Learning etiquette the hard way at Buckingham Palace
The importance of learning the etiquette of the country you are about to make a state visit to cannot be understated as President Obama found when he decided to propose a toast to the Queen after dinner at Buckingham Palace.
Cultural differences were highlighted in the most embarrassing manner when two people were clearly expecting different things to happen; the Queen because she knew the protocol and Barack Obama because he didn’t.
As the President proposed the toast the National Anthem began to play and as can be seen on this video link he encouraged people to raise their glasses whilst the “Queen’s song” was still playing. No one raised their glass and we see the Queen saying something which is not particularly audible but one assumes it was “wait till the end” or “not now”.
When the National Anthem is being played everybody stands until the end and then activities can continue but clearly the President wasn’t aware of this and we can see how awkward he looks having been “reprimanded” by the Queen like a naughty schoolboy.
However, one might wonder whether the Palace staff were at fault to begin playing the National Anthem whilst the President was making the toast.
In other circumstances, without English Royalty becoming involved, the person receiving the toast would have accepted it irrespective of the lapse in etiquette but at Buckingham Palace there are strict rules about the correct protocol. Anyone in doubt can always call the Royal Household before a visit to make sure they know what to do and how to behave at all times in the presence of Her Majesty. One wonders why one of the President’s aides didn’t do this.
Dinner party that went horribly wrong at the White House
Hosting a dinner party can be fraught with difficulties at the best of times. We have to consider food preferences, whether any of the guests have allergies and sometimes their religion.
When President Obama hosted a dinner at the White House last September for the benefit of Narendra Modi (the Indian Prime Minister) the catering staff most certainly paid attention to the menu as can be seen below:
However, no one took into account religious observances and because of them, the event turned into every dinner host’s nightmare. The dinner was held during the Hindu Festival of Navatri which the Indian Prime Minister was celebrating. This meant that he was around half way through a nine day religious fasting period.
So while the other guests tucked into a sumptuous feast India’s head of state sipped water, the only thing he allows himself when observing the festival.
This again demonstrates the importance of learning as much as you can about international culture and etiquette before attending, or inviting people to, an event especially when the guests are heads of state or royalty.
The Indian Prime Minister was apparently extremely magnanimous about the oversight and told the guests not to be embarrassed about enjoying the meal. However, a little research would have avoided this blunder and possibly made President Obama feel less uncomfortable.
For cultural and dining etiquette classes for children please contact me – the younger we learn, the better we remember.
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