I was, like….what? – The new new English

For whatever reason, I was recently on a bus in Chile. Having a modest command of Spanish, I can usually manage a basic exchange in the language, but when the conductor addressed me, I heard bla, bla, bla and nothing more. Even when he repeated what he’d said, I didn’t catch a single word.

Annoying! Why can’t people speak their own language properly?

Sitting behind me were three young Aussie guys. I overheard their conversation, which went rather as follows:

“ Man, I was, like… what?” “I was, like… far out!” “And she was, like… what the…” “I was, like… crazy.”

And so it went on. I soon realised that, although I could identify all the words, I had absolutely no idea what they were talking about. All I caught were various parts of the verb “to be”, a

handful of “likes”, a grinding pause after every “like”, and then finally some kind of interjection.

After a while, the conversation reached its glorious, inevitable climax:

“I was, like… fuck!”

Whereupon everyone roared with laughter. Whether this meant that the trio had actually extracted some meaning from this curious exchange, or whether they were just accommodating one another, I’m not entirely sure.

Having overheard the sentence, “I was, like… fuck!” and observed the same reaction a number of times now, I’ve concluded that it inevitably produces a kind of Pavlovian chuckle. It doesn’t require interpretation. Maybe it just cheers people up – if you’re feeling down, you could perhaps recite it to yourself to see if it helps.

That said, I tried to envisage a context in which “I was, like… fuck!” had some meaning. I believe I understand the standard meaning of all four words in this utterance, but how could they come together to convey some aspect of reality? A number of curious images drifted in and out of my consciousness, but somehow failed to coalesce into anything very concrete. Still less could I attach them to the context in which the words were used – but then, as I hadn’t been able to identify a context anyway, it wasn’t very likely that I would.

But here’s another idea: maybe there’s some mystery code enabling sophisticated meaning to be extracted from a language which has apparently been reduced to about four words. Are there perhaps layers of meaning conveyed by the intonation, and has that replaced vocabulary as the primary vehicle for the conveyance of meaning? Instead of using a hundred different words, just produce “fuck” with a hundred different intonations, and meaning will be conveyed, at least to the cognoscenti, just as well.

I’m thinking now that we should rewrite the textbooks we produce for learners of English. Out goes: much of the old grammar. In comes: “to be + like + pause + interjection”. We could then add, “This construction is now used to convey meanings ranging from ‘to say’, through ‘to feel’, to ‘the reaction was’, to essentially anything at all. It has replaced 99% of the previously existing language.”

But seriously, does it matter if the English language is reduced to about four words? I have to say I’m not exactly offended by the word “fuck”: how can anyone be seriously offended by hearing a word they’ve heard thousands of times already? I do have an issue when it’s used in every sentence regardless of meaning. And I have an even bigger issue with a jarring “like” puncturing every sentence and creating a horrible staccato effect.

It seems to be mainly younger people who speak in this way. Sometimes their speech is so far removed from standard English that it really amounts to a distinct dialect – one determined not by region, class or even nationality, but by generation. Actually, if they want to speak in this way, and manage to communicate with one another, well, so be it. But I really hope they recognise that this is not standard English, and that there are contexts in which they need to switch codes and use that standard.

One such context is in communicating with non-native speakers of English. No learner of English is actually taught the construction “to be + like + pause + interjection”, and to be suddenly confronted by it must be a little dispiriting. When you learn a foreign language, you rather hope the native speakers you encounter will speak the form you’ve learnt. Dialects may well create a valuable sense of identity, but they can also exclude, and when you’re learning another language, they can drive you mad – it’s hard enough learning the standard, let alone umpteen variants.

Most English speakers make little effort to learn foreign languages; the very least we can do is to use a standard form of the language when speaking to those who do. The I-was-like-fuck! dialect may have its place, but it’s not here.

One of the travellers now approached another conductor. Speaking Spanish was obviously out of the question, so would he perhaps switch codes and try to communicate in standard English?

“Yeah, we were, like… wondering if we could, like…”

And I was, like… wondering whether English speakers deserved to

be understood at all.

Euroasia Principal Peter Chapple recently returned from a holiday in Latin America. He is currently researching the topic of optimal delivery of Spanish lessons for English speakers as part of the Euroasia curriculum development programme.

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Kiwis learning Italian?

