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How Do You Say Faux Pas in Austrian?

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By Kathleen Parker
Sunday, April 12, 2009

About that bow.

Did he or didn't he -- the president of the United States, that is -- bow to Saudi King Abdullah in a deferential greeting? And, if he did, is it of great -- or any -- consequence?

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From the outrage emanating from those who can find little to admire about the current president, one would think Barack Obama had given the German chancellor a back rub. Or kissed the royal cheeks of the queen of Spain.

Both of which, in fact, George W. Bush did while president. The left went wild over les faux pas du George. Now, it seems, it's the right's turn to display equal pique.

When will we overcome?

No one of either party has cause for casting stones in these matters. Whether Republicans or Democrats are in charge, Americans are often formidably awkward around monarchs.

Do we buss one or both checks? Do we kiss the ring? Do we dare to eat a peach? Do we bow, curtsy, extend our pinkies -- or shine our shoes? It's complicated, this parlor game of politesse. But it does matter. When you're the leader of the free world, every gesture and word counts.

It ain't easy being parfait.

It is also not in our DNA to bow to monarchs or to act beholden to anyone save God. We kneel before no human. Yet, occasionally, we are required to behave politely in countries that still cleave to their pomp and circumstance.

For such purposes, we have hirelings to instruct us in questions of protocol. We wonder lately where they are. Who didn't tell Michelle Obama that one doesn't put an arm around the queen of England, no matter how endearing we renegades might find it? Who didn't tell the president that the United States does not bow, especially not to the rulers of countries where women are less valuable than sheep?

Might we need a change of palace guard? Paging Letitia Baldrige?

Baldrige, the towering grand dame of all things proper, was the ruling knuckle-rapper during America's Camelot period. Was the Kennedy administration the last time Americans didn't have to worry that their first family might embarrass them?


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