Thursday, April 02, 2009

Miss Manners I'm not

Nonetheless, the rapidly growing list of protocol goofs being perpetrated by the administration is starting to get to me, if for no other reason than that my taxes are going to support a cadre of protocol advisers who are either not worth their salaries or not being used. Thus far we have:

*Tacky gift-giving and a political snub to PM Gordon Brown of the UK.
*Ticking off the Poles and Czechs over missile defense.
*Presenting the Russian foreign minister an Easy Button marked "overcharge" in Russian.
*Secretary of State Clinton's ignorance of the story behind the shrine of Guadalupe while in Mexico.
*And now, the President's insistence on referring to the UK as "England" during his meeting with Queen Elizabeth coupled with Mrs. Obama's apparent failure to observe the "hands off the Queen" rule.

And that's not counting insulting Special Olympians the world over.

One has to wonder: weren't they briefed? Don't they have a staffer to handle the gift issue? Did they bother to check the records to see what previous gifts looked like? Starving student Hon. Daughter #1 is more fastidious with shower gifts than the White House seems to be, and all she has to worry about is ticking off her personal acquaintance.

Moreover: don't they have anybody over there fluent in Russian? And why didn't Hillary Clinton read the page or two of brief on local culture she was handed en route to Mexico? She was given briefing materials, wasn't she? WAS SHE??

Before the election, our prez went to great lengths to cast himself in the Citizen of the World mode. Well, as a citizen of the world, shouldn't he be aware that the country is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, not England? Add the Scots, Welsh, and Northern Irish to the list of justifiably miffed. I hear the Obamas were briefed on the flight over--were they paying attention, or were they having too much fun trying to spot Newfoundland from the windows?

I remember being made aware of some of the protocol respecting Queen Elizabeth when she visited the US in 1991. As part of her tour, Her Majesty was shown around a DC housing project and introduced to one of the residents.

The resident, a friendly lady who I assume had been informed of the visit only shortly before, greeted the Queen with something to the effect of "How you doin'!" and an enthusiastic hug. Her Majesty was a bit taken aback, but recovered herself and dealt with the whole situation with the aplomb of one well versed in managing sticky matters. The hostess meant no harm and really couldn't have been expected to be up on how to act at a royal audience. The media, nonetheless, went to great lengths to explain that this just wasn't done, and why.

Perhaps the Chicago area media didn't give the incident much coverage (I followed the story on DC stations,) or perhaps young Michelle Robertson was watching sitcoms that night. At any rate, it was a bit surprising to me to hear of her placing an arm around Queen Elizabeth's shoulders: I can't imagine that that little bit of protocol didn't get covered--probably repeatedly--on the flight. Perhaps it's just that I haven't been Oprah-ized and am such a fossil that personal space still matters to me, at least with people I've just met. But protocol aside, there is something of patronization to giving the uninvited arm-around-the-shoulders treatment to an elderly lady who is neither your mom nor your Aunt Zeitouni. Particularly when the elderly lady in question rode out the Blitzkrieg and is still putting in a day's work (as she's done since before you were born.) Even if royalty doesn't impress you, that should. I suspect quite a few nonroyal elderly ladies would be annoyed by that sort of liberty, particularly since (as a short person I'm rather tuned in to this) being put in a shoulder clinch makes one feel about ten years old.

Perhaps it's expecting too much that these people should know better. Obama was, after all, a Chicago community organizer with limited international travel and Mrs. Obama was a hospital administrator with less. (Mrs. Clinton, as a former first lady with eight years' experience, has no excuse.) But they have access to personnel whose job it is to keep them up to speed on the proper thing. The Brits will get over our gaucheries, (the Brit press seems to have had loads of fun with the recent ones) and will probably even forgive us, eventually. But there are countries in which this obtuseness regarding protocol could be very dangerous. At what point will this "Chicago Hillbillies" episode stop being funny?

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Blogger Foxfier, formerly Sailorette said...

Yet Huckabee wants us to shut up about these rather major insults, because it's just too rude to point out that someone is still screwing up the basic manners stuff.

8:56 PM  
Blogger CMinor said...


Hadn't heard about that.

While I can see his point to the extent that it's probably more important to focus on policy than personalities, in this case there's always the risk of personalities steering policy. As would be the case if one of these faux pas (that bow to the King of Saudi Arabia comes to mind) were to give some ambitious rogue state the notion that they might be able to get away with, oh, say, the violation of a neighbor's sovreignty.

Besides, what's good for the goose...

9:59 PM  

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