We have observed over the years that there are a number of reasons Kiwis learn Italian. Apart from the vogue, the peculiarity, the mental exercise and the culture it’s always useful to speak the language of those with whom we have been bewitched.

Italy is a perpetual fascination from which there is no escape, a country of colour and aromas, of inducements ideal and cultural that can’t be denied. The country “condemned” to manage and conserve about 80% of all the world’s archaeological and artistic beauty which, as much as it seems a clichè, renders it a prisoner.

It’s precisely the Italian language, seemingly unimportant in a commercial world, that contributes in a very significant way to enchantment. With its richness of inflections and nuances, it’s a language that is applicable to declarations of love as much as tragedy, to complicity as much as humour. Popular culture, including everything

from Roberto Benigni’s

filmmaking talent to Eros Ramazotti’s and Andrea Boccelli’s music to the best recipes for pizza

margherita, is made even more enjoyable when you know a little of the lingua franca!

Italian classes (as well as French, Spanish, German, Chinese, Japanese and Korean) start 26 April at Euroasia Language Academy in Auckland and Christchurch. Check out our course timetable or call 0800 387627 for more information.

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Wellington Mayoral candidate Jack Yan on why multilingualism matters

In this article, Jack Yan talks about growing up in Wellington, and how being multilingual has helped him with living life to the fullest. Jack is a renowned businessman from Hong Kong/Wellington, and publisher of fashion magazine Lucire. He has been very successful at building a global brand, and now delving into politics. If Jack has his way, Wellington City will get free wifi, one car-less Sunday a year, perhaps even solar-powered council buildings.

Jack has a good chance of becoming the next Mayor of Wellington City. If you google “Wellington mayor”, you will see Jack’s campaign site displayed prominently on page 1 (after the official Wellington site and Wikipedia), further demonstration of Jack’s internet marketing prowess. Jack is impressive not just because of his amazing business credentials. I remember chatting with him a few years ago and discovering he is one of very few Kiwis who can speak both French and Cantonese – and putting his language skills to good use in business.

I hope Jack’s story will inspire you to learn another language, perhaps to finally work on the new year resolution that keeps reappearing on your list every January.

In the 1970s, New Zealand was a far more monocultural place. When I was four, two of my cousins, who were slightly older, were attending primary school and started speaking English at home, instead of our native Cantonese. I asked my parents if I could do the same.

My parents were usually pretty good at rationalizing things to me. Mum explained, ‘No, because it’s important that you speak Cantonese at home, and leave English for outside. Wouldn’t it be better to speak two languages well rather than one?’

That sold me.

A similar argument came at age six, when my parents asked if I would like to learn an extra language.

The choices offered in 1978 at St Mark’s Church School, Wellington, were French and Japanese.

‘Wouldn’t you like to learn Japanese?’ asked Mum. ‘The Japanese have some characters that are the same as ours, and you can learn to write your own language.’

While none of my Japanese friends would like to hear this, the thought that went through my mind at that age was, ‘I’m not learning a form of Chinese with the wrong pronunciations.’ Hey, I was six.

However, I never regretted that decision.

Of all my travels, I only have visited Japan once. Few business opportunities ever availed themselves in that country. However, I have visited France over half a dozen times, with most of those times for work.

It’s especially handy given I own a fashion magazine, Lucire, and Paris is very much the centre of that industry in so many respects. Even things as simple as filling in a form present no challenges.

At the Medinge Group, a think-tank where I am a director, we hand out Brands with a Conscience every year. We do so from Paris, rather than our usual Swedish location.

Even back in Wellington, French is very useful when chatting to expatriates or dealing with the diplomatic corps.

It’s been a good foundation for other countries. For example, I was able to travel through Italy and understand the locals. The languages are dissimilar, but there are enough common roots that you can get pick out key words and get about the place.

I would hate to think where I would be without these languages. Certainly in business, I would have lost plenty of opportunities dealing with French designers, photographers, and make-up artists. I would not have been able to develop business in Hong Kong, my home town, where Cantonese is the norm. I would have been pretty lost in various American Chinatowns, unable to get proper medicine if I was sick, if I did not have any Taishanese.

I also have a limited grasp of Swedish, which has helped my work at Medinge and some of the work I do in Sweden.

