Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Obama gaffe? Orchestra premature? Her Majesty rude?

It is clear what went wrong at the state banquet in honour of President Obama, but difficult to know precisely who was to blame. Either the President extemporised and inadvertently gave the orchestral conductor his cue to commence; or the conductor mis-heard that cue and began the national anthem prematurely. But the response of Her Majesty is interesting: she stands to semi-attention, politely saying to the President, "That's very kind," before turning from his raised glass to face the front. But this leaves him looking awkward and clearly embarrassed.

The professionalism of the actor is proportional to the extent to which he or she is able to conceal error from an audience. There is a well-known story that when Queen Victoria hosted a dinner for an African chief, when the finger bowls were served, being unfamiliar with the custom, he lifted it to his mouth and drank. After a few embarrassing seconds, Queen Victoria took her finger bowl and did the same, in order guard her distinguished guest from humiliation. Everyone then courtesously followed the Queen, all drinking the contents of their fingerbowls.

There is a clearly a time and place to adhere to tradition and strict protocol, and a time to relax or permit deviation: the difference between the pharisaical and the order instituted by Jesus. His Grace is not entirely sure that Her Majesty got it right here, but he is very keen to listen to the wisdom of his communicants. There is slavery to custom, and there is love; there is legalism, and there is grace; there is mental rigidity, and there is the heart.

If it were President Obama's custom to eat with unwashed hands and he inadvertently failed to honour the traditions of his host to wash, should the host wash in front of him? If the President felt it right to continue his speech over the national anthem and raise his glass, should Her Majesty turn away? One wonders what the President would have done had the Queen made the same mistake in Washington during the US national anthem. But then, of course, she would never.


Anonymous Alien said...

She may get it wrong if Cajun chicken was on the menu and finger licking is protocol.

25 May 2011 at 19:42  
Blogger The Fact Compiler said...

Difficult to call.

What will matter is how it is handled afterwards.

Interesting to see that HMQ raised a glass to herself at the end of the anthem, to put her guest at ease.

Not sure I've seen that before.

25 May 2011 at 19:54  
Blogger Neil said...

The trouble with mistakes is you don't rehearse them.

With hindsight:
1. The orchestra should have stopped after the first line of the anthem and then restarted the anthem.
2. And/or Obama should have raised his glass at the end of the anthem again and simply said 'to the Queen'.

25 May 2011 at 20:02  
Blogger The Fact Compiler said...

PS Is that a BBC headline at the top of the video?

If so... 'To the Tower!'.

25 May 2011 at 20:05  
Anonymous DanJ0 said...

He gave the cue by saying "I propose a toast to Her Maj the Queen.", paused, and then carried on. What's the protocol supposed to be there? The orchestra plays immediately after the toast proposal and everyone raises their glasses afterwards? A bit weird, really. I'd have thought it would be smoother to raise glasses and then play the anthem.

She had to treat the anthem as she did, expecially as everyone was standing to attention and people were saluting. I suppose he should have stopped as soon as he heard the music but perhaps it didn't register when he was focusing on delivering the words. No harm done I suppose though he's probably muttering about British stuffiness now. The real wonder is that Phil the Greek didn't blurt something inappropriate out.

25 May 2011 at 20:31  
Anonymous MrJ said...

...headline at the top of the video reads "Queen humilitates [sic] President Obama at newsreeldemocracy".

The source appears to be USA, and includes the comment "The BBC at first did not make any mention of the gaffe in their main news programmes. ITV did menion it but did not show the president's face after the snub."

The full clip shows no snub. The band playing in the background while the President completes without fluffing, the gracious demeanour of the Queen (who has already established amiable relations with the President and his Lady), the conduct of all present, shows that all behaved properly on the spur of that slightly awkward moment. There is no need for ill-feeling on the part of anyone present or anyone else (agreeing here with DanJO, except dig at Prince Philip, who who knows how to behave especially at such moments).

It could establish a custom, that as the toast is proposed the band begins to play. Did not George III inadvertatently start the custom of standing at the Hallelujah chorus, and the custom in the Royal Navy to remain seated for the loyal toast?

25 May 2011 at 20:42  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If the mistake was made by the Queen, than that's the first slip up your Majesty has made in 60 years.



25 May 2011 at 20:47  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr Obama's social security number (SSN) begins 042, which is in the range 040 to 049 for Connecticut. The first three digits never change (Federal Law). The only way you get a number between 040 and O49 is if you work/reside in the state when you first apply for one.

Problem is Obama didn't go to Connecticut until 2007 and when the [042 XXXX XXX XXXX] number he holds was issued he was at high school, in Hawaii. His first use of that number was in 1981 however, it was issued in 1977, to a man who died in road traffic accident, in 1980.

No wonder he wrote 24 May 2008 in the Book of Condolence at Westminster Abbey (Americans always write MM DD YY which means he should have written May 24).

