November 13, 2010 9:56:00 PM
Most of us think we know the rules. At a very young age we learned to always say "please" and "thank you," wash our hands and share our toys. Sometimes the rules can be confusing. Our mothers taught us to be polite, but never speak to strangers. In Columbus, people we do not know often say "hello," or "good afternoon." Is it rude to snub a friendly person, just because we have not been properly introduced?
If the rules of etiquette are confusing in Columbus, certainly travelers have a much harder time. Americans love hamburgers and enormous steaks. However, in India, cows are sacred. Even a starving Indian would never dream of eating prime rib. I suppose that would be like an American having a meal of puppies and kittens.
First Lady Michelle Obama has caused a bit of a stir on her visit to Indonesia. Evidently, she "touched" (read, shook hands with) a "conservative" Muslim. We know a lot about "conservatives" in this part of the world. That can be a euphemism for "extremist" or "radical," or perhaps a tad uncompromising.
This has been quite an embarrassment for Tifatul Sembiring, Indonesia''s information minister and recipient of the fateful handshake. As a Muslim, he may only touch women to whom he is related. Of course, this may not be much of a sacrifice, since he is reputed to be a polygamist and, therefore, would be surrounded by many related women.
He has put all the blame on Mrs. Obama. (What a surprise!) He calls the handshake "forced contact," because she thrust her hand to him. Well, here is a lesson for us all. It is pretty difficult to lie when the incident is captured by hundreds of cameras. The videos clearly show him clasping her hand with both of his.
And, who can blame him for touching her? Anyone would be overcome with awe to be so close to the first lady.
Michelle Obama is an all-American girl. Here, we shake hands, walk alongside of our husbands and, most importantly, vote. American women do not take kindly to the idea that we are somehow inferior to men. We are citizens in a classless society. Some may still put the blame on Eve for banishment from the Garden of Eden. But, everyone knows that Adam could have said no to that bite of fruit. We shook off that guilt a long time ago.
In truth, I am proud of Michelle Obama''s behavior in Jakarta. She looked great, modestly attired in a dress over trousers, her hair twisted into a neat bun.
(We do remember that she once got into a little trouble by hugging the Queen of England. But, that''s another story.)
If anyone is to blame, we should look to her consultants on protocol. The nuances of other cultures are too complicated for even a savant to remember. Isn''t there an advisor to help our traveling dignitaries? Maybe Mrs. Obama should have someone whispering in her ear, "Don''t touch the third man in the receiving line," or, "Don''t make eye contact with Diana Ross." Our First Lady just doesn''t have the luxury of not speaking to strangers.
I do, however, have an answer for Sembiring''s mortifying dilemma. He could offer to make Michelle Obama one of his many wives. That way she would be related, and no longer taboo to touch. She, of course, would refuse. No American woman would suffer life with that short, despotic toad.
Perhaps we should be a bit sorry for Sembiring. He probably won''t be able to escape criticism, even at home. The supposed sanctity of manifold marriage must become unbearable when all the wives are nagging at once. It truly has to be tricky to remember their "house rules." I wonder, too, how multiple wives feel about sharing their toy?
Adele Elliott, a New Orleans native, moved to Columbus after Hurricane Katrina.