An Instapundit reader, one Thomas Hoyt, asserts:
Obama’s bow to the Saudi king was a breach of etiquette and a horrible symbolic act, but bowing in Japan is like shaking hands in America. Anytime you introduce yourself to someone, you bow, regardless of whether it’s the plumber come to fix your sink, your new assistant in the office, or the emperor. It is a common courtesy that has none of the meaning of bowing to a monarch that we have in the West. Refusing to bow, whether to your new assistant or the emperor [sic], has the same insulting connotation as refusing to shake hands does in the US.Where does Mr. Hoyt go astray? His observations on etiquette are relevant ONLY to a personal encounter WITHIN a specific culture. They have no relevance across cultures.
The faux pas here, if there is one, is shaking hands while bowing. This is a somewhat common and humorous problem when an American meets a Japanese person in Japan. The American bows and the Japanese person reaches out to shake hands, each trying to anticipate the cultural expectations of the other...
Rules that apply ‘when in Rome’ are not the same as when Rome itself is interacting with (fill in other nation-state* here). While Barack Obama is just a guy, President Obama in his current office, in conducting affairs of state, as the Head of State, IS for all practical purposes, the United States.
The United States. For more than two centuries, our flag has flown below no other** and until this recent aberration of a Presidency, we have bowed to no other Nation either.
To head off nitpickers:
*I know Rome is no longer a nation-state, but it was when the original wording from which the now-common phrase came was first uttered.
**Except for the Chaplain’s flag aboard USN ships during religious services.
Update: 19 Nov 09 : When I stated above "You will have to wade through thousands of photos before you find any of them [Presidents] (not named Obama) bowing", I knew that there would be a few idle minds with the time on their hands to wade through those photos.
There will no doubt be more 'evidence' forthcoming, but here is what the lamest among us have come up with to-date:
Ben Smith at Politico has a video with what he describes a a 'deep bow' but the letdown in the video shows only what appears to be a vigorous nod (of agreement on something?) that Nixon makes while shaking hands with Mao on his trip to China.
Then there's four photos at Lawyers, Guns and Money showing Eisenhower apprently:
1. Checking out the Papal Seal inlaid in the floor with the Pope. Casually standing with his hands behind his back as military men often do (goes back to spending untold hours at Parade Rest)
2. Meeting a lady and enthusiastically behaving as Gentlemen did back in the day.
3. Shaking the hand of a Greek Orthodox Archbishop and leaning forward while doing so. (there's that enthusiasm again)
4. Standing around and looking at the ground while De Gaulle bloviates over some point.
The LG&M poster apparently thinks these are all 'bows' in the same sense as Obama's bowing . So here's another hint for you children of the 60s forward: people used to be a lot more animated in their movements before the unblinking eye gained a 24hr presence.