Per Capita, New Zealand is officially one of the fittest countries in the world. But Kiwis don’t just like to exercise. Oh, no. They like to be ‘competition-ready’.
Some even go so far as too keep a gym-bag handy at all times, stuffed full with protein bars, Powerade, track pants, and a race number ready to be pinned to the chest at the merest hint of some sort of competitive run/swim/cycle/rock-climb/walk. The call to action might come during work, it might come at the weekend, it might come during the movies or even when you’re out to dinner – but dude, you better take that call, or are you less than a real man? Maybe even a little bit gay?
And that goes for Kiwi women too.
The irony of all this exercise, is that, through lack of public transport, a love of cars, and urban sprawl, Kiwis never walk anywhere. Exercise in New Zealand is not incidental to lifestyle, but rather something extreme that must be squeezed in between work, and driving to work. Many even drive hours out of their normal route in order to exercise. And you can be sure, when they arrive at the gym, they will spend an extra twenty minutes queuing to park right outside the entrance, rather than walk 5 minutes from the carpark over the road.
Similar can be said of Cycling. In Europe, pretty girls on retro bikes with wicker baskets ride, carefree, to work everyday. Keeping active, while also keeping up the appearance of effortless chic. In New Zealand, by contrast, cycling is seen more as something for large groups of overweight, middle-aged men on expensive racing bikes – men who really shouldn’t be pouring themselves into fluorescent Lycra – to do on Saturday mornings, sweating and panting up the hills like sheep in the sun.
All of which probably goes some way towards explaining both New Zealand’s high level of international sporting excellence, as well as our penchant for random acts of alcohol-fuelled, Saturday night violence.
If, as an unsuspecting foreigner of naturally soft disposition, you are put in the uncomfortable position of being asked by a ‘friendly’ Kiwi (with that unnerving hint of competition anger behind their eyes) if you would like to join in on a ‘social’ game of touch-rugby/tennis/whitewater-rafting/extreme-downhill-mountain-biking, then you have two options.
The first is to claim that you’re English. As in, ‘I’m so sorry, but growing up on a council estate in Hackney, we didn’t do much Paragliding. I think I’ll just meet you in the bar afterwards’. You may suffer a few minutes of lame, sports-related jokes, but you will inevitably never be asked again. The last thing sporty Kiwis want is some limp-kneed Pom harshing their testosterone buzz.
The second option, is to claim that you are recovering from a sporting injury. This will gain you their immediate respect, as well as the recommendation of at least ten different physiotherapists. The only downside is, they may have you pegged as one of them, and ask you again at some point in the future when they think you’ve recovered. But, if you have the acting skills and the props (ie; wheelchair, wrist-brace) to claim something along the lines of ‘my doctor tells me if I even look at a Frisbee again, my knee will shatter’, then you will almost certainly be left alone for good, while keeping your Mana intact.