Six Famous Etiquette Mishaps and Faux Pas in History
Former President George H. W Bush
1. George Bush senior may hold the record for the most embarrassing behavior at a state dinner. In 1992, the former president vomited, then fainted, after experiencing sudden and violent gastric distress during a state dinner in Tokyo. Unfortunately, he vomited — as the news reports put it – “copiously” into the lap of then Prime Minister Miyazawa. Mr. Bush, formerly with the diplomatic corps, was always a model of gentlemanliness, manners and propriety. His mortification the next day upon seeing the press reports of the mishap must have been horrific. One writer wondered, "Did Japanese hardliners harbor suspicions that the presidential sickness had been no accident?" After all, 48 years prior, Bush had been shot down by the Japanese while trying to torpedo one of their warships.
José María Velasco Ibarra
2. José María Velasco Ibarra was President of Ecuador five different times, but sadly, he was always being deposed. On one occasion, he turned up at an embassy reception. Accounts on this vary. He either vomited over the West German ambassador or he urinated in the punch bowl. According to one version of the story, he actually did both. The army immediately deposed him for having "compromised the dignity of the Republic."
Former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson
3. The White House state protocol took a holiday it seems, when Prime Minister Harold Wilson visited Washington in the 1960s. It was at a time when the sun appeared to be setting on the British Empire — colonies everywhere were clamoring for independence, it was post-Suez canal, there was the free-falling pound, not to mention labor strikes. Upon arriving at the White House for the formal welcoming ceremonies, Wilson pointed out to then U.S. Chief of Protocol, Jimmy Symington, that two of the Union Jacks were flying upside down — the international sign of distress. The next day, the Washington Post newspaper ran an enormous photo of the flags with the caption, “Oops!”
These people are dancing the Viennese Waltz. They are not dancing to the Austrian State anthem.
4. As the story goes, former British Foreign Minister George Brown was at a state dinner in Vienna in 1966, and after enjoying some wine, he turned to "an exquisite creature in violet" sitting beside him, upon hearing the orchestra strike up a tune. Saying, “Madame, you look ravishing. May we dance?” The exquisite creature in violet turned to him and said, in perfect English, “No, Mr. Brown, for three reasons. Firstly, this is a state dinner, not a ball. Secondly, were this a ball and not a state dinner, this would still be the Austrian state anthem, and not a waltz. And thirdly, were this a ball and not a state dinner, and were that a waltz and not the Austrian state anthem, I would still be the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna.”
Polish leader Lech Walesa was unfamiliar with artichokes.
5. When Polish leader Lech Walesa visited Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace, he was served artichokes. Never having encountered an artichoke before, he began to eat the spiny leaves. The Queen generously offered, “Why don’t you eat the bottom part? It takes so long to eat the leaves.” That’s what's known as noblesse oblige — a French phrase literally meaning "nobility obliges." It is the concept that nobility extends beyond mere entitlements, to acts of generosity and nobility toward those less privileged.
Mozaffar ad-Din Shah Qajar did not know the etiquette for eating asparagus.
6. The Shah of Persia, Mozaffar ad-Din Shah Qajar, visited London in 1902. At the Edwardian Era dinner, he was served asparagus, which was a legume evidently unknown to the occupant of the Peacock Throne. After eating each spear, he would toss the stalk over his shoulder onto the floor. Feelings of anxiety ensued with those dining with the Shāh. Not wanting to embarrass the world leader, and in a show of true diplomacy, everyone else began tossing their stalks onto the floor.