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The Business of Bowing

(c) 2009 Jeanne Powell
"The Business of Bowing"
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Protocol is political.

KENNEDY: Once upon a time Jacqueline Kennedy wondered whether she should curtsy to the queen when she and her husband were planning to visit England. After all, she had curtsied when she and her sister Lee visited the UK years earlier. Wisely, she consulted her husband's chief of protocol, and he said: "the wife of a chief of state does not curtsy." Problem solved before it became a problem. The Kennedys dined with the royal couple in private during their visit to England.

REAGAN: Nancy Reagan said out loud that she "wasn't going to curtsy to anyone" when she and her husband visited the UK. Unfortunately, her remark was repeated, and she was the object of derision before she ever set foot in the palace. It is good to consult the chief of protocol, Nancy found out. She and her husband dined with the queen and hundreds of others, at one of those state dinners the queen hosts when she really doesn't like her guests and is being nice at the request of the PM.

THATCHER: The other night on a "Frontline" documentary, I saw a vintage video clip of former PM Margaret Thatcher being greeted at a foreign airport by dignitaries. She shook hands with all those present, except the last man presented to her. She took his hand, and gave a deep curtsy. Not likely to be off her game when it comes to protocol, Margaret must have been meeting a prince of the blood or a king. But wasn't she a chief of state back then? If so, why did she curtsy? Possibly because the queen is the chief of state in England, even though political power is exercised by the PM? OK, that works for me.

OBAMA: We all know that first lady Michelle put her arm around the queen when America's first couple visited the UK recently, and we've all heard that one doesn't touch the queen. Apparently the queen was not bothered. After all, the Obamas dined in private at the palace with Elizabeth and Philip.

Now the juicy part -- did President Obama really bow to the Saudi King? We could not hear the dialogue in the video clip, but the king was smiling broadly during this public introduction. Was there a shared joke? Was Obama deliberately fanning the fears of American reactionaries, who still fear that he is a secret Muslim?

For some reason, I'm enjoying this entire subject immensely. So little is funny these days in the international news.

(c) 2009 Jeanne Powell

Comments
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Bowing

i missed the whole bowing in Saudi Arabia incident! i must listen to the news today. i really doubt Obama bowed to the King, like bowing to royalty. he was probably accepting kudos for something the saudi king said or a joke like you say.

Body language! everyone has their own internal dictionary i think.

i did hear the discussion about Michelle and the queen. that was big news here. wonderful story, makes everyone love michelle even more! nice to have something to smile about!

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The Business of Bowing - Jeanne's Blog

Vicki,

Yes, I think they were enjoying themselves on the tarmac and may not have noticed the cameras, and Obama made a spontaneous gesture.  However, it appeared to be a deep bow, to the waist, and that is why there has been so much comment. 

Jeanne 

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very interesting!

Hadn't heard about the meeting of Obama and the Saudi king -- but I imagine from your comments that there's nothing but spin to discuss. : ) The story about the Reagans is funny! It makes one wish that Thatcher hadn't really been the power-broker during Reagan's terms in office . . .

Peace.

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business of bowing

Evie,

The video clip of the president's bow is intriguing.  I think I saw it on BBC World or World Focus on PBS, not on commercial networks.   Of course, the videos are all over the Internet now. 

Nancy R. embarrassed herself a number of times, as she tried to emulate her secret idol.  She never succeeded even remotely, but did provide a lot of amusement along the way.  

Jeanne

 

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Jeanne, did you happen to

Jeanne, did you happen to see Dennis Shay's blog post about this? It's here: http://www.redroom.com/blog/shaynexus/obamas-bow-saudi-king-and-beat-goes I think it was a gaffe on Obama's part.

As for Thatcher, Great Britain is part of the Commonwealth. Maybe she was just curtsying to a royal from another Commonwealth country.

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The Business of Bowing

Ellen,

Thanks for letting me know about Dennis Shay's blog.

Jeanne 

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Bowing

The funny thing is that I often half-bow or duck my head when I meet new people or even encounter friends or acquaintances. Sometimes it's paired with a handshake, sometimes it isn't. I'm not even aware I'm doing it most of the time, but I do think it's an unconscious sign of respect. But if I met a royal, would it be incorrect for me to do that? Doesn't that sort of separate protocol defeat the purpose of the whole egalitarian refusal to bow or curtsy after all?

Huntington Sharp, Red Room

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the business of bowing

Huntington,

Good point.  Of course, I am no expert.

Yes, we often incline the head when we meet elders or people we admire.  It seems like a natural gesture. 

In eastern cultures  there seems to be a middle bow and also a deep bow, depending on the rank of the person being greeted. 

With royalty, we don't meet them by accident.  When we decide to put ourselves in their path, it seems right to give them the appropriate greeting -- curtsy or bow.  I have no problem with it; it's up to the individual.

Jeanne