“You’re from New Zealand? I love Lorde! Also your relationship with the native people is the best out of all the colonies.”
…Said no one ever.
Once I tell other travellers where I’m from, it’s still Lord of the Rings and Flight of the Conchords. I mean I love LOTR as much as the next hobbit, but it’s been over 13 years since a GOOD Lord of the Rings movie came out. Yeah I went there.
However in a strangely routine fashion, once we’re done talking about Brett, Jermaine, and Frodo, some will quietly enquire about our national game. It’s almost as if they’re embarrassed to mention it in case I don’t know what they’re talking about.
“So… do you like rugby at all?”
Do I like rugby!? It’s the biggest source of national pride in my country. Some of my happiest early memories are at Eden Park with my family. The 2011 World Cup was the craziest I’ve ever seen Auckland with people shoulder to shoulder as far as the eye can see, some even doing hakas on top of busses. Rugby is the cultural pillar that my country stands upon…
“Bro. Course I like rugby!” That usually suffices.
What follows are conversations that surprise me, because people from all over the world love rugby just as much as we do. Their initial shyness could be because it’s hard to talk about it in their home country, where something else like hockey or chess-boxing might be the sporting religion.
WHO ELSE LOVES IT?
I’ve seen All Black apparel worn by all walks of life from Bali to Tokyo to Italy. I’ve talked super rugby with Filipino-Canadians, (who supported the Stormers?!) I’ve had broken English conversations about how sad it is that Jonah died.
The story that sticks out the most was at a bar in Tokyo (that had great tap water.) I was summoned by my friend to go talk to a Japanese dude he’d just met.
“He really wants to talk to you, he heard you are from NZ and he loves rugby.”
Cool I can deal with that.
I’ve never seen someone so excited to meet someone they’d never met before. He hugged me when I said rugby. With his broken English, and my broken Japanese both holding us back, all I really said was names of players, to which he’d freak out at.
“Ooooooooohhh Rituchii!!!! Riituuchii!! I love I love!!!!!
He was so overwhelmed I might as well have been an All Black.
After 20 minutes of ‘oooh Rituchie’ he went around in a circle and felt all of our crotches. Just straight cupped us all. Must be a Japanese custom I didn’t read about? We took our leave after that.
Another story that made me laugh the most was meeting a group of Welsh lads in Budapest recently. All I had to mention was one wee word that set them off into fits of anger.
“Aaaargghhhhhh fackin bullshit what the fack so stupid….”
They didn’t know much about Hamilton or Waikato, but they knew their national team, ranked 5th in the world, lost to them.
Finally the French. NZ and France have a healthy rugby rivalry, kind of like Jon and Ramsay. Throughout my French trip it’s amazing how little the 2015 World Cup was mentioned. 2011 was, along with how awfully biased the ref was toward NZ. There was also this gem I found in Nice.
In hindsight they did host it that year, but it was humorous to be confronted with that particular year, while in France, as a Kiwi. I thought I’d successfully erased that morning from my mind.
We can get a bit isolated in New Zealand. I’ve been to many international bus terminals since travelling, and I get the feeling opening one back home wouldn’t be that smart. It’s easy not to realize how big rugby and the All Blacks are overseas, but the rest of the world has nothing but respect for our team, the haka, and our lengthy domination of the game.
I thought if I wore my jersey travelling I was going to be that weird new kid in school who plays with toys no one cares about and gets told to piss right off. That’s simply not the case. We’re awesome, and everybody knows it.
Now if anybody sheepishly asks me if I like rugby, I take a breath, relax, and know the following conversation will be easy, because my team could kick their team’s ass.