Oh, those contact lenses… always slipping out in front of Arab royal families we owe a bunch of money to

April 23, 2009


I would like to start this post by mentioning some cultural differences between the United States and some other countries.  In some parts of the world, it is considered rude to shake with the right-hand since it is customarily used for eating.  Some countries lack basic resources, like toilet paper, and have a tradition of using their hand to wipe, thus handshaking is not common at all.  Not for these reasons alone, but most Eastern cultures offer a bow as a gesture of respectful greeting.  Such is not the tradition in Saudi Arabia, since bowing is part of their worship process they use a symbolic hand gesture from the forehead to indicate respectful greetings.

The President has been on a world tour recently, stopping in numerous allied nations as a friendly gesture of State diplomacy.  When in England, the President met with the Queen.  The British monarch has a long history of noteworthy formality and yet the President felt like a friendly touch on her arm would be appropriate.


Needless to say, no matter how friendly the Nations are, each should respect the other’s pomp and circumstance.

That is what makes the issue of President Barak Obama bowing to the Saudi King so alarming. Respect is a necessary part of diplomacy. Bowing, however, in our culture and in the Saudi Arabian tradition is a gesture of submission. Moreover, a half-bow (to the waist line) is even more indicative of submission. If the President wished simply to offer greetings, but had learned his lesson from touching the Queen, perhaps a quarter bow or head tilt would have been more fitting. The deep bow that President Obama gave was not repeated by other visitors to the King, whether they came before or after President Obama’s entrance.

It is not my intention to rant about this gesture, which in all likelihood can be chopped up to a dual-sided cultural misunderstanding. I do, however, find it significant because Saudi Arabia is one of the top three holder’s of US Treasury securities.


No matter what your cultural background, your financiers are your masters. The United States is a nation founded in Independence. Does this gesture suggest throwing that away for oil-money?


2 Responses to “Oh, those contact lenses… always slipping out in front of Arab royal families we owe a bunch of money to”

  1. thresholdlurker said

    I think he bowed. I think that’s it. I think we really need to LET IT HE HELL GO. Move on. His bow is not important compared to other foreign activities. Worry about his official acts, not his personal attempt to be diplomatic.

  2. thebeerphilosopher said

    The question we have to ask ourselves is this: did Obama bow as a man respecting his host, or did he bow as the leader of the free world? I tend to think the former, but the latter makes for a persuasive anti-Obama argument.

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