More Etiquette Woes for Aloha President

U.S. President Barack Obama may want to consider signing up for some hush-hush lessons on head-of-state protocol. He set the Anglo press aflutter last month with his gifting snafus—bum DVDs to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, mistranslated RESET buttons to Russia. On top of that, he keeps meeting political power players in all the wrong order: Obama rubbed shoulders with former British prime minister Tony Blair at a Washington prayer breakfast in early February, weeks before Brown came to town. Then, he wandered into a mid-March White House meeting between Vice President Joe Biden and former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev, even as his first face-to-face with Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev was scheduled for April 1. To top it all off, the French paper Le Figaro caught wind of a lighthearted letter exchange between Obama and former presIdent Jacques Chirac, and claimed current President Nicolas Sarkozy should take offense at the snub. To be fair, all of these rendezvous have been matters of circumstance rather than overt attempts by Obama to bypass sitting international leaders. And Obama had already met and wooed Brown and Sarkozy during his presidential candidacy. Still, in an arena where the biggest egos are also the most fragile, the American president's laid-back "aloha" style may not translate so well with old Europe's lingering love of the pro forma.