Kōrero: Manners and social behaviour

Whārangi 5. Cross-cultural manners

Ngā whakaahua

Post-war racial conflict

During and after the Second World War more Māori young people and families moved from rural communities into large towns and cities in pursuit of work and educational opportunities. Increasingly, urban Pākehā and Māori worked together and lived in close proximity. Intermarriage also became more common. During this period, Māori were pressured to conform to Pākehā ways. These changes often led to racial tension.

Māori renaissance

From the 1970s heightened awareness, particularly among young Māori, of land, language and cultural losses led to the Māori renaissance, which included initiatives to recover and restore aspects of Māori culture. Many Pākehā sympathised and sought to learn more about the Māori way of life, which until then had usually been a mystery to them. The search for knowledge entailed learning a new set of rules about manners.

Marae protocol

In the 1970s and 1980s many Pākehā had their first experience of visiting a marae and being part of the rituals of welcome, hospitality and farewell. This involved learning correct behaviours and avoiding others, for example not talking at inappropriate moments, not sitting on tables and pillows, and not wearing shoes indoors. As New Zealand moved towards becoming a more bicultural society often the protocol of the marae was introduced into workplaces, schools and meetings for special occasions such as greeting new staff. Some schools and other educational institutions built their own marae.

Not seeing eye to eye

One of the many cultural misunderstandings to do with manners relates to the way people look at each other. Pākehā children are taught to look people in the eye to show trustworthiness, interest and undivided attention. Māori and Samoans often think that it is rude to look at people directly because to them it suggests a challenge and encourages conflict and opposition, so they may fix their gaze elsewhere or even close their eyes. Pākehā in turn may read this as rudeness or shiftiness.

Learning new manners

Workplace training courses to teach correct behaviour and instil understanding of the meanings behind certain rituals became common in the public sector. New generations of children were taught these matters routinely at school. Books advising on behaviour, such as Te marae: a guide to customs and protocol by Hiwi and Pat Tauroa, and Talking past each other: problems of cross-cultural communication by Joan Metge and Patricia Kinloch, went through numerous editions. Penelope Hansen’s 1990 general etiquette book, Special occasions, also included a section on correct behaviour on a marae.

Awareness of other cultures

Growing awareness of and respect for Māori culture, and recognition of the need to behave correctly in the Māori world, was a timely reminder of the need for more sensitivity towards other cultures in New Zealand society. In the years after the Second World War people of other cultures, including many Pacific and Asian peoples and later people from African countries, migrated to New Zealand in greater numbers. Misreading of quite subtle differences in use of language, expressions and mannerisms remains an obstacle in the way of better cross-cultural understanding.

Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Nancy Swarbrick, 'Manners and social behaviour - Cross-cultural manners', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/manners-and-social-behaviour/page-5 (accessed 24 September 2019)

Story by Nancy Swarbrick, published 5 Sep 2013