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My Take on “The Bow”

Ok, so we’ve all seen “the photo.”

rt_obama_akihito_091115_main

I’m gonna shock some folks by say­ing the fol­low­ing: I have no real issues with a Pres­i­dent of the United States of Amer­ica bow­ing to the Emperor of Japan.

How­ever…

The issue one should be won­der­ing, is this: Why the hell is he bow­ing so low?

I’m try­ing to draw back into my mem­ory banks from some old con­ver­sa­tions I’ve had with an old class­mate of mine (I believe he’s now a Min­is­ter at a Jehovah’s Wit­ness Tem­ple in the Twin Cities) who was born of an Amer­i­can mother and a Japan­ese father.  He told the class that in Japan, the depth of your bow sig­ni­fies where you stand in soci­ety.  His exam­ple was that stu­dents bow at the same length to each other, but a stu­dent bows lower when bow­ing to a teacher or elder.

In this case, Obama as Pres­i­dent of the United States, should only be doing a slight bow since he is of equal stature in soci­ety as the Japan­ese Emperor.  The bow as pic­tured makes it look like he’s a lowly bus­boy while meet­ing the feu­dal head of Japan.

Some­one in the White House’s cul­tural liai­son office botched this one and made their boss look like a fool.  They ought to be sacked for that.

(Or maybe they’ll be moved to another office and it will be called “a saved job” under the fed­eral stim­u­lus plan.)

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  • maulreius

    In most of these cross cul­tural moments both sides usu­ally under­stand that the other is less than famil­iar with one’s cus­toms and not to read too much into such mess ups.

    LOL — in the UAE one teacher (he left before I arrived but he was a leg­end) absolutely and pos­i­tively detested Ara­bic cul­ture and so on. He would present his les­son, and then let his stu­dents go to work and he would sit down and quite pur­pose­fully expose the soles of his feet at his students.

    The one thing I know about Japan­ese cul­ture is to never ever stash their busi­ness cards in their presence.

    On the whole on this ten­sion between respect­ing your hosts cul­ture even when the par­tic­u­lar pro­to­col is con­trary to one’s own cul­ture is sticky. I remem­ber Laura Bush catch­ing a lot of grief when appear­ing next to a woman cov­ered head to toe in a black Abaya. (http://bloggerbeer.blogspot.com/2008/01/mrs-bus…) Gen­er­ally, one should respect their hosts and attempt­ing to observe their cul­tural norms is a sign of respect.

  • dad29

    Umnnnhhhh.…IIRC, a Rev­o­lu­tion was fought over “King/Emperor” issues.

    We won. Our Chief of State is the equal of ANY “king/emperor” on the planet.

    So unlike you, I DO have a prob­lem with bowing.

  • dad29

    Umnnnhhhh.…IIRC, a Rev­o­lu­tion was fought over “King/Emperor” issues.

    We won. Our Chief of State is the equal of ANY “king/emperor” on the planet.

    So unlike you, I DO have a prob­lem with bowing.