Auckland is the gateway to New Zealand. It is summer time now—and the harbor is filled with sails. The economic troubles that afflict the United States and many other countries have not yet hit here—and American is a nation much admired.
“We love America,” said Mary Frelengou, a woman we met at a city bus stop.
“I was a teenager in WWII and I remember how General MacArthur and the U.S. troops saved us from invasion by the Japanese. And now we’re hoping Obama can do great things for the world.”
Ms. Frelengou, a handsome, stately woman with bright brown eyes, invited us to a luncheon that she was holding the next day at a hotel to celebrate her 80th birthday. It was a characteristically friendly gesture for a New Zealander. My wife, Vera, and I accepted the invitation. At the luncheon we met Ms. Frelengou’s two elderly sisters, a nephew and a niece, and several friends.
Reflecting the sentiments at the table was the banner headline on page one of the New Zealand Herald—“Crowd Greets ‘Obama Express.’” The page was filled with a photo of the grinning President-elect reaching out to a crowd in Baltimore. In this island in the South Pacific Obama makes news.
Ms. Frelengou led her guests in a prayer of thanks “for God’s grace.” Later, she spoke of Obama: “He has the most wonderful chance to make America the greatest nation on earth, to bring peace. The people of our country know how great America can be.”
One of Ms. Frelengou’s grandfathers was Irish, the other Greek. She claims she inherited from both a passion for hard work and optimism about what can be accomplished.
Can Obama do it? “I don’t know,” she said. “The whole world hopes and prays he can. We are all such fools—we have shed so much blood in vain.”
Her nephew, Larry Oggen, a big, chunky man who sells swimming pools, was skeptical. “Obama has a lot of great ideas but he always looks from side to side, never straight at you. That bothers me a bit.”
“He’s a great speaker but I want to see some action.”
A friend of the birthday girl, George Levich, a carpenter said, “New Zealanders are very excited, we’re hoping for a new beginning. We thought it was important to get rid of Bush. We’re very much against the Iraq War. We didn’t join Britain and Australia in the collation against Saddam Hussein—and we’re glad we didn’t.”
Another friend, Stuart Montgomerie, a telecommunications executive seconded Levich. “The weapons of mass destruction didn’t exist. We define America by its foreign policy. Obama seems like a breath of fresh air.”
“We are a small country and don’t like bullying. Its refreshing that American seems to be ending that tactic.”
But he had a confession to make. While some people here cried when Obama was elected, he said: “I’d be surprised to see Obama make much fundamental change.”
New Zealanders, he said, thought American’s reaction to 9/11 was “over the top”—“ we think you have good standards but don’t always live up to them.”
“The fact is what we see in your country is a lot of crime and, culturally, a lot of craziness. You are, I’m afraid, overly arrogant.”
And he took another shot: “We don’t understand why your economy went bad but I suspect it was greed.”