While 90 per cent of Swedes speak English, Swedish is still the language in which they conduct most of their lives, so being able to read and write some of it, even if my comprehension has some way to go, has been incredibly useful.

With understanding a language comes understanding a culture, often the biggest barrier in international business.

The extra language is an extra means to get inside the other side’s mindsets, and attempt to find that common ground where you can do business or form a friendship.

As a mayoral candidate, I have discovered that the skills you acquire in learning languages come into play in politics.

Over the 18 months, in preparation for my mayoral run, I have attended more diplomatic events, in part to pave the way for better relations with other countries should I be elected.

You can’t just go and demand sister-city relationships with others if you don’t lay the groundwork first. To do that, you must have some accord.

In all these conversations, you are acutely aware that you are an ambassador for Wellington and New Zealand, and you are finding a way to promote us in a way our foreign visitors understand.

They respect you in return because you know your own language and heritage, those of the country which you

have adopted as your home for 34 years, and you have extended your goodwill by embracing theirs.

Beyond business, arts, cultural exchanges and politics, multilingualism gives a person one extra thing.

It shows that you are complete, and you have a sense of self. That equates best to the Māori concept of mana. It is the greatest advantage one has over others in so many facets of life.

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November / December Euroasia update

OK This is going to be a long-ish post, to update you with all the goss over the past month. I have been very busy with various projects, travelling, attending all sorts of forums and events, and trying to keep up with everything else. It’s Christmas eve, and I finally get to do some blogging. I dread to think what it must be like in the shopping malls right now, so this is a welcome reprieve.

We had the annual Euroasia Christmas party late this year (11 Dec 09). We had a decent turnout of around 80 clients and friends of Euroasia, which is OK seeing we clashed with many other corporate parties. File note: next year we definitely have to do this the first week of Dec, perhaps even late-Nov. As you can see, those who managed to make it had a great time.

We didn’t

do any Christmas carols in Spanish, French, German, Chinese and Japanese like we did last year… but our team did organise some cool games. It was also a great opportunity for me to thank all our clients for their unwavering support to us over the past year. Dr John Reynolds spoke eloquently in 3 languages about his language learning experience at Euroasia.

Ken with Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng and fellow businessmen from Australia..

A few months ago, I accepted an invitation to speak at the World Chinese Economic Forum in November and held in Kuala Lumpur (which happens to be my hometown). I’m really glad I went, as I managed to meet a number of very interesting people. At my session, I talked about how overseas Chinese can assist businesspeople from Western nations, including New Zealand, to access new markets in Asia generally and China specifically. I provided examples of enterprising Chinese businesspeople facilitating trade opportunities. In the past, New Zealand chicken producers had to spend money to dispose of chicken parts like chicken feet (that Westerners don’t eat, but Chinese love). Through the intervention of Chinese traders, NZ chicken producers have not only saved money from having to dispose of these chicken parts, but are now profiting from the sales of these parts. There are plenty of business opportunities in China that New Zealanders are missing out on because of the DIY mindset. A far superior approach is to collaborate with Asians who live in NZ and have an entrenched knowledge of the language and culture in the target market. I’m hoping to devote more time and energy to work on these Asia Bridge initiatives in 2010.

At the Forum, I managed to have a chat with the Penang Chief Minister, Lim Guan Eng. When he found out that I lived in NZ, he said “you Kiwis qualified for the world cup”, referring to news that New Zealand qualified for the 2010 Soccer World Cup in South Africa and demonstrating his knowledge of New Zealand. I had to break it to him that NZ also qualified for the Hockey World Cup, beating Malaysia the day before the forum.

Ken with PM John Key

Earlier this month, I attended the annual APEC Advisory Business Council (ABAC) dinner, where the PM briefs members of the business community on what happened at APEC. This year, there’s lots to say about the economy and the PM has just arrived back from the East Asia Summit, Malaysia-NZ FTA, CHOGM, and about to go to Copenhagen.

I have previously blogged about this but one funny anecdote worth sharing is from the Q%A where a guy asked a serious question “If we want to catch Australia why not just merge with them?” The PM’s response: I just got back from CHOGM where Australian PM Kevin Rudd asked me the same question. My response was I’m too busy running New Zealand to run Australia as well. This guy can be very funny. I do think John Key is more in touch with the masses than Helen Clark; and has a way with both CEOs as well as joe public. Perhaps this explains his 80% favourability rating throughout a very difficult year.