Just sayin'


25 May 2011 at 20:54  
Blogger Bred in the bone said...

America the land of oppotunity, where even the butler can become president.

Oh no, correction, a butlers job is to know the etiquette

25 May 2011 at 22:26  
Blogger AncientBriton said...

What humiliation? The Queen was as gracious as ever. Her Majesty thanked the President and raised her glass before turning to the guests. I thought the episode rather charming with the music suitably faded until the President finished speaking. If the Prayer of Consecration can be said to music why not a toast? The stuff of history.

25 May 2011 at 22:43  
Anonymous Pageantmaster said...

There was a mess up, but it was on our side. The President mentioned a toast to the Queen, but he had not finished and made it a tribnute as well. Meanwhile a signal had gone to the band who jumped the gun while he was still speaking.

HM turned to him, thanked him and smiled to put him at his ease as the band thundered on, and afterwards, as both a signal to everyone and to him, she turned and raised her glass with a reassuring smile as a signal to restore order, signal the toast should now continue, and to put the President at his ease. It was masterful ad libing from her. We should not have played the National Anthem while he was still speaking, whatever his words.

There were gracious warm speeches from both HM and President Obama, and I am sure the last thing anyone intended was humiliation least of all the Queen of her guest, although clearly there was a bit of a cock up, which I am sure no one minded.

25 May 2011 at 23:04  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"This blessed plot, this England" spoken to the National Anthem was v nice. Obama graciously mentioned "Shakespeare" but the English looked sheepish. A "blessed plot" means "given by God" as a reward for faith in Him and obedience - that might explain some of the unease. The Queen could have brought out her stunning smile once during his gracious speech. I cant see the point of looking grim during the Anthem, though the Americans clasp their patriotic hearts and stare ahead. It is all nonsense, of course as we should only salute God. Obama had not rehearsed, whereas HM Queen has innumerable times. He came off looking good. The slight gaffe did him no harm.

25 May 2011 at 23:08  
Anonymous Count de Money said...

Your grace, I know that you Brits have your own ideas about what constitutes proper protocol. But what you don't understand is that Barack Obama is the most intelligent American President ever and obviously he knows better. Our President is infallible. After all, the media says so all the time.

I bet you didn't know that he likes having background music while he talks.

In fact, I think the Queen owes our President an apology for not providing a teleprompter at the dinner table and forcing our President to read his toast from index cards like a ordinary commoner.

And have you rolled back your calendars to 2008 yet? Our President says it's 2008 and if you actually have the nerve to think it's 2011, then you are obviously all racists.

25 May 2011 at 23:52  
Blogger Ariadne said...

Lovely Count de Money!

26 May 2011 at 00:51  
Anonymous not a machine said...

I am quite sure HM Queen , has seen more aukward state visit moments than most. I think Obamas first visit he wasnt quite sure what to make of the UK way of doing things ,this time he seemed a little more understanding of being a guest in London and its recipricol protocols , he also seemed a little more aware that he was adressing a head of state that had seen more of the twentieth century than he had .
I appreciate that to some Americans our formality is a little odd , but he seemed to be a bit more at ease with it than last time , but the new kid on the block has to learn , not every ally is like American politics ,sometimes with a long history of success as well.

26 May 2011 at 01:51  
Blogger unsilenced dogood said...

Let me get this straight. You consider this to be a religious type of site and yet you allow vile hate filled racism to be posted. I am not sure Jesus would approve of the venom of your followers. You are not religious, you are not moral you are a fraud. So go ahead and hide behind your so called religion coward.

26 May 2011 at 03:07  
Anonymous non mouse said...

I vote the incident enriching rather than offensive, especially if we remember that the tune the band plays ---- is part of our shared heritage :)))

The words to the 'other' American National Anthem begin:
My country, 'tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing;
Land where my fathers died,
Land of the pilgrims' pride,
From every mountainside
Let freedom ring! [etc. etc. etc. etc...............]

In postmod terms, we might see 'some tension' between the sentiments underlying the two versions of this anthem; undoubtedly, 'pulling' in opposite directions is consistent with the history of the 'special relationship.' What we see here, then, is a form of Situational Irony -- and it's well expressed, in more than one sense, by Understatement! For example, American connotations of the music underplayed Gaunt's words quite brilliantly.

I also agree HM reacted graciously and without insult. It was very quick of her to thank O, and of them both to raise glasses to each other, at the end (without drinking).

Overall, then, I say this bit of "unstuffy" extemporising was most refreshing, and a tribute the sense of humour that is also part of our shared culture.

Americans are surely capable of appreciating the subtlety and richness of the moment: after all, if anyone's normally aware of attention-standing protocol (+ heart-clutching), they're it. Yet are they not also the inventors of jazz....?

