Bloated, I finish my third course - a creamy trifle, with syrupy fruit salad on the side - and place the spoon and fork together.

A waitress slides between the tables, pot of brewed coffee in one hand and asks whether I've "had enough?"

Not whether everything has been satisfactory. Not whether I have enjoyed my meal. No, she asks whether I've had enough. In America, it's all about quantity. This is Sunday brunch at Jax Cafe, a so-called "supper club" in Polish-dominated north-east Minneapolis.

And my friends, New Zealand-born Evan Roberts and his American wife Cathy Fitch, seem quite unperturbed by the scale of the supersized buffet.

Like me, they have tucked away bacon and eggs or pancakes, a course of meat and roast vegetables from the carvery, and finished off with a desert of pastries, trifle or fruit.

Roberts, a 36-year-old history professor at the University of Minnesota, first came out here on a Fulbright Scholarship in 2000. He met Fitch - and never quite managed to leave again.

And it's not just the love of a good woman that won him over. He's also been impressed by a generosity of spirit he never found back home. They've got big hearts, he reckons.

That's not all that's big.

After a gently-paced tour of some of Minneapolis' lakes and bars and museums, we wind up at the couple's house in the university neighbourhood of Prospect Park.

House? That doesn't do it justice. The grey, stucco-clad "four square", as they call these big wooden houses, is four storeys tall.

"I wouldn't say it's that large," Roberts protests, slightly embarrassed.

But he freely admits it is somewhat bigger than the first home a couple of young university lecturers might be able to afford in Auckland or Wellington. Its 150-square-metre footprint contains four bedrooms, a furnished basement and attic.

It's notable that in the US, local politics and local news are more important than national and international matters. The news bulletins focus on local crime; the sports bulletins on college football. The famously authoritative ABC World News 30-minute evening bulletin contains eight minutes of advertising, about 18 minutes of domestic news - and only four minutes of international news.


New Zealand journalist Anna Fifield is the White House correspondent for The Financial Times, of London.

I visit her at her little desk next to the White House briefing room, where she plugs in her laptop. I've seen photos of her with Barack and Michelle Obama, photos of Vice-President Joe Biden playing with her baby son.

"The president's foreign policy agenda is consumed by Afghanistan and Pakistan, and more recently by Libya and the other 'Arab Spring' countries in the Middle East," she said yesterday.

"Probably 95 per cent of his energy goes into these issues, leaving precious little time for big fish like the UK and Europe and even Mexico, his problematic neighbour.

"Whenever I tell anyone in Washington that I'm a New Zealander, a smile breaks out on their face and they invariably tell me that they've always wanted to go. I recently interviewed John McCain and he proudly told me about his All Black tie. But the simple fact is that we are not a pressing problem so we cannot command space at the top of the agenda, or sometimes even get on the agenda."


Many of us have seen Morgan Spurlock's movie, Super Size Me. Most of us know about the huge T-bone steaks they eat in Texas and the enormous utes that those in the Southern states call "trucks". Hell, I drove one in Florida. It was red. It had a confederate flag stitched to the underside of the roof. It growled like a grizzly bear. I felt like a real man when I drove it. (Its owner was a lovely woman named Rita).

What I'm saying is, we all know America likes everything to be size XOS. This is not news - it's stereotyping.

But it's relevant today, of all days, because Prime Minister John Key has just visited President Barack Obama in the White House.

And he has just learnt that when America has a US$14.3 trillion debt problem, New Zealand looks like very small change indeed.

First, the Senate majority and minority leaders bailed out of their scheduled meeting with Key to deal with more important matters around the looming interest repayment deadline, negotiating which defence, social spending or healthcare budget would be slashed.

Then, when White House spokesman Jay Carney was asked about Key's visit, he seemed somewhat at a loss.

"New Zealand is a very important partner and ally," Carney said, seemingly stalling for time. "The President looks forward to the meeting. But you'll have to - I'll have to get back to you on more specifics."

The fact is, there's a foreign leader or two visiting the White House every week. Obama and his advisers can't be expected to be all over the specifics of every small Pacific island nation.

When the two leaders met yesterday, Obama called the New Zealand Prime Minister "Keys", before cutting short the meeting to make time for the collapsing credit crisis talks.

New Zealanders are enjoying the purchasing power of a soaring NZ dollar, which this week hit a record high against the greenback. But we should be worrying about the falling US dollar, and the danger that if the Republicans and Democrats cannot break their impasse before August 2, America will default on its sovereign debt - an earthquake that would shake the global economy.

The truth is, New Zealand may be less relevant to America than ever before. Sure, the US will negotiate the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership with us. Sure, they'll send a troop of marines out to pay their respects.

But, perversely, the 25-year nuclear ships stand-off gave New Zealand a relevance that no longer exists now that we're an "important partner and ally" again.

In the 1980s, amid all the big challenges of the Cold War and a nuclear clock ticking towards midnight, New Zealand was a small problem to the US. Now, we're no problem at all.

Jonathan Milne travelled courtesy of the Edward R Murrow Program for Journalists, run by the US State Department.