Mock up of Euroasia’s new website to be launched in 2010

In the new year, you will see the launch of Euroasia’s new website and enrolment system, which we have spent the last 2 months working on. Some people have asked us why we want to spend money on this, especially seeing this is a particularly difficult time. My response is that in order to maintain Euroasia’s position as a leading provider of foreign language courses and cross-cultural services, we have to keep investing in the business, and to keep improving our service offering, especially when times are bad. Recessions don’t last forever, and I’m optimistic that 2010 will be a spectacular year for Euroasia. As it stands, our forward bookings for 2010 are already way ahead of this time last year.

Over the next two weeks, I will spend some time hopefully relaxing and reflecting on the past year. If you’re like me, and need some help with the reflection process, I’ve found this guide pretty helpful. Ask yourself 20 questions that cover all facets of life, not just material prosperity.

Last Christmas, we produced a video compilation of Euroasia staff bringing Christmas and New Year greetings in their native languages. I hope you don’t mind me recycling (seeing it’s in vogue now) this message. Once again we wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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NZ Malaysia FTA signing in Kuala Lumpur Pt 2


signing malaysia nz fta
Signing of Malaysia NZ FTA; (L-R) Tim Groser, John Key, Najib, Mustapa

Monday 26 October 2009 was a historic day for Malaysia – New Zealand relations. 10 years of trade negotiations culminated in the official signing of the Malaysia New Zealand Free Trade Agreement. A group of 45 businesspeople from New Zealand, coupled with another 15 or so New Zealanders residing in Malaysia accompanied Prime Minister John Key to Malaysia for this historic event. I had the privelege of joining the NZ delegation to Kuala Lumpur. The irony is I am Malaysian and KL is my hometown, and it felt a little weird being on the other side. Nevertheless it was an amazing experience being part of this momentous occasion.

Free Trade Agreements are highly beneficial for New Zealand. Relatively speaking, New Zealand is already a very free country, with few tariffs and trade barriers, making it very easy for foreign businesses to do business in NZ. However, the same is not true for most other nations.

The Star on Malaysia NZ FTA
Pg 2 of The Star on Malaysia NZ FTA

Many countries impose significant tariffs on imported goods, and have convoluted non-tariff barriers designed to protect domestic industries from foreign competition. This is why it is easy for NZ to sign up to a free trade agreement because these agreements most definitely result in net gains for NZ businesses. The real difficulty is in convincing foreign nations to give up long standing tariffs. The Kiwi trade negotiators have very few bargaining chips to play with, a key reason why I have a lot of respect for these guys.

This is why I’m unhappy with the negative people who complain that FTAs are useless and are merely tools for select few businesses to make more money. The reality for exporters is that because of this FTA, tariffs for kiwifruit exports to Malaysia will go from 15% to 0%. Fonterra will see liquid milk quotas increasing significantly to 2.1m litres p.a., and a reduction of the 20% inquota tariff for liquid milk to 0%. Considering Fonterra’s market share in Malaysia for the adult milk category is 77% and 80% in prenatal dairy products, this is a huge win.

PM's motorcade with police outriders
PM's motorcade with police outriders, view from coach I was in

Education institutions can secure 70% shareholding (up from 49% currently) in Malaysian-domiciled joint ventures by 2015. Fran O’Sullivan (who was in Malaysia with the trade delegation) discusses benefits for NZ education providers in her 28 October editorial “Malaysia the key to unlock other doors“.

Ultimately, the Malaysia NZ FTA is all about enhancing already strong and long enduring ties between the two nations. As politics and economics are so intertwined,

the partnership of two nations via the FTA symbolises the mutual commitment of both parties.

