Wednesday, November 18, 2009

How Bow? .....

I feel more than a little sympathy for President Barrack Obama when it comes to the criticism he has received over 'the bow' and what it represents to a new generation of virtual, international Miss Manners out there.

Some, however, have taken a more historical perspective in the coverage of the bowhaha ... err, brouhaha. The Associated Press notes ... "Obama's gesture on Saturday was not without precedent, however. Neither was the outrage. U.S. presidents from both political parties often have been criticized for attempts at culturally sensitive greetings to high-ranking foreigners" ... including former presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon.

For my part, I think President Obama was poorly advised by his diplomatic corps on how - and how not - to bow. Sure, it's a nice gesture ... but it's especially nice if it's done properly, and in line with that culture's standards for the gesture.

And THERE is the added rub ... in countries such as Japan, the bow conveys A LOT about the place of the person offering, and the person receiving, in Japanese society. President Obama probably received many bows such as the one he offered ... but those were bows being offered a visiting head-of-state by Japanese who considered their position beneath his.

I had a similar experience last year, in Thailand, with their own traditional greeting, the wai. "Relationships are an important part of Thai culture, and the wai is one measure of those relationships," I noted at the time. "Who is the first to wai, who bows lower, who raises their hands higher, how the wai is returned - if at all ..... all are indicators of the relationship between the two individuals that are greeting one another."

In a way, that's something that goes against the grain of a more egalitarian society such as our own ... where many people are more inclined to offer the same greeting, the same handshake, the same hug to all they meet, regardless of their standing in American society.

It's not better, it's not worse ... it's just different. And I wish someone in the U.S. Department of State would better prepare our presidents - past, present and future - for that difference.


Anonymous said...

why spell Obama's first name with two Rs

Jeff said...

Anonymous, thanks for the heads-up on the typo ... must have been my years as a military brat coming through.

Anything substantial - a comment or observation on the topic - you care to contribute would be greatly appreciated.