Last year saw plenty of opportunity to use the word "xenophobe" to describe people who are fearful of strangers and foreign people.

2016 was the year where the major English-speaking countries' voters turned inwards and away from the world. Brexit and Trump seemed synonymous with a fear and dislike of the foreigner.

The coming year will be different as we've already seen with international condemnation of Trump's ban on Muslim immigration. People can no longer sit on the fence. And so 2017 will become the year of the xenophile.

A xenophile is a person who has affection for, or is attracted to, foreign peoples, manners or cultures. Xenophiles like to explore the world and the people in it. They consciously put fears to the side because they know they would miss out on much of life if they avoided new experiences.


The difference between the xenophobe and the xenophile does not come down to the nation.

While most people associate xenophobia with nationalism and a dislike of foreigners, the prefix "xeno-" means stranger as well as foreigner. A xenophobe from Invercargill may have little time for Aucklanders.

There are all sorts of differences that trouble the xenophobe: skin colour, culture and religion are the obvious ones.

The fear at the heart of xenophobia is a fear of difference so you're likely to find a rural xenophobe disliking city people, or a sexist xenophobe fearing feminists.

Xenophiles are just as complex. Just because the xenophile is interested in other cultures it does not mean they don't love their own culture.

When we first hear of a kind of person who is the opposite of the xenophobe we might think of a person who fully adopts the culture of another country. But that sort of thinking has as much in common with the generalising of the xenophobe and is rarely sustained.

Xenophiles, by contrast, are happy in their own skin but are also attracted to the rest of the world.

It is the softer understanding of xenophile that will triumph in 2017: the love of other cultures for the languages, arts, foods and the refreshing new experiences that they provide.

It is at this point that an extreme xenophobe - or should we just call a racist a racist? - will point to the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia or of homosexuals in Iran.

Now aside from these xenophobes' genuine concern for feminist or queer rights - I don't doubt that for a second - the repugnant behaviours of one or two foreign countries will be generalised to argue that there exists an unbridgeable chasm between Islam and the Christian world, or the East and West, or just "us Kiwis" and "bloody foreigners".

In the "Double the Quota" refugee campaign, we sometimes witness the peculiar spectacle of xenophobes arguing against a fair increase in the quota based on other countries' treatment of women.

But our refugee intake privileges women-at-risk and families with children. Their fantasy of a refugee quota comprised of young Muslim men shows that these xenophobes know little about global refugee issues and are drawn to fear and hatred in direct opposition to the facts of the matter.

Is it a bit presumptuous to think that just a year after Trump and Brexit that 2017 would see the opposite focus on welcoming the stranger? Maybe. But those who think that the victory of Trump and Brexit indicate a generational movement of xenophobia and turning away from the world are missing an important point.

As with the anti-TPP protests in New Zealand, the antipathy towards globalism is more about economics than a dislike for foreign people.

Trump's win and Brexit both used xenophobic language, but the average voter seemed far more likely to point to the economy than immigration.

An Ipsos poll from September 2016 showed New Zealanders far more open to immigrants and refugees than 22 other countries. Part of this is because of the number of well-travelled New Zealanders, who were more favourable to being open to the world. We were the most likely country of all polled to agree that immigrants make the country a more interesting place to live.

The xenophile will triumph in 2017 for little reason more than New Zealanders have always been xenophiles. It's just that this year will be the first in some time that we will need an actual word to describe our openness to the stranger.

• Murdoch Stephens is a campaigner for New Zealand to enlarge its annual refugee intake.