Zambezi Kiwi

Living in Zimbabwe

The rules of (social) engagement

April 12, 2019

One of the big worries I had moving to Vic Falls was whether or not I would make friends. After all, I was moving from a town in which roughly 50 people are related to me by blood or marriage, to one in which I knew a sum total of 0 human beings.

It turns out I didn’t really need to worry, because Zimbos, and the Vic Falls crew in particular, are super friendly, welcoming people.

However, there are some social rules I’m still trying to adjust to when it comes to meeting and greeting in Zimbabwe.

For the sake of the masses of Kiwis immigrating here, I thought I would do a helpful little round-up.

1. Zimbabweans have excellent manners. Kiwis really don’t.

I first learnt this when I was dating my future husband. During my introduction to the WHOLE family, I was greeted and kissed on the lips by an inordinate number of people. It was very surprising, especially since I’m not a particularly touchy-feely person, but I played it cool, because I really liked Will.

When I got here, I discovered the hug and cheek-brush is a more common greeting tactic. But you do this with everyone, always, the first time you see them walk into the room, and when they leave. Acknowledging people is a big deal here, and I really like it.

BUT my kiwi days have left me prone to the old nod-and-raise-your-eyebrows tactic in social situations. This has led to quite frequent, pretty awkward moments, mostly when the other person sort of lurches at me, realizes I’m not coming in for the hug and stops, only for me to have started my belated lurch, which I then have to pull out of.

Just. I’m sorry. I’m trying, Zimbabwean friends.

2. Zimbabweans are a little more hierarchical and formal than Kiwis.

This probably isn’t surprising, since Kiwis are about as informal as you can get. We generally call our Prime Minister by their first name.

Over here, our age group calls the generation up Mr or Mrs [insert last name] in formal situations like employment. We are still trying to get used to our staff calling us by these titles, or using ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am’.

Meanwhile, I’ve been busy yarning away to our majority shareholder using his first name…from the very start.

Anyways, this very laid-back approach to social strata has played into my favor so far…I think. People seem to take familiarity as a sign you are relaxed and like them.

Most recently, I was competing in the school triathlon fundraiser event, and was up against Mike Johnson (among others) on the bike. Mike and Alex have been THE BEES KNEES in terms of helping us get on our feet here, and if you ever want a great place to stay in the Falls, you should check out Bayete, PheZulu or their newest lodge Nkosi.

Anyways, as I was about to ride off, Mike yelled out that I should watch out for a dangerous snake on the circuit.

I laughed, then yelled back “shut up, Mike”. SUCH a mature, witty, respectful comeback, to a man I’ll describe as slightly older than I am.

Sorry Mike. But even oldies like you aren’t exempt from psychological warfare in sport ;-).

3. Zimbabweans share our awesome sense of humour.

When we first visited Zimbabwe in 2013, I was ready for Zimbos to be a little more like the South Africans I had met in New Zealand, who seemed to be a little more serious.

Instead, when we weren’t crying over some of the stuff we saw, I felt like I laughed my way around the country. Zimbos, like us, have a self-deprecating sense of humour thanks to being the “little bro” to a nearby, bigger country. In this case, it’s South Africa. Thanks to the common British colonial history, this sense of humour is also quite dead-pan for all involved.

Anyways, over here, I think thanks to Flight of the Concords and my accent, people seem to think I’m a walking comedy (I’m not. I’m DEADLY serious). But sometimes even when I’m being serious people crack up and tell me they love my sense of humour.

I tend to roll with it and grow the joke…which is sort of how I founded a band called the Ukeladies involving 12 women, 4 of whom have ukuleles, 2 of whom have had them longer than a couple of months.

We’re going to be a huge hit.

So there you have it. A comprehensive list of the differing social rules between NZ and Zimbabwe. And I think I’m qualified to say after seven months that Zimbabweans really are some of the most welcoming, kind, top-notch people around.

2 thoughts on “The rules of (social) engagement

  1. Anonymous says:

    Wow! You are really becoming part of the country! Great stuff Narelle – we are very proud of you


  2. Ross Gardiner says:

    Awesome loved your story. And very interesting cheers Ross


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