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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 September 2018

Britain's Boris Johnson likens traditional Maori greeting to a head butt in New Zealand

Prime minister Bill English later said he didn't think New Zealanders would be offended by the foreign secretary's comment

In this video screen grab, British foreign secretary Boris Johnson, left, performs a hongi, a traditional Maori greeting, with New Zealand's minister for primary industries, Nathan Guy, in Kaikoura, New Zealand on July 24, 2017. TVNZ Pool via AP
In this video screen grab, British foreign secretary Boris Johnson, left, performs a hongi, a traditional Maori greeting, with New Zealand's minister for primary industries, Nathan Guy, in Kaikoura, New Zealand on July 24, 2017. TVNZ Pool via AP

Britain's gaffe-prone foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, joked on his visit to New Zealand on Monday that a traditional Maori greeting could be misinterpreted as a head butt elsewhere.

Mr Johnson is visiting the country for two days as Britain looks to strengthen its ties with its former colony amid a broader reshaping of Britain's global relationships as it prepares to leave the European Union. Topics on the agenda include trade, foreign policy and international security.

He visited the South Island tourist town of Kaikoura, which was struck by a magnitude 7.8 earthquake in November that killed two people.

Mr Johnson thanked locals for looking after tourists, including 200 Britons, who were stranded in the town after the quake and for teaching him a Maori greeting called a hongi, in which people press noses together.

"I think it's a beautiful form of introduction, though it might be misinterpreted in a pub in Glasgow," Mr Johnson joked, in a reference to a headbutt.

Prime minister Bill English later said he didn't think New Zealanders would be offended by the foreign secretary's comment.

"A hongi is a fairly unfamiliar ritual to almost anyone else in the world," he said.

Later on Monday, Mr Johnson travelled to Wellington where he unveiled a striking British memorial at the Pukeahu National War Memorial Park.

Designed by New Zealand film company Weta Workshop, the memorial stands at nearly 5 metres and depicts the trunks of a royal oak and an indigenous pohutukawa tree intertwining to form a single canopy.

Mr Johnson said it was his first visit to New Zealand.

"This is the most mind-blowingly, mind-numbingly beautiful country that I have ever seen," he said, adding it was the only landscape he thinks could do justice to the imagination of JRR Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit books, the film adaptations of which were filmed in New Zealand.

Mr Johnson is due to travel to Australia on Tuesday.

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