DIFFERENT TYPES OF BOWS AND WHAT THEY MEAN
The way a person bows in Asian countries reflects what a person is communicating non verbally to another person. While a bow is often a sign of respect, a bow can reflect the way a person is feeling – humble, sincere, remorse, or even deference.
The degree of the bow also means something. The lower the bow, the more formal and the more it says. So does how long you hold the position when you bow. For instance if you are apologizing to someone the bow is longer and lower.
Where bowing really gets disturbing is here. Someone who is in an inferior position will address the person in a superior position with a bow while the person in the superior position may will not bow at all.
That is why the photo above of Obama publicly bowing to Chinese leader Hu Jintao has been so disturbing to many. While the economic power of China is certainly increasing, many believe that Obama’s bowing to him is a public acknowledgement that he is aware of this and accepting of this. If you look at President Obama he is looking down as a signal of defence as his body s leaning towards the Chinese leader.
The Chinese leader’s body language is in marked contrast to Obamas’ where Hu is leaning away from Obama and looking directly at him as a visible sign of personal power as Obama bows and gazes downward in a subservient gesture.
While many believe that one needs to “do in Rome as the Roman’s do” and join the culture when a person is visiting another country, the problem here is that the Chinese leader was visiting OUR country, the USA. It was not the reverse. That is what has concerned others who believe that by Obama bowing to the leader he was exhibiting a weaker position to the world and abroad.
Even though there was controversy about Obama’s bowing when he was in Japan, it seemed a lot more appropriate than this recent bow to the Chinese leader. In the first place he was on foreign soil. In the second place he was with the Emperor of Japan Akihito. In the third place the Emperor was much older than Obama, perhaps old enough to be his grandfather.
Perhaps these factors was why his bow was so low. In any case, Obama’s bowing to Emperor Akihito can certainly be justified, even though it was very controversial at the time.
While we have seen bowing in Asia, we have certainly not seen it among Middle Easterners. So what most controversial was when Obama publicly bowed to the Saudi Arabian King Abdullah. The bow was extremely low , with Obama’s knees bent. When knees are bent it is considered the ultimate signal in subservience, with only kneeling on the ground to follow in terms of degree of subservience and deference . It also signifies an apology as when anyone usually bows that low they are usually apologizing for something.
Thus, many felt that Obama’s low and subservient the bow to the Saudi King was extremely inappropriate for an American President under any circumstances.
Even though Obama’s bow was not as low as it was with the Saudi Leader, the subservient bow to yet another world leader is not a signal of self-confidence to Westerners or to non Westerners for that matter.
As you can see the Chinese leader who does not return the bow. In fact the leader looks very superior to Obama as he doesn’t bow back, unlike the Japanese Emperor Akihito who’s head is slightly bowed during Obama’s bow. The Chinese leader does not bow back in the least as his posture is ramrod straight and head and instead and appears in a completely upright body position.
Obama also bowed to the Queen of England, which may be protocol if you are a British subject. But if you are the President of the USA you may not have to it. Nevertheless he gave her a little bow as you can see above.
He even gave a deferential bow to the Queen’s husband Prince Philip which many felt was uncalled for. Many believed that a President of one of the most powerful nations in the world should not have been bowing to a powerless husband who was only of any significance because he married the Queen.
Obama also bowed in Feb 2010 to Ukrainian leader Viktor Yushchenko who has the identical superior ramrod straight head and body posture as Chinese leader Jintaoe Hu. The Ukrainian leader gazes down upon Obama as did Chinese leader as like Hu he has a ramrod straight posture and does not exhibit a mutual bow or anything deferential towards Obama.
The bow with Yushchenko took place in February of 2010. That month Obama was doing even more bowing as he bowed a low head down to Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, who looked at him a bit surprised.
Obama even bowed to no-nonsense Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie with a very low and humble bow. While there must have been a good joke as shared during the circumstances, it is clear that body language wise Gov. Christie , he is in the top dog position. He turns his head to the side and doesn’t even look at The President who bows too low for comfort.
Like it or not, the botom line , perception wise, is that when a President of a powerful country bows to other heads of state or those in a lesser political position like the husband of a Queen, a governor of a state or the Mayor of a city, it makes him appear weak as a leader.
If he must bow to n Asian leader, make sure it is on Asian soil and make sure there are no cameras present for the photo opt. In politics that now plays out on a world wide stage in moments, the image which the political leader is essential and important in terms of repect and how they will be regarded.
Just ask Russian leader Vladamir Putin who carefully manicures and manages his public image. The only image of him you will ever see is where he is swimming the deepest sea, skiing the highest mountains, or riding the fastest stallion as he shows off hs buff arms. He isn’t bowing to anyone. Perhaps President Obama may want to follow suit if he values how he is perceived especially in the next election.
While many around the world may think that this animated Taiwanese cartoon of the President kow-towing to Hu is funny, there is absolutely nothing funny about it to any American. There is nothing humorous about a President of one of the most powerful countries in the world being perceived as weak, under any circumstances . www.drlillianglass.com