The Real Windy City isn’t Chicago, It’s Wellington, New Zealand

Talking to the World Project

I started this project in 2014 as a personal challenge. I wanted to see if it was possible to speak to one person in each country of the world. Talk to them about their daily lives. Our commonalities, rather than our differences. I assured them they could respond in any way they chose. Because the focus is on their words, I only identify them by their first names. To date, I have spoken with people in 60 plus countries with the help of friends, family, neighbors, and colleagues. I still have a long way to go.

As any Chicagoan knows, Chicago’s status as the “Windy City” is not about the breezes off Lake Michigan, it’s about the fickle politics. Not so in Wellington, New Zealand, where it’s all about the wind. Considered the windiest city in the world, Wellington once clocked winds at 154 mph near the city’s centre. As depicted in Solace in the Wind, a waterfront sculpture of a man leaning into the city’s famous blow, locals proudly embrace their famous blow.

According to Martin, a Wellington lawyer, personal/leadership coach, and mindfulness trainer, the wind keeps the air free from pollution and the temperature moderate. Originally from Wanganui, Martin connected with me through our mutual friend, Cathy, who is married to a New Zealander.

All photos are the property of Martin, used with his permission.

Please look out a window in your home and describe what you see.

The Wellington suburb of Khandallah and its bush clad, grunty looking hills. Houses — mostly 1960s to 1990s with some from the 1920s and 1930s — cling to the hills. Some of the houses encroach on the green hilly cape ascending Mt. Kau Kau (445 metres), which looks down upon Wellington.

It’s an ever-changing sky. Weather worsens, then clears. Many trees are in flower. Most prolific is the kowhai tree, with cascading sunlight yellow, bunched, bell-like flowers. The fruit trees are all pink and white. The rhododendron, shamelessly celebrating spring with a crimson flush, relish their moist, temperate home here. . . compensation for having to face Wellington’s wind.

If I came to your house for dinner, what would you serve me?

Kai moana (seafood) entrée including Bluff oysters, Kaikoura cray (fish), Marlborough Sounds scallops and mussels. A main of Wairarapa roast lamb with mint sauce and roast vegetables ( parsnip, pumpkin, beetroot, kumara (sweet potato), yams and potatoes ), green peas and broccoli covered in a rich brown gravy. Dessert would be pavlova topped with kiwi fruit and fresh raspberries or strawberries with whipped cream in abundance.

What myth or stereotype about New Zealand would you like to set straight?

Understated, quietly friendly, and somewhat self-deprecating, New Zealanders prefer what’s simpler or ‘homegrown’, bemused at others’ need for the so-called biggest or best. Given this ‘modesty’, Kiwis are sometimes regarded as a little behind the times. This view has lessened as New Zealand has ‘strutted its stuff’ in areas such as America’s Cup sailing, nuclear disarmament leadership, film computer-generated effects technology, and in achieving high levels of economic freedom/quality of life.

New Zealanders are relatively laid back, less inclined to crave change for change’s sake. A certain introversion — perhaps a product of relative isolation — may be a factor in many Kiwis being self-reliant and innovative. Kiwis describe it as using ‘№8 wire technology’ ie. creating or repairing things employing ‘farm shed’ type material.

What brings you joy?

The experience of connection in relationships with people. I like the development that occurs in getting to know others, especially those very different to me; starting as strangers — often culturally and ethnically very different — and in time appreciating our differences and what we share.

What frightens you?

Vertigo, claustrophobia, drowning or suffocating. Dying in a sudden but conscious way, unable to say goodbye to those I care about or to come to terms with my death. I fear one of my children dying prematurely. I also am un-nerved at the thought of a loss of financial security.

What gives you hope?

Faith. Miracles and people’s kindness. People full stop. I love people. I believe there is goodness in all human beings.

What is the most unusual thing about where you live?

There are three:

Literally speaking, the bath in our home. It’s positioned immediately above the shower.

Then there’s Wellington, awash with government and the civil service, being known as the “coolest little capital in the world.”

Lastly, New Zealand, with the longest place name on earth: Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu.

It means, “The summit where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, the slider, climber of mountains, the land-swallower who travelled about, played his nose flute to his loved one.”

What is your opinion of the United States? Chicago?

USA? Struggling. It appears like an ingrown toenail. It’s grown out then in through a lack of self-care. Insular and grandiose are characteristics which come to mind.

However, I also appreciate that there is an astonishing wealth of highly intelligent, kind-hearted and strong character people in the USA who can make a difference and return the USA so that it is ‘of the people, by the people, for the people.’

What does your country do really well? What do you wish it did better?

Farm. We grow grass like there are no tomorrows! In addition to tourism, it’s dairying that is the backbone of the economy, helped by the grass growing but more so the highly skilled and efficient farming practices of New Zealand’s dairy farmers. By world standards, we’re relatively pollution free.

We have one of the freest and most unregulated economies in the world. Next to no corruption.

Perhaps what we do best is in being good, decent people. We were the first country in the world to give women the vote, and one of the first to introduce homosexual law reform culminating in legal same-sex marriage. I’m proud of that and our social welfare system. Both my children experienced very serious health problems; my daughter for 9 years. My fellow citizens funded the huge cost of her’s and my son’s health care.

I wish we had more self-belief and presence. We’ve never quite shaken off the shortcomings of being, largely, inherently British. It shows up in an unhelpful reserve and invulnerability. Or what we call the ‘tall poppy syndrome’, where we are quick to ‘dethrone’ anyone who is a star or successful. . . unless they’re humble.

What do you want us to know about your country?

New Zealand is beautiful and scenically diverse. Its temperate climate is pleasant to live in and enables us to grow, produce, and feed ourselves well, as well as export to others.

We enjoy freedoms and security not enjoyed in many other countries. Our greatest attribute comes down to the people’s minds and hearts being relatively well ‘integrated’. We value character alongside competence. Trust and humility make up much of the Kiwi character.

We have our shortcomings too, still much to learn. We’re a work in progress, but a relatively happy one.

What song or book best captures your culture?

Dennis Glover’s poem “Magpies,” celebrates farming, humility, the cycle of life and death, hard work, the tension at times between town and country … and magpies (Like most of us, they migrated here).

It also champions the Kiwi underdog spirit.

What do you do in your free time?

Read. Tramp (that’s hiking). Travel. Picnic and swim. Correspond. Observe and love people and their conversation.

Tell us a joke or story about New Zealand.

Much of New Zealand’s humour has a wry or understated flavour.

Given New Zealand’s long history of sheep farming, our humour is sometimes described as ‘ewe-phemistic’.

What one word best describes your country?

Decent.