It was nice to be back in a warm beach climate after the winter weather in New Zealand. The beaches in Nouméa were beautiful despite being marred by graffiti. Everything was tagged — trash cans, park benches, picnic tables, bathrooms. I find tagging ugly, unnecessary, and uninspired. But when we ventured into the city, we discovered that some of the graffiti was actually art.
We soon began to notice that we were surrounded by triathletes in the beach areas. We would often share the sidewalk with runners, see others on expensive racing bikes in the street, and watch swimmers in caps and goggles training in the ocean. When you’re on vacation, it’s strange to be surrounded by exercise fiends. It made me feel like a bit of a slacker.
Speaking of sharing the sidewalk, Mr. HalfFull and I had to retrain our brains after 1 week in Fiji and 3 weeks in New Zealand doing it the British way. New Caledonia is French, so they drive and walk on the right side of the road, like us. It was surprising that this was actually a retraining exercise, since walking on the left had originally felt so unnatural.
The other surprising thing we discovered on the sidewalk was a complete disregard for other humans. Fiji was an exceptionally friendly culture where strangers yelled, “Bula” as they passed us on the sidewalk. But each time we said, “Bonjour” in Nouméa, we were met with silence. Perhaps it’s the cool aloofness inherited from the French.
We were also bewildered by another unfriendly sidewalk practice. Generally, Mr. HalfFull and I walk next to each other. But if we see another person or group approaching, we move to single file until we pass the other party. In Nouméa, no one else did this! They could be walking with five people across and make no effort to move over and allow us to pass. Eventually, it became a game to see if they would actually run into us; I put Mr. HalfFull in front for those experiments since he could block better.
On the other side of the spectrum, we witnessed the relaxed, playful side of New Caledonian culture in the form of daily pétanque matches. Pétanque is a French game similar to bocce. Around 11 AM each morning, we would see the city workers park their trucks and congregate to play on the court adjacent to the beach. They played for hours; I wonder if they were on the clock. Mr. HalfFull thinks this might be his next career.
I have mixed impressions about Nouméa. At times, people made it feel cold, but the joy of the city workers meeting to play was a nice contrast.
- Does graffiti change your impression of a place?
- Do you exercise on vacation?
- Did you need to retrain your brain after travel?
- Do you acknowledge and/or greet strangers on the sidewalk?
- Do you practice sidewalk etiquette?
- Are the pétanque players lazy or are they fostering meaningful camaraderie?