I dropped my nephew Andy at the Auckland airport on Thursday morning and promptly returned the rental we had been driving for the past week. We didn’t leave a mark on it so there were no additional fees, no surprises, and Avis didn’t even mind that I was returning a car with about 7/8ths of a tank of gas when I had indicated that I’d bring it back on ‘full.’ In North America that would result in a hefty surcharge in addition to a bill for 10 liters of exorbitantly marked-up gas but in super-friendly New Zealand they just look the other way. I wasn’t 100% sure what the agent said to me as he handed over the printed receipt but it sounded mildly inappropriate. It was odd for New Zealand, I thought, but I promptly forgot about it and walked back to my hostel.
My Swiss friends Marcel and Stefanie were in town for a few more days so we met on Thursday afternoon for drinks and eventually dinner at a very nice rooftop terrace overlooking bustling Queen Street. We met up again on Friday for a half-day hike followed by burgers and beers at Shakespeare’s Pub (est. 1898) and ice cream from Giapo. (I’ll write more about what has to be the world’s best artisanal ice cream shop in a future post.)
Licking the remnants of a double scoop of hokey-pokey from my fingers, I walked back to the hostel, read some e-mails, and was in bed before the stroke of 11. With just one other person in my eight-bed dorm, I was really looking forward to a good night’s sleep. I’m sure I was sawing logs before I counted the 100th Hobbit-jumping New Zealand lamb.
An eight-hour beauty rest was not to be. I was awoken at 2:15 a.m. – precisely 15 minutes after hundreds of well lubricated 20 and 30-somethings had been ushered onto Fort Street to the sound of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Closing Time.’ Six of those back slapping, .08-blowing ‘bros’ bounded into my nearly empty room and exclaimed in perfect harmony, “Sweet ass, bro.” I was sure that I had been completely covered but I pulled the duvet even tighter and decided to ignore them.
Five of the six were so drunk that they were sound asleep within 10 minutes. Unfortunately the guy who climbed into the bunk above me was the only one who didn’t sleep like a babe. To say that he was a ‘restless sleeper’ would be like saying, “roping a calf on the top of a wobbly bunk bed might be mildly annoying to the cowboy trying to sleep in the bottom bunk.”
Thankfully the in-sleep calisthenics ended at 4:30 when someone’s cell phone started playing a few bars of ‘Who Let The Dogs Out’ alternating with 10 second clips of ‘Gangnam Style.’ This went on for about two minutes before The Restless One got up and managed to silence the alarm. He followed up on his little musical interlude with 30 minutes of stumbling around, tripping over shoes, boots and backpacks, crinkling countless plastic bags, and the zipping and unzipping of a dozen different zippers… five times apiece. But to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t too upset that Psy had me out of bed before dawn. I had to be at the ferry terminal by 6:40 a.m. and this just gave me an extra 30 minutes to sample the hostel’s free breakfast bar. Do you have any idea how many packets of peanut butter and grape jelly one can stuff into the pockets of a hoodie when left alone in a hostel breakfast room at 5:10 a.m.?
When I was exiting the hostel’s front door I met a girl who had been fiddling with the lock while balancing a tray of convenience store coffees. I saw that she had the correct key so I swiped her in. “Sweet ass,” she replied. I took it as a compliment but was perplexed. How did she manage to check me out when she was balancing a tray of coffees against the glass door with her chin?
After a 20-minute walk to the Bluebridge Ferry terminal I was greeted by a sharply-dressed steward who asked if I needed a luggage tag. When I replied that I only had one backpack and was happy to carry it, he looked me up and down and said in an approving tone, “Sweet ass.”
All these strenuous hikes to remote waterfalls and around the rims of volcanic craters must be doing wonders for my glutes, I concluded.
As I sat in the ferry company’s departure lounge, availing myself of their free wifi, I thought about the chances of four people making the same comment, word-for-word, within the last 24 hours. This was too much of a co-incidence, I decided. So I did what any bewildered foreigner would do in a strange land where people speak a wildly different version of the same language: I Googled “sweet ass + New Zealand + slang.”
And then I got the bad news. Google came back with 73,100 results within .52 seconds. After reading just one of those results, I learned that most Kiwis regularly say “sweet as.” (Note the single ‘s’ in as.) Damn, I thought, they’re not commenting on my physique.
According to UrbanDictionary.com, “sweet as” is the second most common phrase in New Zealand, just behind “awesome.” The site explains that “sweet as” is said when something is very good instead of just “good” or “OK.” And apparently it’s often followed by “bro.”
• “The D4 are a band from New Zealand. They’re sweet as.”
• “I’ll wake you up at eight o’clock,” which could be acknowledged by saying, “Sweet as, bro.”
One contributor to forum.wordreference.com had this to say: “It is, in essence, a castrated simile; a concept that is particularly useful for those of limited vocabulary. It works with any adjective, not just sweet.”
The good folks at forum.wordreference.com also supplied these examples:
• “It was cold and frosty last night,” to which one could answer, “Cold as.”
• “Mates passed out drunk on the floor?” to which the correct answer might be, “Drunk as.”
While the last two examples were listed on Ubandictionary.com, I could swear that I heard all of these lines as my dorm-mates goofed around in bed last night.
I guess the days of “Good night, Mary-Ellen” and “Good night, John Boy” are long gone.