26 May 2011 at 03:48  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Obama's a Stalinist douchebag. Make no mistake. He deserves every embarrassment he gets.

26 May 2011 at 05:11  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

unsilenced douchebag:

Racism? You must be an illiterate American Leftist. When all you have is a hammer and sickle, everything looks like a nail.

26 May 2011 at 05:14  
Anonymous melodius said...

The queen could have done better. She wasn't downright rude, but almost.

Anonymous: "stalinist douchebag", tsss. In French we have an expression: all what's exagerated is insignificant. And here we're way beyond "exagerated"...

26 May 2011 at 07:27  
Anonymous anon 2 said...

Oh so now the frogs are surfacing to tell our royalty how to behave.

Of course. That must be because the French have a Divine Right to run the IMF, and so to control everything else.

26 May 2011 at 07:53  
Anonymous len said...

When protocol becomes so rigid that it is not flexible enough to improvise, to prevent embarrassment to a guest ,perhaps it is time to review it?.

In the long term, relationship is more important than ceremony, as illustrated by the example of Jesus Christ and the Pharisees.

The trouble with us(humans) is that we can fall in love with form, ceremony, procedure, ritual and find a sort of security in that and entirely miss out on the relationship side.

26 May 2011 at 08:26  
Anonymous MrJ said...

len 8.26, some may be more subject to the missing out you mention than others, but to my mind the Queen (and her Consort) are among the least in the midst of so much of it, as many could attest.

26 May 2011 at 09:01  
Blogger I am Stan said...

Your Grace,

When the President was speaking over the anthem I found it poetic and moving, and her Maj was gracious methinks.

@ unsilenced dogood, unfortunately some commentors here cannot contain their true nature when race, class and power are in the mix,the Christian spirit takes second place to their baser instincts at times.

26 May 2011 at 09:22  
Blogger Botogol said...

it was just one of those silly things... it's easy to understand why the band thought that he had finished... but I thought the President, and Her Maj handled it just fine.

what grated to my English ears was the president saying "in the words of shakespeare" . Well yes, of course it's Shakespeare, that could have gone without saying. It made him sound very American that he told us :-) But it was agreat quote for him to use.

26 May 2011 at 09:31  
Blogger Gnostic said...

To be honest, as he spoke over the first strains of the anthem, Obama sounded like a BBC commentator describing a royal procession along Pall Mall. A faux pas, yes, but not a serious one. I think Her Maj was trying to put him at ease. I don't see any intended insult from either side.

I don't like Obama but his mistake is hardly a diplomatic incident.

26 May 2011 at 09:34  
Blogger Anoneumouse said...

Matthew 7:6

26 May 2011 at 09:34  
Anonymous Dreadnaught said...

The Queen would never knowingly embarrass a guest.
Any one remember when Idi Amin was riding in a Landau with HM when one of the horses farted?

The Queen said 'Oh I do apologise your Excellency - whereupon Amin replied 'No need to apologise your Queen - for a moment there I thought it was de 'orse'

26 May 2011 at 09:35  
Anonymous Oswin said...

Anonymous @ 05:14

How embarassing! Aren't we to suppose that it is our American cousins who fall foul of irony?

Hopefully it was the 'early hour' that fazed your brain?

26 May 2011 at 13:49  
Anonymous Oswin said...

Unsilenced dog-doo @ 03:07

Eh, you what? What are you on about?

Take my advice and lie awhile in a darkened room, a touch of Eau de Cologne on your fevered brow; meanwhile lay-off the red meat and rich sources.

26 May 2011 at 14:00  
Anonymous Oswin said...

'Sauces' even ffs!

26 May 2011 at 14:22  
Anonymous melodius said...

anon 2 : I'm not French and I love you too.

26 May 2011 at 15:56  
Blogger Charlie Sutton said...


For what it is worth, some of us Americans use the DD MM YY form all the time. I have written 25th May 2011 (or whatever the date) for years - it is much clearer than the usual American way.

Interestinig about Obama's SSN. Is that part of the argument that he is somehow not really an American citizen?

My SSN begins with 221 - I got it in Delaware, but it usually given to people from further south. The first 3 may follow a general pattern, but it is not absolute.

26 May 2011 at 17:41  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the wind bag in chief just doesn't know when to shut up

26 May 2011 at 23:14  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Charlie Sutton@17:41 - 26 May

I stand corrected on the DD MM YY, sir.

The SSN controversy has nothing to with his citizenship, it's about who he says he is.

When he came back from Indonesia he brought with him the name Barry Soetoro, his adoptive father's name. He was also a Muslim, a revert.

When he went to study at Occidental he got in as an overseas student. Sometime after that he reverted to his birth name - and became a Christian

His birth certificate - the one he showed the press - has some interesting spaces between some the letters. Experts say these 'spaces' could only be achieved using a computer. Word processors didn't exist in 1961.


28 May 2011 at 01:42  

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