It was my very, very, very good Yankee friend who noticed it first, as he sipped his Budweiser and kept an eye on the Lakers game on ESPN.

After 14 years in California he'd returned to New Zealand to find that it was - well, a lot like the US of A. While he'd been gone, we'd somehow turned from a country that favoured its British roots to one that felt distinctly American. He felt right at home, which, frankly, wasn't what he wanted.

Naturally, I begged to differ. Surely he'd forgotten the proudly anti-nuclear stance that had put our relationship with the US in the icebox for 20 years? We're not even sure we like Americans any more, not after George W. and the war in Iraq.

But then, a few months later, another American remarked on it too. We had turned out to be another outpost of America. If there was a Kiwi identity, he couldn't discern it.

I had to admit, grudgingly, that they had a point. Everywhere I looked it was evident that, despite our avowed dislike of US foreign policy, we had swallowed American culture hook, line and sinker.

It used to be that homesick Americans had to search out a McDonald's to feel at home. Now, they're spoiled for choice.

Here in Godzone they can find Dennys, Burger King, KFC, Starbucks and Subway. They can turn on the TV and catch up with Oprah and Dr Phil, pick up any women's magazine and be up to date on the latest with Brad, Angelina and Jennifer, or tune into a dozen satellite channels - E!, ESPN, Cartoon Network, Disney, Discovery, et al - and feel as if they'd never left home.

The proliferation of Americana extends to reality programmes and Idol searches; the way we present our news and current affairs programmes (it's no accident that the ebullient personalities of TV3 are finding a growing audience among young urbanites); fashion Nikes, low-riders, bling-bling, Calvin Klein underwear and baseball caps; teenspeak like, whatever, dude; hip-hop and gangsta rap; and Halloween and Valentine's Day, which only a spoilsport would dare to suggest are unwelcome additions to our cultural life.

We no longer have modest school dances, where one can turn up in one's best jeans, but lavish affairs requiring designer frocks and limousine rides, just like those prom nights we see on TV.

And, just as in America, we can now afford to indulge our need for retail therapy at big discount barns where everything is made in China, even as house prices soar beyond the reach of ordinary working people.

Of course, there are vast differences between the US and Enzed, but some of the similarities go beyond popular culture. Our social indicators lie closer to the US than to other OECD countries. We've gone, for example, from being a proudly egalitarian society to one that accepts widening income disparities similar to those in the US.

And, as in the US, many of those disparities are reflected in unequal health and social outcomes for ethnic groups. Our populations are also becoming less white. By 2050, only half of the US population will be made up of non-Hispanic whites; the other half will be made up of the faster growing minorities. By 2050, 57 per cent of all New Zealand children will be Maori or Pacific Island; and up to 68 per cent will be non-European.

And just like the US, we're seeing a similar surge of conservative evangelical Christian groups, with the same anti-abortion, anti-gay rights, moral issues agenda.

Maybe it's pointless to wonder whether our Americanisation is a good or bad thing. Thanks to TV and the power of Hollywood, it has become an inescapable fact of life.

Some may argue that the increasing homogenisation of Western cultures is a desirable outcome, a unifying force in these divisive times when diversity and multiculturalism seem to engender so much fear and distrust.

But there are those who see a danger in our adoption of the American approach to business and social issues.

For example, Professor Cary Cooper, a stress expert at the Lancaster University Management School, laments the Americanisation of the British workforce, which has seen leaner organisations, intrinsic job insecurity and longer working hours.

Will Hutton, chief executive of the Work Foundation in Britain, has also argued that globalisation has become a cloak for the export of the American business model as the benchmark by which all countries must judge the success of their approach to capitalism and society.

Hutton held that the American approach was manifested in a manic distrust of the public sector, a celebration of the private and a belief that countries industrialise through market-led policies alone, and an environment in which taxation to pay for education and health is abhorred.

That belief in the wealth-generating powers of entrepreneurship and markets wasn't balanced by the need for societies to maintain strong social contracts, and led to increasing pressure not to introduce universal healthcare systems, to have minimal social safety nets, to live with high levels of inequality and to put the interests of business before those of society.

All of which is worth bearing in mind as we figure out how to be very, very, very good friends with the US while maintaining what's left of our Kiwi independence and identity.

A week after David Lange's funeral, it might seem that our anti-nuclear policy is no more than a symbolic and outdated gesture of defiance against Goliath.

But if symbolism is all that is afforded us as a small nation, why give it up? It might be the only thing that distinguishes us.