New Zealand Now
It follows, and must follow, from some of the facts glanced at in the preceding section that New Zealanders lack cohesion. If we are continually changing our homes—not only our houses but what Americans call our location—we are continually changing our neighbours. We come and we go, they come and page 82they go, whether we farm, or deal, or make boots, or teach, or preach, or help to run the railways or the post office. There is in fact an almost universal tendency in New Zealand to nod to every man we meet in a dining-room, or a tram, and every second man we meet in the street, in case we have once met him and forgotten him, or lived beside him, or travelled in the same bus or boat with him in some other town. Visitors to the Dominion have often remarked on our readiness to shake hands, the charitable among them attributing it to our kindness, the uppish to our lack of breeding. But they are both wrong. We just can't remember whom we know and whom we don't know, and like good bishops bless everybody. What they do in America to maintain the Revolution, and in Australia because the sun has entered their souls, we do in New Zealand because there is a limit to the number of sizes, shapes, colours, and contours the untutored mind can register accurately. Psychologists thought it remarkable during the last war — remarkable enough to get a place in their books—that a New Zealand soldier should have been able to repeat the number of every man in his platoon, the initials of every man in his company, and more regimental figures and facts than any head had ever carried before. It certainly was remarkable. But the psychologists did not know that he was only doing magnificently what every New Zealander has to be able to do fumblingly, or spend half his time writing page 83letters of apology. For we not only come and go. We go and return again, doubling on our tracks like foxes and hares, and half hoping and half fearing that when we go back from Greatdene to Littledene there will still be some familiar faces.
But none of this means that hospitality is growing warmer and richer. It means, on the contrary, that it is wearing thinner and becoming more casual. Hospitality is a flower that feels the wind. It flourishes among friends, and is most fragrant when cultivated by strangers, but the here-today-tomorrow-away heartiness of casual acquaintances soon kills it. Forty years ago it was an offence to pass a farm-house in an isolated locality without calling in. To-day you have to explain yourself—not merely because distance no longer means distress, or because you are within an hour's journey of a hotel, or look like a government inspector, or should know how many others have preceded you. There are many reasons why you should know better than to call, but one reason why your reception may be embarrassing if you do call is that the habit of hospitality is disappearing and being replaced by something more mechanical. Not so many months ago I was tramping with a companion on the East Coast of the North Island. The weather was bad, the road recently metalled, and by a miscalculation we found ourselves passing what our maps told us was the last house for fifteen miles, hungry and wet, and carrying heavy packs. With some hesitation we page 84decided both to ask for a meal and to offer to pay for it; but although payment was refused and the meal was provided it was a most embarrassing half-hour for everybody. What was given was given freely. There was no niggardliness, no stint. But why had we called? Surely we must have felt that it was an extraordinary thing to do? There were hotels these days, and if trampers chose to take these back roads, surely they carried tents and food? Yes, it was a long way to the next refreshment house, but still you came this way? Of course these things were not said. Almost nothing was said, and what did escape their lips was kind. They themselves were kind. They have probably given a bullock and two or three bales of wool recently to a patriotic society. But they had forgotten how to entertain strangers unawares. They were worried, almost alarmed, not because they suspected us, but because we had made such an extraordinary request in Hawke's Bay in 1939.
Or is it simply that we are retiring into ourselves with our decreasing need of one another? Two years ago you would travel from Land's End to John o' Groat's with an Englishman without discovering his name or his occupation or his tastes or his opinions or, if he had any, his needs. To-day you would be brothers. He needs you, or you need him, or may need him.. The great tribulation has come and the barriers are down. Fifty years ago we needed one another in New Zealand, or any day might. We were page 85hospitable. Have we lost the habit, or do we really mistrust strangers, being English after all?