The last Census put New Zealand's population at just below 4.2 million people. Pretty much, that's half the size of New York—small enough to guarantee you're going to have mutual friends with Jase, the only other Kiwi on your Contiki.
In fact, it's widely believed that no matter where you go in New Zealand, you can expect to be somehow connected to whoever you might meet. Which is really, if you think about it, how our brave forefathers intended it.
But just how closely linked are we all, really? If I put our country to the test—cold calling a random collection of numbers—would I know the person on the other end of the phone? Everything I'd learnt from overseas run-ins and random friend requests pointed to yes, so I decided to give it a go.
Before I finally got onto Steve, I came to the realisation that punching random numbers on your keypad after a 021 or 027 prefix (no one should fuck with 022) and happening upon a real phone number is really hard. Unfortunately, this was the only way to keep it fair, so I persisted.
Steve let me stutter through an explanation for my call. He sounded like the epitome of Kiwi masculinity. If I had to guess, Steve was probably mid-40s and had something to do with the trade industry. Perhaps he worked at Bunnings.
Despite our initial rapport, in the end Steve let me down. Suddenly, he was coming at me with a whole lot of: "Look, I don't actually know you, so I'm going to have to cut this short." He seemed to be missing the point that, he might know me, that we might know each other if he would just divulge sensitive personal information to me. Alas, Steve and I were not meant to be.
I struck absolute gold with Brad, who was likely in his late 20s to early 30s (judging by his sprightly tone) and less suspicious of this stranger calling him up. Like Steve, Brad was also from Wellington originally, but he now lived in my home region. This got me very excited, maybe too excited.
It wasn't long before I starting asking a bunch of very personal shit like, "How old are you?" "Who do you work for?" "Where did you go to high school?" Although this might go down okay with stranger in a bar, it certainly didn't over a cell phone.
No matter which way I spun it, I sounded like a con artist. Brad cut me off midway telling me this was his work phone (wow you have two phones, very chill of you Brad) and wished me luck. Bye Brad.
Being a diehard Serial fan, I really hope Adnan's name was actually Adnan, but I can't be quite sure. I couldn't hear very well, so for all I know, he might actually be a plain old Adam. What the guy's name was, English was not Adnan's first language, and he definitely thought I was a telemarketer.
He told me he was kind of busy right now, could he call me back later? This was clearly not Adnan's first time at the rodeo. We both knew he wouldn't call me back. I said "sure," and let him go. I hope one day he will call back and maybe then we could unite IRL. Anything is possible.
Rangi and Anonymous Mum
After dialling approximately 14 numbers that do not exist, I finally hit Rangi, who very quickly passed me onto his mum. Anonymous Mum was really quite nice, if not very, very vague. She wouldn't tell me her name but she was pretty willing to chat.
Rangi and Anonymous Mum were both based in the South Island. We eventually worked our way to pinpoint that they live on the West Coast. I don't know anyone on the West Coast. I didn't know there really was anyone on the West Coast. Thus, even though I'd caught a live one, I had to put Rangi and Anonymous Mum back.
Steven told me outright he was a builder living in Timaru, and giggled (giggled) when I told him my reason for calling. I have never been to Timaru—I'm unsure that I can actually even locate it on a map—but I knew if I would have mutual friends with anyone, it would be with a fun-loving lad like Steven.
I asked Steven if he knew anyone in Auckland or Wellington. He didn't. Did he know anyone in Dunedin or Christchurch, a little closer to home? No, no one at all. Clearly Steven (can I call you Steve?) did not get out of Timaru much. Either way, even if I didn't know Steve already, I certainly want to now.
I've never felt worse for people who have to spend their work days making cold calls than when I was talking to Carol. Judging by her voice, Carol was probably a middle-aged real estate agent in Palmerston North.
Carol was also very, very rude. I might as well have been asking for her credit card details, judging by her reaction. After telling me in no uncertain terms she had no interest, she had the audacity to thank me for calling. It was probably the most sarcastic thank you I've ever received. After talking to Carol I didn't know much, but I did know my sensitive soul couldn't take many more Carols.
Like Steven, Sophie laughed when I told her why I was calling up random numbers, trying to find somebody I knew in New Zealand for an article. Straight up, she told me her last name (it sounded like Lessaugisoloo, I couldn't really hear) and her age (23).
Sophie works in Wellington. She also knew quite a few people from my (very small) hometown, including her partner. She was a real kindred spirit.
Quite logically, Sophie was uncomfortable with telling me the names of our potentially mutual friends, presenting a crippling flaw in my experiment. Even if I did meet someone who knew someone I also know, they probably wouldn't actually give me their name, 'cause I sounded like a private eye at best, and a stalker at worst.
I decided Sophie was about as close as I was ever going to get to a real connection. Considering I found Sophie by punching a bunch of random numbers in my phone, it was pretty bloody close.
So sure, if you meet a fellow New Zealander around your age, chances are you'll know them somehow. That doesn't mean that New Zealanders can be pegged as a bunch of hicks who are all somehow related.
I might have known someone who knew Steve or Steven, Brad, Adnan, and even grumpy Carol. But then again, I may not have—and that could happen anywhere. What I feel doesn't happen just anywhere is that total strangers will be really really nice to you. That's a very Kiwi-specific quality.
Most importantly, shout out to the telemarketers, conmen, hustling out there. It turns out we are far more wary with personal details than I ever would've anticipated. You have a hard job.
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