Whenever the president or other high-ranking officials travel to another country, they are preceded and joined by busy-body bureaucrats well-versed in the etiquette and manners of the host country, who take measures to ensure potentially embarrassing gaffes and offensive cultural blunders are avoided.
So it was with President Donald Trump’s first foreign trip, first stop Saudi Arabia, where Trump was allegedly informed that he should refrain from one of his classic gestures, the “thumbs up,” due to it being viewed as rude and offensive in the Arab world, according to The Washington Post.
The admonishment to avoid the thumbs up gesture, which was said to be equivalent to our “middle finger” gesture, was included on a list of things that are “taboo” in the Muslim kingdom that was allegedly produced by the U.S. Embassy and distributed to journalists before it was shared by a reporter for Politico.
“The thumbs up gesture is considered rude,” the handout read, which also discouraged talking about sex in public, being critical of the Royal family, displaying the bottom of one’s shoes or pointing directly at another person.
Taboos in Saudi Arabia. Last bullet point = Trump’s signature gesture. pic.twitter.com/6vBCgMoquA
— Annie Karni (@anniekarni) May 20, 2017
The only problem is, the gesture isn’t exactly considered rude in the region, though it may have been previously and could still be so in certain regions and under particular circumstances, as was pointed out in the responses to the tweet.
Trump either missed receiving the warning to avoid giving the “thumbs up” or was better informed than the journalists, because he was spotted doing just that as he rode an escalator with the Saudi king shortly after arriving in Riyadh, according to the BBC.
Trump flashed me a thumbs up as he rode the gold escalator up to his first overseas adventure. pic.twitter.com/3H9QZben7n
— Jennifer Jacobs (@JenniferJJacobs) May 20, 2017
In fact, a BBC journalist who lives in the region disputed that notion that the thumbs up is considered rude, as did the Saudi foreign minister Faisal bin Farhan, neither of whom saw any problem with Trump’s signature gesture.
Furthermore, pictures soon emerged showing top Saudi aides and even the late-Saudi King Abdullah himself giving the thumbs up gesture at events in the past.
If the thumbs up is rude in Saudi then King Abdullah’s been giving some cheeky gestures on his foreign visits pic.twitter.com/LXHMuO4Cpp
— Loveday Morris (@LovedayM) May 20, 2017
On top of that, the Arab News even published an editorial praising Trump for his incredible speech to dozens of Muslim leaders, an editorial that was titled, “Two thumbs up, Mr. Trump.”
Whether Trump ignored the warning to avoid giving the thumbs up gesture or was better informed about how the gesture was viewed than the journalists covering his historic trip may never be known, but one thing is perfectly clear — Trump will give his signature thumbs up gesture whenever or wherever he is.
Meanwhile, Trump-hating journalists will have to continue searching for some other minute detail to blow up into a damaging scandal on this trip, an effort we know is fully underway.
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