Spaghetti Western, Off the Cuff

One of the things I appreciate about my children’s new school, as a parent, is their dress code. No sagging pants, no shorts or skirts above mid-thigh, no flip-flops, no spaghetti straps. In other words, a modicum of decorum must be exercised on a daily basis. There is no uniform. In the past, other schools we have attended have had similar dress codes but minimal enforcement. Not here. The school even sent home a note in advance of tonight’s first middle school dance reminding both parents and children alike of the policy. Believe me when I say that you do not want to wrangle with the school director over such an issue.

So you can imagine my surprise this morning when I saw, via Spanish news, America’s First Lady greeting foreign dignitaries at the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh in a dress with spaghetti straps. “Wait a minute“, I thought to myself, “my ten year old daughter can’t wear them to school but the First Lady can sport them at a business meeting?” Did we scrap the Protocol Department in order to stave off our ever-burgeoning deficit? What gives? Am I the only one who considers this a terrible breach of protocol? Or was Mrs. Obama just espousing a new right to bare arms?

My research is as follows:

Yes, we still have a Department of Protocol, which is attached to the State Department. It just doesn’t function very well apparently. I was willing to give the Obamas a bye earlier in the year when they visited with Queen Elizabeth and presented her with an iPod, even willing to overlook the hug. I might have been tempted to squeeze Her Highness myself, even though I know the Queen is resolutely untouchy-feely. Michelle’s outfit was a little on the casual side but she looked great. (My choice of gift for HRH? A Corgi puppy. Everyone knows Liz loves Corgis. Think of the photo opportunities!)

The Chief of Protocol is given the title of Ambassador. Our current Chief is Capricia Marshall. Ms. Marshall used to be a former social secretary to Hillary Clinton. Like her other fellow appointee, Tim Geithner, she failed to pay federal income tax several years running. Ms. Marshall claimed that she popped the returns in the mail for 2005 and 2006 but they never got there. I don’t know about you, but we use “return-receipt requested”s for our tax returns. Shouldn’t the Chief of Protocol know how to follow rules? I am pretty sure the job comes with a manual and cheat sheet (which is where the word comes from). This explains a lot. But not everything.

According to the Chicago Sun-Times Washington Bureau Chief Lynn Sweet’s blog, each G20 foreign head of state’s wife receives a White House goody bag. The Chief of Protocol is responsible for giving and receiving gifts to and from the White House. The G20 2009 goody bag included a porcelain tea set, honey from the newly instituted White House Kitchen Garden (those bees have been more productive than Congress since January), and a specially crafted honey pot. (Where can I get one?! Seriously!) Just a guess, but I think Queen Elizabeth would have preferred a little bone china tea set since she drinks tea several times a day.

Now, let’s think this through. Capricia, it seems, was responsible for the iPod gaffe. But is she responsible for the spaghetti straps? She seems to have made no major faux pas when consorting with Hillary Clinton during her White House tenure. Indeed, Mrs. Clinton dressed conservatively and the only fashion foot-fault was wearing a head band during her first campaign which cannot be attributed to the Capricia. So the answer must lie with the First Lady herself. Or, was Ms. Marshall too timid to suggest that spaghetti straps might not be appropriate?

You might be asking yourself, why such a fuss, Expat????? Well, to me, a G20 meeting is a big international deal. It’s one of the world’s largest business meetings. Could I wear spaghetti straps to dinner with the head of Banco Santander? Only if I am sleeping with him. And what happened to cultural sensitivity? Three of the twenty countries have Muslim heads of state. Last time I checked, Muslims weren’t fans of the bared anything, let alone shoulders. I can only imagine what they were thinking. Maybe I am over-reacting? So then I asked myself, “What was Carla Bruni wearing?” She’s always a good fashion barometer when not posing naked. Carla was wearing a LBD with cap sleeves. She looked both stunning and elegant, befitting her position as French First Lady.

Mrs. Obama is also both stunning and elegant. She was blessed with a beautiful body and there could be a natural inclination to enhance or showcase her fine features. Am I jealous? Of course! Is this why it bugs me? No. Am I a prude or do I have a political axe to grind? This is not my motive.

It bothers me because this is the footage the Spanish press selected of the G20: Mrs. Obama pressing the flesh under-dressed. It’s embarrassing to our nation! This is one issue that should be covered up. Maybe a nice G20 wife brought our First Lady a pashmina that Capricia can catalog?