As I have never been on a New Zealand trade delegation signing an FTA, this trip was a real eye-opener for me. NZTE and MFAT did a great job putting the programme together. We certainly enjoyed the ride in the PM’s motorcade. The 60-strong trade delegation were put in two coaches, behind the PM’s car and security detail (probably half the cars carried security personnel). I sat behind the bus driver and could see the speedo hitting the top speed of 120 kmh, the driver struggling to keep up .

invite from Malaysian Prime Minister
invite from Malaysian Prime Minister

Knowing KL traffic, it’s amazing to see the motorways cleared, with the entourage going from KL to Shah Alam in record time. They even sent an ambulance along to accompany the motorcade. My guess is this is because they don’t want any delay in despatching medical assistance should anything happen to visiting heads of state. We managed to visit the new Datacom office in Bandar Utama and the new Fonterra yoghurt factory in Shah Alam, had lunch and got back to KL Hilton within 4 or 5 hours. Under normal traffic conditions, driving time alone would already take that long. The other bonus for me personally is to have received a dinner invitation from the Malaysian Prime Minister (extended to all visiting New Zealand delegates). Had I stayed on in Malaysia and not moved to NZ, I don’t know when I would receive a dinner invite from the Malaysian PM’s office. The other interesting irony is that I received a New Zealand Prime Ministerial invite before the Malaysian one (18 months ago, to celebrate the signing of the China NZ FTA).

NZ trade delegation to Malaysia
NZ trade delegation to Malaysia, with members of Malaysia NZ Business Council

Malaysia and New Zealand have strong historic links dating back to the 1940s with New Zealand soldiers helping Malaya fight the communists, and students from Malaysia arriving in New Zealand in the 1950s and 60s under the Colombo Plan.

Several New Zealand Army officers served in Malaya while on secondment with British units from 1949. New Zealand became more directly involved in the Malayan Emergency operations in 1955, following its decision to contribute forces to the British Commonwealth Far East Strategic Reserve. In total, 1300 New Zealanders served as part of a Commonwealth force including army, air force and navy.

The Colombo Plan was a plan for Cooperative Economic Development of South and South East Asia and was conceived at a meeting of Commonwealth Foreign Ministers held in Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in January 1950. All aid was given on a bi-lateral basis and the negotiations were conducted between the donor and the receiving government. No conditions or strings were attached to any aid provided and there was no expectation of a return by the donor country.

Petronas Twin Towers
Petronas Twin Towers

More than 300,000 recipients benefited from this scholarship during the period 1951-1989. Scholars were trained in Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and United Kingdom. Many New Zealand graduates are now in senior and influential positions within the government and private sectors in Malaysia.

During the KL trip, I took two of the New Zealand delegates to the Petronas Twin Towers. On the way there, we stopped at the mosque behind KLCC as they were fascinated with the architecture. It was almost midnight, and we bumped into 3 security guards at the mosque. They were very friendly and asked me in Bahasa (Malay language) where the guests are from. I said New Zealand. They immediately smiled and were very friendly, even asking if we wanted to take photos inside the mosque. They knew the All Blacks (it would be difficult to find one Malaysian who doesn’t recognise this most famous of Kiwi brands), and one of them mentioned Jonah Lomu. My Kiwi friends were most impressed with the Malaysians they have met, and were very keen to explore what can be done in Malaysia. This is why I am optimistic that Malaysia New Zealand relations will go from strength to strength.

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Live from Malaysia NZ FTA signing in Kuala Lumpur

This will be short as I am blogging from my iphone. PM John Key will be signing the FTA with the Malaysian PM

tonight. Approximately 60 businesspeople are accompanying John Key on this trip. It has been a full on day, from the embargoed briefing this morning to visits of the Fonterra plant in Shah Alam and Datacom office in Banda Utama. We are now back at KL Hilton for a

briefing before the reception and official signing ceremony later tonight. Just sneaking in a few linea while the PwC guy is speaking. The Kiwis enjoyed being in the official motorcade. More on that later.

[Update 3/11/09: Full report on the signing of the Malaysia NZ FTA]

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Brazil to host 2016 Olympics- time to learn Portuguese

Seeing Brazil has now beaten Chicago and Madrid to the hosting rights of Olympics 2016, it's certainly time to consider learning Portuguese. We're often asked which are the most popular languages learnt by Kiwis.  Spanish and French are high on the rankings, and even German and Italian would be ahead

of Portuguese.

Brazil is often overlooked. This despite Brazil being the fifth largest country in the world by geographical area, occupying nearly half of South America,the fifth most populous country, and the fourth most populous democracy in the world, according to Wikipedia.  Brazil was a colony

of Portugal from the landing of Pedro Álvares Cabral in 1500 until its independence in 1822. This is why Brazilians speak Portuguese.

