New Zealand is a longstanding US ally, but some Americans are finding its shores less than welcoming.
PALMERSTON NORTH, NEW ZEALAND
When Christopher Hill, America's overseer of Asian diplomacy, recently talked about the need for a better relationship between the United States and New Zealand, he wasn't telling Gregg Smith anything new.
Mr. Smith first arrived here in 2005 to teach at a high school in Dannevirke, a rural town in this North Island farming region not unlike the central California of his youth. The middle-aged American chuckles ruefully as he remembers early impression of New Zealand as a "perfect cultural match" for him.
That changed after verbal abuse from his students about his nationality got so bad that he filed a lawsuit with the country's Human Rights Commission. Smith says he is seeking recognition that the anti-American vitriol has gotten too personal.
Opinions of America have tumbled here – to 29 percent of Kiwis feeling positive about the US in 2004, from 54 percent in 2001. In some ways, the trend mirrors results elsewhere. A new 15-nation poll from the Pew Research Center found double-digit declines in countries as diverse as Russia, India, and Turkey – drops that seem tied to growing pessimism about the Iraq war. (Pakistan – where the US offered aid after last year's earthquake – and China showed slight gains over last year.)
But the depths of dislike expressed in polling here, as well as accounts of personal hostility, is surprising from a people who have fought alongside the US in numerous wars, including Afghanistan, and share cultural values.
"The nastiness of some of the things I've heard from the kids here has to be heard to be believed," Smith says.
His experiences are echoed by some high-profile Americans. Douglas Sparks, who came to New Zealand to oversee the Anglican Church's Wellington Cathedral, suddenly packed his bags two years ago and vowed to never bring his family back. Mr. Sparks said he was the target of anti-US graffiti and his children were taunted by classmates who said they hoped US soldiers in Iraq would be killed.