THE BLOG
11/11/2010 10:20 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Michelle Obama Handshake Raises Brows in Indonesia

I have to ask, where were the first lady's cultural sensitivity coaches when she recently extended her hand down the line of Indonesian dignitaries? As a mere plebe, I learned to bow in Japan because it was the custom. While teaching in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and studying in Tsafat, Israel I learned not to shake the hands of Orthodox Jews. Someone could have coached her on proper cultural etiquette. This isn't her first gaffe.

After my initial reaction, I remembered that I had many orthodox Jewish friends who don't shake hands, and I respect their belief. They also confessed that if the situation became too awkward and they don't want to embarrass anyone they would simply shake the hand extended. So, this Islamic custom must be similar to the Jewish custom; after all, they are cousins in faith. And, the poor guy did shake her hand, but is now being called a hypocrite and heathen by his fellow strict believers because he broke with custom. His defense that she lunged her hand at him is admittedly hilarious and just another example of cultural insensitivity. He should simply explain that he acquiesced to an American custom. That would be an honest step towards understanding.

But in the meantime, let's give him a break. He let US social customs and "respect" for another dignitary and supposed diplomat override his own personal religious customs. She should have been coached by a sensitivity trainer or better yet educated herself before going down the line and shaking everybody's hand like a fool. So, duh, Michelle Obama. This is not, as one writer at Salon called it "the cutest sex scandal in history!" This is what happens when we are in a global culture, and have a bi-racial president with a multi-national background and we still forget to learn that not everyone does as "we" do. Not all cultures/faiths shake hands including some people here in America.

See, I won't hold one bad apple against a people, a nation or a faith.