The art of (mis)giving

States traditionally give each other gifts which then belong to the other state. Sometimes the gifts are very large like the Alexander III bridge in Paris or the Mother Theresa statue in Rome. When they are smaller, most countries have a dedicated museum where they are shown to the general public.

dvdWhen the British Prime Minister Brown went to Washington on a state visit in March 2009, he had brought the recently elected Obama a penholder carved from the timbers of an anti-slavery ship. The sister ship, in fact, of the one that was broken up by Queen Victoria to be turned into a desk as a gift for the White House’s Oval Office. In return, the US president had given Prime Minister Brown 25 US movies on DVD. If the diplomatic misstep was not already enough, the DVDs apparently did not work on British players. The gift, together with the lack of a planned press conference in Washington after the meeting, was close to insulting, and considered undignified, at best, in the UK.

At the second official meeting between the two countries, yesterday for the G20,  Obama’s team had a lot to make up as the British press would be scrutinizing his every move to find proof of another humiliation.  So then the moment came when the US president was to meet the Queen. Obama presented Elizabeth II with an iPod with Broadway songs and video footage of her 2007 trip to the US and a rare Richard Rodgers songbook. We can suppose the Queen likes broadway musicals from the gift, but it is clearly a personal gift and not a state one. Even as a personal gift it does not seem like the right gift for a Queen, especially after the DVD debacle. Even with good intentions, It is not good enough.

A gift should have cultural value and not monetary. Giving, for instance, a letter written by Oscar Wilde during his stay in the US would have been a far more appropriate gift to the UK today, after all, they have stood by them through thick and thin. Alternatively, roses or another flower they can plant, from the White House garden for the Buckingham Palace garden could also have been appropriate. Was it really that difficult to get it right?

Image of DVDs source: Wired.com

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