Via Andrew Malcolm, we have a pre-holiday bit of frivolity for Hot Air readers, and perhaps an example of the media tilt I mentioned in an earlier post. When George W. Bush gave Angela Merkel an unannounced (and unwanted) neck massage, the media turned it into a narrative of his diplomatic ineptitude. We haven’t heard much about this intrusion on Aung Sang Suu Kyi’s personal space by Barack Obama — whose upbringing in Asia, Andrew notes, should have better prepared him to be more sensitive to the gauche act he committed:
For someone alleged to have grown up in Asia, Barack Obama is repeatedly clueless about customs there.
It’s one thing if you’re a tourist. But as the president of the United States? More problematic. …
Eager to take advantage of such a photo opportunity before the world media, Obama leaned in for a little kiss, as a Chicago pol might at a South Side rally where women would squeal for a presidential peck. Obama is a big political kisser. He kisses females everywhere. Introduce him at a rally, you get a kiss. Hug too, probably. He knows the ladies love it.
But Asia ain’t Hyde Park. Public kissing, even between husband and wife, is rarely seen. Between a man and woman not married it’s downright outrageous, even scandalous. So Obama’s presumably affectionate but impolite, totally out of place smooch created an international moment more awkward than a first date.
Aung San Suu Kyi appeared to instinctively pull back from the male suddenly entering her personal space. But Obama’s arm was wrapping around her.
Turning her face away, she eventually consented stiffly to the foreigner placing his lips on her cheek to avoid a scene. She did not reciprocate, even with an air kiss. Or a gracious smile.
As Obama stood next to the world’s most recognized democracy icon, he mispronounced her name repeatedly.
Ever gracious, Suu Kyi did not correct her American guest for calling her Aung YAN Suu Kyi multiple times during his statement to reporters after their meeting.
Proper pronunciation for the Nobel laureate’s name is Ahng Sahn Soo Chee.
The meeting came after Obama met with Myanmar’s reformist new President Thein Sein – a name he also botched.
As the two addressed the media, Obama called his counterpart “President Sein,” an awkward, slightly affectionate reference that would make most Burmese cringe.
Note to presidential advisers: For future rounds of diplomacy, the president of Myanmar is President Thein Sein – on first and second reference.
These are the type of points about which the White House protocol office, or the State Department, usually briefs a President before making public appearances, especially away from home. During the Bush years, these kind of fumbles became narratives about the cowboy mentality and parochialism of the Texas-raised President. Today? This hardly gets a mention, except for USA Today’s suggestion that none of this is important:
Obama’s kiss of the Burmese leader during Monday’s historic visit at her home in Yangon “has surprisingly elicited little or no comment in the global press thus far — quite unusual since public displays of affection represent a grave breach of custom in virtually all Asian countries,” says the International Business Times.
Public kissing “is not at all the custom (in Burma, also known as Myanmar) as it is here in Hawaii, and (Suu Kyi’s) backing away is almost instinctive for most Burmese women, even those brought up in or have lived a long time in the West,” Michael Aung-Thwin, professor of Asian Studies at the University of Hawaii, told the publication. …
“Personal space is completely different depending on the culture. It’s very different across cultures, so you have to be respectful and knowledgeable,” body language expert Lillian Glass told ABCNews.com.
But Hawaii’s Aung-Thwin added that Obama’s apparent gaffe likely won’t cause offense among the Burmese public: “They realize that’s the custom (in the USA),” he said. “They’ll allow such concessions to any foreigner who simply doesn’t understand (local customs).”
My, how understanding the world has become — not to mention the media — in four short years! Let’s offer this image of our head of state broadening the global culture on his trip to Burma, er Myanmar, er, Burma, and collect a few captions for today. This will, by the way, find its way into the OOTY polls as some point.