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Michelle Obama gaffe: She touches the queen

I guess we're just a friendly bunch.

First President George W. Bushwinks at the Queen while she's at the White House after ceremonies marking the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, the first British colony, in Virginia.

Keepers of proper etiquette upbraided the president, who later made light of his gaffe by saying that her majesty "gave me a look that only a mother could give a child."

Now First Lady Michelle Obama has bent the rules of protocol by touching the queen on the back.

It all started when the 82-year-old Queen Elizabeth, apparently smitten with the 45-year-old first lady, said she hoped they could stay in touch. And then the queen, who has met 12 U.S. presidents and any number of celebrities, broke royal etiquette herself by touching the first lady on the back. So, being an American, Mrs. Obama reciprocated the back-pat.

Buckingham Palace tried to put the event in historic perspective.

"It was a mutual and spontaneous display of affection," said a spokesman, adding that he could not remember the last time the queen offered such a public display of warmth. And he archly insisted, "We don't issue instructions on not touching the queen."

Why tell when everyone knows? When  former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating put his arm around the queen in 1992, the tabloids dubbed him the "Lizard of Oz." When his successor, John Howard, was accused of doing the same, a spokesman insisted: "We firmly deny that there was any contact whatsoever."

But the White House issued no such denial Wednesday. And the queen seemed to enjoy the virtual hug. As the Daily Mail put it, "The two clearly took to each other."

If so, the queen is not the only one. With her stunning outfits and warm personality, Michelle Obama continues to wow the often snarky British media, which last swooned over a president's wife when fashion model and songwriter Carla Bruni accompanied her husband, French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Today, the Times of London wrote, "Carla who?"

Some views of Michelle in London.

First Lady Michelle Obama at the G-20 meetings in London 2009 

President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama after a G-20 dinner in London April 1 2009 

First Lady Michelle Obama surrounded by spouses of other world leaders at G-20 summit in London 2009

-- Johanna Neuman

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Photo (top): Michelle Obama. Credit: Joel Ryan / Associated Press

Photo: President Obama and the first lady after the G-20 dinner. Credit: Steve Parsons / Associated Press

Photo (bottom): Michelle Obama surrounded by the wives of other G-20 leaders. Credit: Steve Parsons / Associated Press

Comments () | Archives (10)

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Obama being criticized for gift, Michelle being criticized for that. How about the Queen who gives possibly one of the worst gifts ever to our president? Why aren't we hearing about this? Actually, check out this very funny take on Spin Serum:

I would have given an iPod. It was a thoughtful, touching gift from Obama. Meanwhile, why aren't we talking about what the Queen gave Obama? Are you kidding? Here's a very funny take:

I personally love the casualness and implied we-are-equals sentiment of Michelle's gesture. We are Americans after all; if we had been interested in being obsequious and deferential to monarchs, we could have remained subjects of the British crown. Instead we kicked them out. Good show, Michelle.

So what is the big deal? The world is changing all around us. Why can't heads of state show they want to hang out together? They are people too.

Maybe next time, BlackBarry should just give her a Blackberry (his beloved mini-teleprompter).

I don't see what the big deal is. I mean, Michelle Obama embraced another human being, just like we do in our everyday lives. Everyone is making a big deal about this.

It's not like Mrs. Obama was hugging the Queen of England or something... oh wait...

I really wish Barry and 'Chelle would learn to follow the rules of class. Can that be so difficut? I'm surprised he didn't take off his jacket ..or dinnder. Maybe haul up a chair and sit a spell, arf Arf!! The queen looked quite eager to get her arms un-entwined from Babe the Big Blu Ox. Once again us poor relations are the laughingstock of Propper Britain, and worse of all they laugh it off because they just don't get it. WE GET IT ! even if you are too thick to know any better.Please stay home...don't announce all your blunders to the world. You just arn't ready for the better parts of fashion, art, class, it takes time to develope a taste for the better things in life.

This nothing compared to the other things we've done to British royalty in the last 230 years. Who cares.

I love Michelle Obama, so I tend to overlook her gaffe. However, let me point out that in general Americans make looots of gaffes in Europe ... Not just Europe, also in Africa, LAC, Asia ... from dress codes to manners.

They are simply not good at cultural diversity, a bit too self-centred, and usually belive they'll get away with anything,

What is it with you Americans there is no such news paper called the times of london,it isn't a London paper,it is a national paper and is called The Times.

Not surprised the Obamas were snubbed to the Royal wedding. The Queen was most gracious with "Chelle's tacky move, but crossed her off right there and then; NO CLASS. Jesus, she wore a sweater; a SWEATER(!!) to meet the Monarch. "You can take the girl out of South of Chicago but never take South of Chicago out of the girl," as the saying goes. Class in a First Lady? Nancy Reagan, who would NEVER, EVER breach protocol and touch the Monarch. Nobody does; not her family -not even her husband. Duh. It's just the way it is and their traditions should be respected, especially in their home turf. Can't wait to restore class to the White House.


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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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