The work of many years looks to have paid off in our largest city. New Zealanders seem to be putting the rugby corporate nonsense behind them. But can we all now start acting like good hosts?

Auckland, you've got to say, is looking fine. The new art gallery, the souped-up zoo, the new shared-space roads with people walking amongst the cars, the busy Britomart precinct, and the North Wharf, with its funky, Amsterdam-style bridge and people-friendly open spaces.

It seems the Rugby World Cup has done its job for the city, in much the way that the America's Cup did its bit, creating the Viaduct Basin and its associated pleasures. Yes, much of this city work was in various plans and was happening anyway, but the world cup has focused efforts and provided a deadline, something all major works needs to concentrate the political mind.

Driving or walking around the waterfront in the past week, the foot traffic has been immense and the mood very jolly. And for the first time in quite a while, Aucklanders, I think, feel some pride in the city on display. While the project's far from finished, the improvement in Auckland's look, feel and facilities has been colossal in the past year or three.

Before the All Blacks even take to the pitch, New Zealand is winning from the cup.

The national mood towards the cup had seemed subdued in recent weeks, dogged by the adidas and Telecom controversies and the sense that the corporates had taken over the cup. I think that there's a general New Zealand disrespect for the rules imposed, such as the ridiculous insistence that pubs can't even put a blackboard on the pavement that reads "Rugby World Cup Games on inside" without paying for the right to use those three words.

That's bollocks.

Even Martin Snedden seems a bit nonplussed by that element of the organisation, saying:

"...some of the rules around this thing are tight, and they’re a little bit difficult, particularly for New Zealand."

But in the past week the flags have started appearing on cars, a little bit of outward woo-hoo-ness that will become a emblem of this cup. I take it as a sign that people are now switching on and getting the point that this is likely the biggest international event this country will ever host.

We'll never be big enough to host any of the bigger sporting events and the Rugby World Cup will be too big for us from 2014 on.

Sendden says we're ready to have fun:

"We are ready to really welcome and embrace the thousands and thousands of international visitors that are coming".

Well, I hope that's true. But personal experience in the past week makes me wary. We went to the gorgeous new art gallery during its opening weekend. Taking a photo of my toddler son in the new building - well away from any art - the flash on our new camera accidentally went off. Now I'm one who grumbled my way round Europe, unimpressed by the people taking flash photos of priceless art. Flashes are bad for art. I get it.

A gallery woman pounced and told me no flash photography. I said I was sorry and that it was an accident. She repeated the warning. I nodded as I tried to fix the camera. She stood over me and for a third time stressed the rule.

Which was all a bit unnecessary. I said sternly back that I understood, but still she stood a metre away for around half a minute, waiting for me to find the non-flash button on my camera. Ridiculous.

We went to the cafe for a drink. The woman behind the counter asked if she could help. When we asked for our drinks, she said she only did food.

I mean, seriously? "I only do the food", sounds like something from an officious British farce.

To cap it off our son, strapped in his stroller, was told he couldn't drink his bottle... in case he threw it. Good grief. The art lifted our spirits, but the art police got us right down.

Then, last night, we had a quick bite at Portofino at the Viaduct. As we arrived, so did some young women, looking for friends. The greeter glared at them as they tried to nip around the restaurant to find their friend. He ignored us, as he tried to corale them. We asked for a table, and he finally attended to us. Kind of. He mumbled, reluctantly led us to a table and wouldn't stop grumbling about the other women.

When the food came, it was announced as "calamari and um...". We hadn't ordered calamari. Or um, for that matter. But before we could check it, a waiter zoomed in and whipped the plates away. We waited a minute and the right food arrived - we've no idea whether it was the original plates or something different. No biggie, but just unimpressive.

My point? That for all the glorious infrastructure in place, we're only as good as our service. New Zealand has always been pretty poor on that front, compensated by a genial mateyness. We really need to step up in the next few weeks and get our game face on.

If I was a tourist, the past week would have left a bad tastes - a sense of having seen a wonderful place, but been disappointed by the surly attitude.

So well done Auckland for getting such a fabulous outfit. Now let's please have some fun and not ruin it by acting like a stingey old grump. Rather than being the host who's stressed out, checking the oven every five minutes, telling people to get their feet off the coffee table and generally putting guests on edge, let's just take it easy and enjoy.

Comments (4)

by Matthew Percival on September 09, 2011
Matthew Percival

Great piece Tim.

Auckland has come alive. Hasn't it been great to see people with flags of their native country alongside the New Zealand flag. It's nice to see people retaining their culture while also respecting the country they live in, the country that gives them so much.

Service in NZ restaurants has long been abysmal and one of the highlights of going overseas is the dining experience. I know as a country we are against the concept of tipping but there is a lot to be said for the motivational effect it has on waiters.

Long live RWC 2011 and its legacy.

by Tim Watkin on September 09, 2011
Tim Watkin

Still don't like the tipping though, Matthew. Seems too close to servitude for the poor waiters. And is it really the tips that motivate, rather than the culture and the tradition of eating out?

by Matthew Percival on September 12, 2011
Matthew Percival

You do raise a fair point.

When tipping is standardised at say 10-15% it's hard from a theoretical perspective to argue that tipping provides a motivational factor which increases the standard of service.

However from what I see with my own two eyes suggests tipping does provide motivation to provide higher levels of service.

The truth lies somewhere between the two perspectives.

by DeepRed on September 13, 2011
DeepRed

So far I've never encountered such surliness here in the Capital, at least in the places I frequent. If it is indeed the case, then could it be a rat-race thing?

And the signage rules imposed by the IRB makes it no less arrogant than FIFA, if not more so.

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