Word of the day: vestido (dress). Go to Lynn Sweet’s blog for the tea set story and a photo of Michelle and Carla (



Filed under Customs, Misunderstandings, People, Spanish vocabulary, Uncategorized

12 responses to “Spaghetti Western, Off the Cuff

  1. Mood Ring Momma

    Great post, and I see your point, although I have to admit it probably never would have crossed my mind had you not mentioned it. Very funny nevertheless. You would make a fantastic Secretary of Protocol (assuming you were not in foot-in-mouth situations), and I think you should submit your resume, attaching this post. xoxoxo

  2. MCV

    Nice writing. Agree w/ MRM. You should have the job. And we should all have Mrs. O’s legs. Then most would be right in this world.

    MCV was here

  3. flaky friend

    I would agree with you if she had worn the dress for a daytime function; however, it looked like it was for an evening dinner and it looked like pretty elegant evening wear. I think she did fine.

    Also, I think dress codes applied to children — sort of like the ratings system for movies — don’t necessarily apply to adults. I am so thankful that my kids also go to a school that enforces a uniform policy. However, that same policy does not apply to me. Very thought provoking you are expat…..

  4. maria

    I loved this post….very funny!
    But be nice to normal people expat:It´s not fair compare Carla to anyone.BCBG.

  5. Commenters: I would agree with all except that (and this point I failed to fully develop), the Spanish are hyper-fashion conscious and this was a don’t to them. They like to emulate the French. I see your point, FF, but I think dress codes, written or no, apply at evening functions of international business meetings. What happens in Philly, does not in fact stay in Philly. Bottom line: hidden nuclear reactors are much more important.

    My infamous foot-in-mouth disease would disqualify me for the job but maybe I could just run the gift department?

  6. 602Jill

    Hmm,when I saw the picture I thought the same thing as you–then I said to my self–you are being petty 602. I agree with you..she is an adult woman and she must have many advisors..maybe she should find some new ones. This job of hers as first lady is muy importante..better start thinking in this direction. Maybe she needs to read more?

  7. Princess Ai Lin

    maybe we just need to ignore what she’s wearing and direct the conversation towards what was accomplished (or not….)??? Because, really, I don’t really care what she wore. And, really, do you????

  8. NC Via Humboldt

    I think you miss the issue of age – taking out the tax issues, tea sets, Ipods, goody bags and state department’s office of protocol, when you are in your 40s, I believe there is a bit more latitude with what you can wear, than when you are school-age. Yes, I think it totally acceptable that your 10-year old daughter can’t wear certain things to school and that the First Lady can sport similar outfits at a business meeting.

    You tried too much in this post – although I found it amusing.

    BTW, I saw a little mid drift from Gursharan Kaur –

  9. Raftbuddy

    I saw the photo today and thought the same thing as you did. I am no fashionista, but I thought it was a bizarro choice. I guess if it was a formal evening function and it had been floor length and solid silk or something, it would have looked more appropriate. I saw a photo cropped below the hip and couldn’t tell if it was floor length or knee length, but it was a weird print, which I thought made it look even more casual- like a junior high sundress. Not up to her usual standards.

  10. As amply demonstrated by the demonstrators, this so called G20 confab was NOT held in my city, the City of Brotherly Love, but rather in that nasty western camp called Pittsburgh. And they tolerate all manner of dress on all occasions. They may as well be in Ohio.

  11. 602: Just heard that MO is coming to Madrid in May so will be anxious to see how she goes head to head with Princesa Letizia, who gives Carla a real run for her money. Letizia has the tiara advantage, however, so perhaps it won’t be a fair comparison.

    PAL: of course I care! It’s why I wrote the post!

    NC: since you are male, I am going to give you a bye. Are you suggesting a statute of limitations on spaghetti straps? When would the cut off be? Michelle is 9 months older than me and I can assure you age is not the issue – upper arm fat is. Mine would prohibit me from wearing spaghetti straps to just about any social function, international or no. But thanks for the writing tip.

    Raftbuddy: It was knee-length. I concur with your analysis.

    Dr. Franklin: duly edited! But you have offended the good people of Ohio. Recant, sir, recant.

  12. I know I am late but I will be weighing in on my blog:

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