When Michelle Obama put her arm round the Queen at Buckingham Palace, some of the more excitable elements of the media – particularly us Americans – suggested she may have been guilty of a breach of protocol. It’s true, you just don’t go around hugging the Queen of England.
Although there is no official book of ‘do’s and dont’s’ and the Queen has made clear in recent years that she does not expect people to curtsy or bow any more, the “no-touch” rule has always been sacrosanct. (Here is the protocol from the Queen of England’s website — which applies even to her own subjects)
When the former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating put his arm around the Queen in 1992, he was branded the “Lizard of Oz”. His successor, John Howard, didn’t fare much better and was forced to insist: ‘We firmly deny that there was any contact whatsoever’ when he was accused of touching the royal person.
Barack Obama on HM Queen Elizabeth II — “She reminds me of my grandmother, only with a bigger house“.
Obama Bows to Saudi King at G20 Summit (watch the video). Americans do not bow to foreign monarchs because that act signifies the monarch’s power over his subjects.
And then, it was an ipod gift to the 80 yr old Queen of England loaded with Obama Speeches.. actually I take that back…. one of the first embarrasments was when PM Brown from England came to visit President Obama.
It is well understood that visiting diplomatic delegations come bearing gifts and gift giving is returned in like fashion by the host country. It is an ages old human practice in diplomacy after all. Usually the gifts are valuable, representative of the products of the nations involved, or at least symbolic of the history of those nations.
For his part, PM Brown gave two symbolic gifts and one that expressed national pride. Brown came bearing a pen holder carved from the timbers of the sister ship of that which gave the wood to create the famous “Resolute Desk,” the desk that has been in America’s charge since 1880. He also gave Obama the framed commission for that famous ship, the HMS Resolute. His third gift was a seven-volume biography of one of England’s greatest leaders, Winston Churchill.
So, what did President Obama give the British PM? 25 movies on DVD. Yeah, that’s it. Brown gives a symbolic gift like the pen holder fashioned from a famous British warship and Obama responds by sending a staffer to WalMart to pick up a few quick movies.
And I’m not the only one to scoff at this thoughtless gift. The entire British press is up in arms. Many in Britain are seeing this as entirely gauche and indicative of the low esteem in which the Obama’s hold England.
Worse, no one is 100% sure that Obama was smart enough to know that DVDs made in America don’t play on European DVD players. American DVDs are created in the “Region One” format while those in Europe play in “Region Two” format. A U.S. DVD just won’t play on a machine made for the English market.
Not to be out done in tastelessness by her husband, Michelle got into the act, too. Mrs. Brown came bearing two outfits for the Obama girls from Topshop, one of Britain’s trendiest and expensive women’s wear retail outlets.
In return, Michelle apparently had a staffer run down to the White House gift shop and grab two toy Marine One helicopter models for the Brown’s boys.
Class all the way.
All of this is on top of the snub of the Brits that Obama tossed off immediately upon entering office. One of his first official acts was to summarily return to the Brits the generous gift of the most famous bust of Winston Churchill that has sat in the Oval Office since the attacks on 9/11.
This threw British diplomats into a tizzy really blindsiding them. Even when they reiterated that Obama could keep the generous gift to the American people, he rejected it without comment leaving the Brits at a loss for words.