Diplomatic Protocol and Nude Statuary, Vol. 15, Issue 8

And they say "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." The press has been full of stories about the state visits of the President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, to Italy and France and the cultural differences that need to be cultivated. In Rome, nude statues at the Capitoline Museum were concealed from view by white boxes to prevent the possibility of offense. In France, President Rouhani declined an invitation to a luncheon at the Elysée Palace because wine would be served; alcohol is forbidden in Islam.

The Italian government is certainly taking a drubbing from its own citizens over concealing these Robust Manifestations of Italian Culture. Etiquetteer is more forgiving, knowing that on such diplomatic occasions as state visits, avoiding embarrassment is essential to successfully managing a relationship between Two Distinct Nations. The purpose of a state visit is for one nation to show hospitality to another. This is difficult to do when a custom or tradition of the host nation gives offense, for whatever reason, to the guest nation. While selecting a press conference location with no nude statues to begin with would have been Less Troublesome, Etiquetteer can't fault the Italians for acting with an Excess of Caution. Certainly they had only the best intentions.

But Etiquetteer wishes that President Rouhani had shown more understanding in the case of the French luncheon. While a request for a halal menu was entirely Perfectly Proper, Etiquetteer would have wished for the Iranians to have accommodated consumption of the French National Beverage by those whose belief systems allowed, even though theirs did not. As a precedent, one must consider the state dinner given by President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy on July 11, 1961, for the President of Pakistan, Ayub Khan, and his daughter. While wines were offered with dinner for those who wished them, the menu was prepared without alcohol of any kind.

The fine line between not offering offense to honored guests and maintaining one's own customs and traditions is trod not only between nations, but also between families celebrating a marriage, companies conducting mergers, and home owner associations homogenizing aesthetics. Have you had such experiences? Do you anticipate them now? Etiquetteer would like to hear your queries at queries <at> etiquetteer.com.