New Zealand? That’s next to Sweden, right?

I’m a New Zealander and proud. However in my travels I’ve discovered that a lot of people have never heard of New Zealand and most Europeans think that a kiwi is just a type of fruit.

People have told me that New Zealand is next to Kenya, Sweden and Argentina. People have tried to tell me that New Zealand is in fact Papua New Guinea (right continent at least) and that all New Zealanders have black skin and live in grass huts (we don’t). I have been told I have fantastic English for someone who’s native tongue is French (it’s not, New Zealand has two official languages, English and Te Reo Maori. The large majority of the population speak English). I understand all this.  New Zealand is a small country of only 4.4 million, we are situated at the end of the world and live in relative isolation.  I’m not offended when people don’t know where New Zealand is (even American spell check doesn’t recognize New Zealand as a word) and I have no qualms about telling people about the land of the long white cloud.

Generally speaking New Zealands relative obscurity has never hindered my travel and using the NZ passport has made my life really simple.  That was until I decided to go to the Ukraine for a weekend. Legitimately entering the Ukraine was no easy task.  It all started at the Ukrainian Embassy in Warsaw, the smallest of my problems being that the women behind the desk was convinced that New Zealand was in fact a part of Australia. I could have suggested that Ukraine was in Russia but she didn’t look like she had a sense of humor. The people at the embassy were also utterly confused as to why I (an alleged New Zealander) would want to go to the Ukraine.

Four separate visits to the embassy later I arrived to pick up my passport on the day I was supposed to travel to Lviv. Despite applying for the visa with a New Zealand passport, providing a New Zealand drivers as identity proof, stating  on my visa application form my nationality as “New Zealander”, my place of birth as Blenheim, New Zealand and the place my passport was issued as Wellington, New Zealand when I received my passport back the Ukrainian Visa said this….

Nationality: AUS, Australian. FAIL. Don’t get me wrong I have no issue with Australia.  My mum’s Australian, I have Australian family and friends, I love the country and think that the animosity a lot of kiwis have for our neighbor is stupid BUT the simple fact is that I am NOT Australian and neither is my passport. It would be okay though? Right? Not many New Zealanders go to the Ukraine, maybe they don’t even have a “New Zealand” in their system and they just put AUS for official purposes to make the paper work easy.

Not so, when I went to hand over my passport at the border the official looked like I had just handed her a bomb. I could hear her thinking “what the hell is this”. Then my passport did something that it has never done before. It aroused suspicion.  Cue a long line of questioning that went something like this.

Is New Zealand part of Australia? – No we are an independent country

Are you sure? Yes, very sure.

Why does your visa say you nationality is Australia? I don’t know (ask the woman at your embassy)

Why does your passport have plastic in it? It’s an electronic chip all New Zealand passports have them, it holds all my data  supposedly making going through customs easy.

Why? To make going through customs easy…..

but why would they do that? To modernize the passport…..

Are you a diplomat, consular or businessman? No (do you think I would be going through customs like this if I was)

What is this? What does it say? – It says “New Zealand Passport”.  As we have two official languages, English and Te Reo,  our passport is in both languages.

Who is this man? Why is he in your passport? I don’t know who the man is.  He’s a John Doe. It is a sample photo of a New Zealand passport directing customs officials how to use the electronic chip.

Why did you sign by the man? Because that is where they ask you to sign on the passport.

Why are you coming to the Ukraine in winter? Because Lviv is supposed to be beautiful in the snow. Actually in New Zealand it is summer right now so technically I’m on summer holidays.  This response got some surprised looks.

It was at this point that I realized that they thought I had made up a country and my passport was fake. Not helped by the fact that my visa said I was Australian. The electronic chip was also causing a lot of concern.  Was I a spy? Was this chip actually a weapon of mass destruction? After some more questioning (you have been to India, why did you go to India?), some thorough scanning of my passport pages and a quick google search of NZ, I was reluctantly granted entry into the Ukraine.

Getting out of the Ukraine was almost as hard. It required another 4 officials to check my passport and  a round of questioning. It was worth it though.  As you can hopefully see from my pictures, Lviv was beautiful, the  Ukrainian culture was really interesting and I honestly want to go back and see more of the country. Also, there are now a few more people in the Ukraine who know that there is a country called New Zealand (and they have strange passports with electronic chips).

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