When dignitaries and heads of state meet one another, the inevitable giving of gifts can be expected, and dreaded. While the notion of diplomatic gift exchanges between countries may hold a certain romantic charm, the gifts themselves rarely hold up to their expected allure. Like receiving a present from a distant relative, what one receives is rarely what one wants but unable to refuse without ruffling feathers.
As the reigning monarch of England for the past 61 years, Queen Elizabeth has received her share of useless gifts. The Economist reports that she has received “pineapples, eggs, a box of snail shells, a grove of maple trees, a dozen tins of tuna and 7kg of prawns”. To belabor the point, at her Diamond Jubilee last year, the queen received a sports shirt, 169,000 square miles on Antarctica henceforth known as Queen Elizabeth Land, and a Lego sculpture of the Tower Bridge.
While none of these items necessarily broke the bank, they illustrate the uselessness of mandatory gift giving between countries. For the woman who has everything, giving her perishable goods doesn’t help.
Since his election in 2008, President Obama has also received numerous trinkets including a Hermes golf bag and a “large silver bowl with palm tree design” with an estimated value of $3400.
As an explanation for receiving the gift, next to each listed donation on the Federal Register website is the comment, “Non-acceptance would cause embarrassment to donor and U.S. Government.”
It is high time for refusing gifts out of decorum be reformed.
In contrast to his political successor, President Thomas Jefferson abstained from receiving valuable gifts from foreign dignitaries, save for the occasional book or pamphlet. When he did receive a gift of note, like the several Arabian horses he received from the Tunisian ambassador in 1805, he sold them at a public auction to subsidize the cost of the ambassador’s visit.
When poverty and wealth inequality run rampant throughout the world, it is up to politicians and dignitaries to draw a line and refuse gifts they neither want nor need and instead contribute that wealth towards more noteworthy causes.
– Emily Bajet