Friday, April 21, 2006

Faux Pas

Hmmm. A couple of faux pas at the White House ceremonial greeting for the Chinese president, Bush. And in case you folks from Texas are not familiar with the term faux pas, let me explain with the story--from my Anglican youth--of the vicar who was breaking in a newly-arrived young curate in his parish. The young man was very nervous about his first sermon, and asked the vicar afterwards for feedback. "Well," says the vicar, "you did fine, except for a couple of small faux pas." The curate gives a puzzled look. "Faux pas?" he asks blankly. "What's that?"

The vicar puts a paternal arm around the curate's shoulder. "Remember," he says, "when the bishop came for the confirmation service?" The young man nods. "And afterwards, in the rose garden, when the bishop pricked his finger on a thorn?" "I remember that," the young man agrees. "And later," the vicar continues, "at tea, when my wife asks,'How's your prick?' and he says, 'Still throbbing,' and I say, 'Christ!' and you drop the teapot? THAT was a faux pas."

Well, Bush, a bit silly. Apologies. I couldn't resist. It does seem odd to me, though, that we have only two words in English that catch the meaning of the peculiarly embarrassing moment and both are French: there's faux pas, and there's gaffe. "Misstep" doesn't quite do it, does it? Let me know if you can think of a better equivalent. I'd like to hear about it.

Anyway, back to our sheep, as the French also like to say. A double gaffe at the greeting ceremony. First--reported on the BBC World News but nowhere, so far as I can tell, in the American media--your master of ceremones announces the national anthem of the "Republic of China." Which must have pleased President Hu a great deal, of course, since Taiwan, thus named, is such a thorn in the side of the People's Republic. A casual slip of the tongue, perhaps, but kind of insulting to the guest.

And then there was the shrieker. It might have been more embarrassing still had she been a streaker, but the shriek was loud and aggressive enough to shock and awe the assembled company, including the august visitor to whom it was addressed. A Falun Gong devotee, it seems, protesting the lack of religious freedom in President Hu's country. It was a point you also made, Bush, though a tad more tactfully, in your remarks--and by all means a legitimate one. Still, not a good thing to happen at an official diplomatic ceremony on the White House lawn.

I sometimes wonder how it must feel, Bush, to be in your shoes. It seems that nothing can go right for you these days, from the biggest international challenges like Iraq and Iran to the smallest details such as this one. I mean, this latest episode can't help but remind us of your Dad's diplomatic adventure in Japan, throwing up in the lap of Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa. Remember that? But that was a single incident. You, Bush... Don't you begin to feel jinxed? And how about that Higher Authority to whom you're known to defer? Don't you get just a wee bit mad at him for allowing these things to happen on your watch?

I hear you're headed our way today, for talks with our Governor in San Jose. Good luck with that. And don't try arm-wrestling with Arnie. He might well win.

1 comment:

dennis said...

feel jinxed?

He's always felt jinxed, methinks. A big-time overcompensater.