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COLUMN: Cultural offenses show we are only human

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By Belen Ward

        When the president traveled to London this past week there were numerous articles about him breaking custom protocols such as, raising and clicking his champagne glass together with the queen and patting her on the back. In America, it is a habit of affection patting someone on the back; it’s our customs and behaviors.  It’s really not that bad, but we tend to forget. 

      Here’s a history of presidential faux pas. Former President Barack Obama took a selfie at Nelson Mandela’s funeral with several other politicians.  Former First Lady Michelle Obama accidentally hugged the queen, who was stunned at first. But then she hugged back.  Both incidents raised eyebrows for a week in the news. 

      In 2006, during the G8 Summit in St. Petersburg, former President George W. Bush gave German Chancellor Angela Merkel a quick back rub to calm her down.  Merkel apparently was offended. He meant well.

      In 1992, former President George H.W. Bush wanted to give the peace sign as a good-will gesture in Australia. It’s a gesture in Australia that is similar as flipping someone off. 

In 1982, former President Ronald Regan was toasting former Brazilian President Joao Figueiredo during a banquet.  Regan said, ”to the people of Bolivia.” If I traveled a lot, I would get my states and countries mixed up too.  

      In 1977, during a speech by then-President Jimmy Carter in Poland, he said,  “I want to know the citizens’ desires for the future.”  His translator in error said “I desire Poles carnally.” Always hire a good translator. 

       It is interesting to learn the cultural customs from other countries and we should value them.  But we are only human if cultural mistakes are made.