Looking ahead, I can imagine the Portuguese language would only be more popular.  In the same way that we saw a steep rise in interest in Mandarin leading up to the Beijing Olympics, I envisage we will see the same interest in Portuguese.

It's not a hard sell. Anyone who have had personal encounters with Brazilians will know why. Portuguese is a cool and sexy language. I'm surprised we don't already have people queuing up for Portuguese lessons.

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Cool jobs available at Shanghai World Expo 2010

Anyone keen to work in Shanghai next year at the World Expo? NZTE are looking for people at the moment. These are PAID positions, NOT internships. Key things to note: You have to speak Mandarin AND English well. Also have to have valid NZ work visa, permanent residency or citizenship. I just received this email so just thought we should share this opportunity with everyone. Those of you who did not heed our advice to learn Mandarin can still do so… we have a few spots available for tomorrow's intake or the 10-week Mandarin course starting 12 October. This is a brilliant opportunity and would suit those thinking of an unconventional OE. Spending 6 months in Shanghai during the World Expo would not just be great for your CV, but will also be a good business networking opportunity. Who knows? Maybe you'll meet a big shot who ends up offering you an expat package plus all the travel perks. That would be nice…

The World Expo to be held in Shanghai, China in 2010 will be the biggest in world history.

During the six months the expo will be open – 1 May to 31 October 2010 – it is expected to draw 70 million visitors.

New Zealand Trade and Enterprise is now seeking a number of individuals who are enthusiastic about representing NZ on the world stage. Positions available include;

Attendants (24 positions available)
The Attendants will be representing New Zealand with credit by making visitors feel welcome, and enhancing their experience through friendly and helpful interaction with them.

Receptionists (2 positions)
Based in the VIP entry to the pavilion, the Receptionist will be our first point of contact for guests and visitors and assist them around the pavilion as required.

Operations Manager
The Operations Manager will be responsible for managing the teams of attendants, and will co-ordinate the delivery of operational and technical support as required in order to maintain high standards of ‘host performance’ in the pavilion.

Relationships Manager
Part of the management team, the Relationships Manager will be responsible for the organisation of official visits including Ministerial and key sponsors to the pavilion.

If you are keen to be part of this landmark event, have a degree of fluency in both Mandarin and English and are available from April to October 2010 then please visit the NZTE Recruitment website for further information and to apply.

For information about New Zealand's participation at the expo, please visit http://shanghaiexpo2010.nzte.govt.nz

Please note all applicants must have the right to work in New Zealand.

Applications close Monday, 12 October 2009 and must be submitted through the NZTE Careers Centre. Late applications will not be accepted.

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Most unusual foods in the world

How many of you have tried pig's blood cake? Or Durian? These delicacies are on VirtualTourist.com's list of the Top 10 Most Unusual Foods in the World. In this Reuters report, they have explicitly stated that “Reuters has not endorsed this list”. Hmm… I suppose they don't want to be seen as recommending the consumption of these foods…

Here's the list:

1. Pig's Blood Cake; Taiwan.

Also known as Ti-hoeh-koe, Pig’s blood cake is made of pork blood and sticky rice. steamed for a snack. You dip pig's blood cake with a layer of peanut powder and spread some cilantro/coriander. Apparently, the aroma of the chewy rice cake makes everyone's mouth water. In case you were wondering, yes, the pig's blood is literally that.

2. Live Octopus; South Korea – If anything this is fresher than the usual calamari so I don't think I have huge issues with eating this. I wonder how long they stay alive after you cut them up.

3. Grasshopper;

Uganda

4. Pigeon; France – yummy, but don't think you can order this in a New Zealand

restaurant.

5. Durian; Malaysia – my favourite fruit from my home country; I can never have enough of this. Just looking at the picture makes me drool…

6. Lutefisk; Norway – Marinated in lye, this gummy fish takes days to prepare and is described as one of the most vile-tasting foodstuffs ever created.

7. Grubs; Australia – These white, high-in-protein snacks are actually the larvae of moths and an important insect food of the desert, once a staple in the diets of some Aborigines.

8. Snake Wine; Vietnam

9. Donkey; Italy

10. Ostrich; South Africa – what so unusual about this? If ostrich meat is on this list, surely crocodile meat and kangaroo meat should be too…

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