on the emergency spare that was in the car. Understanding that she couldn’t go far on this, she decided to turn back to the town she had left (Rotorua) – about 75 kms away and of course she had to drive at 80 kms an hour, because of the temporary tyre.

On her way back to Rotorua, the abuse became totally unbearable.

Cars behind her would drive so close and flash their lights, she became terrified. As they passed her, they would hurl abuse and gesticulations along with comments about not being wanted here.

About halfway through the trip, because she was driving at 80 kms, she was pulled over by the local police. Asked if she had a problem, she explained her situation, and wondered if she was doing something wrong?

(I have to wonder why anyone would be pulled over for driving at 80 kms, as we see people doing this for no apparent reason all the time. When you see road signs advising that 100 kms an hour is not a target how much sense does this make?)

The police advised that she was doing exactly the right thing and left her to continue her journey being abused for the rest of her trip back to the rental car depot.

We all hear stories about tourists driving on the wrong side of the road? but, as we know, many of those are people with little or no driving experience, who do not have to do much driving in order to obtain a driving licence and who have never driven on the right side of the road in their lives.

But this lady does not fall into this category. She has experience of driving on the right side of the road, she is intelligent and definitely, no boy racer and (if you will forgive me) is a European so no reason in particular why she should be targeted?

I suggested that she should give the finger sign not because I wanted her to be rude but because it might make the locals think she was a Kiwi, after all how would anyone know?

Her response was that she couldn’t possibly do that. In Germany, you could be pulled over by the police for that.

I was terribly embarrassed on behalf of New Zealand for this behaviour. This was a smart young woman, a visitor to our country who was being treated despicably by the locals many of whom made it very clear that, as far as they were concerned, she was not welcome here.

She said how she found Kiwis so very friendly and welcoming “except when they are behind the steering wheel”.

I learned to drive in the UK, where you were taught to treat everyone else on the road with respect. This means that, if someone wants to pull into your lane in front of you, for example, you let them, you don’t take it as a personal affront.

But people who learned to drive here say they are taught to treat everyone else on the road like idiots. Maybe that is the main difference between the driving habits of the two countries?

It is true that there can be a downside to having so many tourists on the roads, particularly in the South Island but this lady was doing nothing wrong, in fact, she was doing everything correctly but was abused for it nonetheless.? Why do Kiwis have to turn into demons behind the wheel? What is it that makes otherwise nice, normal friendly people behave so very badly when they are driving a car?

I would be interested to hear what others think about this.