When you’re traveling in an English-speaking country, it can often be easy to forget that you’ve still entered a completely foreign territory. You can ask the pharmacy clerk what aisle has the saline solution without looking up a translation, pronounce town names with reasonable confidence, and easily eavesdrop on strangers’ conversations. But other times, you feel so American you may as well be conducting an anthropological study. Case in point: Super Bowl Monday in Wellington.
You’ll notice I did not say “Super Bowl Sunday.” That’s because we’re a day ahead of the States down here. Kiwis get to be the first to prove that everything from Y2K to the Rapture is bogus, the first to see the sunrise (or at least they were until, apparently, Samoa decided to start making stuff up), and the last to see major sporting events. It sort of makes you wonder if anyone would care enough about the Super Bowl down here to stay home from work on a Monday but, this year, the Monday in question happened to be a national holiday of huge cultural significance. Naturally, everyone seemed to be ignoring the cultural festivities going on along Wellington’s waterfront in favor of downing beer in front of plasma screens in bars along Cuba Street. The whole history and inebriated observation of the holiday is pretty similar to Columbus Day, actually, except that Waitangi Day seems to celebrate events only slightly less controversial.
In any event, I spent the first part of Waitangi Day/Super Bowl Monday in a bar on Cuba Street called the Hotel Bristol (can’t get any more American than that, eh?) drinking Mac’s Gold watching ESPN with a couple of Canadians. Not because I have any interest in the Super Bowl, mind you — I had no idea the two teams playing were even from my two most recent home cities — but because watching a uniquely American spectacle in New Zealand basically sounded like a set-up for a Borat stunt.
And now I can report back the following: I think I now know how it must feel for an actual Mexican person to visit the Mexican pavilion at Disneyland, or for a Dubliner to visit Paddy Maguire’s NYC pub on St. Patrick’s Day. It was entertainingly appalling to find out exactly what stereotypes represent our culture here.
Let’s start with Budweiser, the King of Beers Unless You’ve Actually Tasted It. On Super Bowl Monday in Wellington, you can buy a bucket of four (four!) Buds for the bargain price of $25. In doing so, you also get the opportunity to meet and take your picture with the Budweiser “Beerleaders” — a trio of blonde and spray-tanned Kiwi girls in short red skirts who were hired based, I’m assuming, on their classic American image. If $25 seems a little steep, you can instead opt for a special Super Bowl meal deal: $10 for a beer, fries, and a hot dog. A hot dog! I love it.
Then there’s ESPN. Yes, they have ESPN here. Year-round. The majority of its normal-season programming seems to consist entirely of rugby, soccer, and BMX. I know this because every single one of the commercials shown during the Super Bowl was a promo for ESPN. Let me repeat this: Down here, every single second of what is America’s most outlandishly expensive ad time was filled with the same three station-identification commercials. This, in a word, is brilliant.
The game ended around 4:00 (also brilliant) here, leaving me plenty of time to get back out and see some more of what is quickly becoming one of my favorite cities.
If I haven’t adequately conveyed this already, let me just get it out of the way now: Wellington is spectacular. It’s beautiful but laid-back, hip but unpretentious, and bustling but relaxing at the same time. Its waterfront is stunning, its buildings charming, and even its graffiti looks planned and sanctioned. On a run along the bay one morning, I passed a sign announcing a protected penguin egg-laying area. Fun fact: native city penguins are exponentially more awesome than omnipresent city pigeons (I’m looking at you, New York).
I ended the day at an annual reggae festival noodle dancing with a bunch of blonde-dread-locked hippies and sleek after-workers in bare feet. It’s funny how you can start a day feeling like a total alien and end it feeling completely at home. Wellington hasn’t seen the last of me.