Tuis, Kiwis and bus drivers

Briar Lipson
Insights Newsletter
28 April, 2017

It has been two weeks since I started work in New Zealand, at the Initiative. Starting a new job in a new country, there are a few things to get used to. But I would not have guessed that the bus ride home would be such a highlight of my day.
For those unaccustomed to Wellington buses, this is what happens: Each time someone alights, they break the otherwise contemplative commuter silence and yell “Thanks driver!” all the way up to the front.
I had previously understood that the gentle Tui provides New Zealand with its sweetest song. That may be so in the animal kingdom. But the way that actual Kiwis thank their bus drivers is music to my ears.
Which is to say that as a former teacher, economist and Londoner, I am humbled by New Zealand’s good manners.
The English may be known for their politeness, but we do not always show it. Perhaps we are just too shy.
The English dilemma when riding a bus is this: Do you cast off the shackles of modesty and yell appreciations to the front of the bus? Or do you sacrifice norms of politeness to slip apologetically away into the night?
Needless to say, most of us opt for the apology-based solution such that now, you are classed a real weirdo if you bother to thank a bus driver in London.
Being in New Zealand has helped me realise that you should not think too much when it comes to friendliness. Or at least you should not let social conventions get in the way of thanking your bus driver.
As a recent arrival here, I am enchanted by this country’s egalitarian friendliness. It does not matter who you are and who you are dealing with. Kiwis invariably start from a place of openness and kinship, less inhibited by other conventions. That is a great starting point for any society.
The challenge is to transform such an egalitarianism of manners into an egalitarianism of opportunity. And that is what I will be working on at the Initiative – before catching my bus home each night.

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