One of the many things which has amused me since moving to New Zealand, is the entire protocol surrounding food, entertaining at home and eating out.
For example, a question I always ask when inviting someone to dinner is, "Is there anything you can't or don't like to eat?" I wish I had a dollar for every time the response has been "tripe" or "liver". An entire generation of Kiwis have obviously been traumatised by being force fed overcooked / undercooked / not washed properly cow stomach, or boot leather liver. What a shame. I am also perplexed why anyone would serve such food when you are treating someone to dinner. They must think immigrants like me have sadistic tendencies.
So, when I asked the same question to a friend who is coming for dinner on Christmas day, I anticipated the same reply and wasn't disappointed. We laughed heartily about this, and I threatened to make a liver Pavlova for dessert.
Which brings me to a Kiwi "sacred cow" and the dessert of choice, Pavlova. I'm sorry folks, but it is completely over-rated. Given the choice of a Pavlova, slathered in cream with Kiwi fruit or a plate of cheese, I'll take the latter any day of the week. Not good for a planet that teeters on the edge of diabetes, this dessert is sure to fast track you into a sugar coma by Boxing Day.
When eating out, you can BYO - no I didn't know what it meant either. It means Bring Your Own wine, and not pay over the odds restaurant prices, although you do get charged for corkage. I guess this pays for the bloke washing up the glasses. Oh, and it is rare to tip waiters, because they actually GET PAID, unlike the poor souls in Europe and America that depend heavily on tips.
To turn the tables, the other question which continues to leave me puzzled is the "Can I bring anything?" question. Where I come from, you invite someone for dinner to give them a break, and allow them one evening in the week that they don't have to think about food preparation. My standard reply is "Just your wonderful selves". This does not deter a determined local though. They will usually show up with flowers / chocolates / cases of wine or pot plants. Delightful, but really not necessary.
The vocabulary for meals and meal times has caught me on the back foot too. In NZ, supper is a snack before bed, in the UK it is a meal. In NZ "tea" is a full meal in the evening. Dinner can mean a variety of meals (in the north of England where I come from, it is the main meal at noon, but in the south it is the equivalent of Kiwi "tea" - you still with me?). The request to "bring a plate" means bring some food to share, not your own china to eat from!
All this confusion aside, I have to give credit where it is due. The best Kiwi invention is "morning tea" which most offices stop for and which usually gives people an excuse to bake once in a while. I suspect it is also sponsored by Weight Watchers, as it has produced a happy but generally overweight population, permanently padded out by date scones and muffins to die for.