Britain's Boris Johnson jokes about New Zealand greeting

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — British 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.

Johnson is visiting the South Pacific nation 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.

Johnson thanked townsfolk 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," Johnson joked, in a reference to a head butt.

Prime Minister Bill English later said he didn't think New Zealanders would be offended by Johnson's comment.

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

Later on Monday, Johnson traveled 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 nearly 5 meters (16 feet) and depicts the trunks of a royal oak and an indigenous pohutukawa tree intertwining to form a single canopy.

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 J.R.R. Tolkien, author of "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit," which were filmed in New Zealand.

Johnson is due to travel to Australia on Tuesday.

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