I had always thought of New Zealand as friendly place. I have lived and worked overseas for a number of years in London, Amsterdam and Sydney. None of those places I would have characterised as un-friendly, however it’s not until you arrive back in New Zealand and receive a cheery greeting from a shop assistant at Auckland airport, that you realise what it’s like for someone to ask you how you are – and be genuinely interested in the answer.
And so, our impending extended trip to Whakatane posed no real concerns for me about not being welcomed into the community as after all, this was just another part of New Zealand, right!? As I sit now nearing the end of our six month stay, I have been reflecting on a number of things, including how genuinely nice it is to live and work in a small town.
And that is pretty much a typical day in Whakatane. Different in a way from my home in Wellington where people are certainly not unfriendly, but don’t seem to show anywhere near the genuine bonhomie and hospitality that I have experienced in this little Bay of Plenty town.
Now I know that some people reading this may point to statistics such as the Eastern Bay of Plenty’s growing P problem and consider this piece overly positive. I’m not sure I have a good answer to that, other than I can just comment on my own experiences – what I see, hear and feel in this awesome little place.
So, is it just Whakatane that is kind of cool, or is what I have experienced evidence of small towns being generally happier places than bigger cities? Well it’s the latter if you consider recent research done by sociologist Adam Okulicz-Kozaryn which suggests that city dwellers in the US are reportedly less happy with their lives. Interestingly though, the research indicates millennials seem to have the opposite point of view which I guess sounds logical if I remember my own preferences on city vs country when I was at my “millennial” age …!
All I can say is that I have loved my short visit to Whakatane. I feel more relaxed and at home in this friendly place. Now I have to think about exporting this feeling back to my city way of life . . .