Two recent diplomatic gift–presentation debacles have highlighted one thing: whoever our current administration has in the Office of Protocol who is in charge of procuring gifts for foreign dignitaries, it’s clearly not Shiaw-Ling. And now that we’re all (well, ok, maybe just me) embarrassed by the gift-giving gaffes, the only thing to do is to find and hire Shiaw-Ling, stat.
I’m all for giving our new president and secretary of state a break, but, I have to say, even I, overwhelmed and thoroughly surprised to find myself in the position of having to pick out presents for international big shots, could have done a lot better than a region 1 (U.S. format) DVD set for the British prime minister, and a big ol’ red button with an “overdrive” sticker, in Russian with Latin characters, for the Russian foreign secretary. I’m still no genius: given short notice, I’d punt with alcohol: you can never go wrong with giving Europeans alcohol. A case of Jack Daniels would have warmed the Russians up towards us a little, and some vintage Jack Daniels for the Brits (‘cuz they like old stuff) with a few extra bottles to pass out to the journalists would have saved face (or at least made the journos too fuzzy to snark.)
Shiaw-Ling is genius at gift-giving, and she’d do far better beyond that. Gordon Brown (the British prime minister) clearly has someone of her caliber on his staff. I mean, giving the first African-American president of the United States a desk-pen holder made from the timbers of a British anti-slavery ship? Dude, that’s freakin’ impressive!
Gift giving is always fraught with peril: whether you intend for your presents to convey a message or not, they always do. Like Gordon Brown, Shiaw-Ling understands this, and works it to the point of leaving all impressed. She has mastered the art of giving: at every occasion she manages to find the perfect present for everyone on her list: something that demonstrates she’s been paying attention to the giftee’s passions (especially the non-obvious ones), while still reflecting herself. Just as one example of her brilliance, one year (when Peter had created the office layout with Lego bricks and figurines, she located a set of Lego zombie figurines for him. These figurines, by the way, weren’t available anywhere in the U.S.: they had to be procured by a complex exchange of money and promises with people in far-away lands months in advance.
I imagine if you’d tasked Shiaw-Ling with finding something appropriate for the British prime minister, she would have started out by having the National Security Agency send over their top secret dossier on him. And let’s say that within those files she discovered Gordon Brown was a Star Wars fan, as evidenced by an article he wrote under a pseudonym for a fan magazine in 1978. (This is all hypothetical, BTW: I know nothing about Gordon Brown). If this were the case, and Shiaw-Ling were in charge, it would be likely that Gordon Brown would find himself gifted with one of the original Darth Vader suits from the original movie. With David Prowse modelling it. And with James Earl Jones scheduled to announce the president and prime minister at the press conference. Shiaw-Ling, I’m sure, would also have made sure there was an open bar for the journalists, freely pouring the booze five hours on before the actual press conference. Because we all know journalists (especially the European ones) are happier writing drunk, and had British journalists seen James Earl Jones announcing the leaders beside Gordon Brown’s new Darth Vader suit, followed by a presidential announcement that Pooh Five have been freed, President Obama would unanimously be declared the coolest prez ever. And that’s the point of these diplomatic gift exchanges, not looking like you had to dig in your generic presents closet and pull out something you got at the Circuit City going-out-of-business sale while you were on vacation in Hawaii.
That is the importance of good gift giving, and that is what Shiaw-Ling can bring. Please, please, people in charge, hire her now before we mis-gift again.