If you wander around the diplo-circles long enough, you get wind of some really strange gifts that people are given through diplomatic channels. As junior diplomats, you aren’t allowed to keep much of anything – you pretty much have to declare it and hand it it unless it truly is a small-change trinket. The gamut runs from ties to pens, and of course, random doodads featuring engravings of the gifting countries.
At the head of state or ambassador level, that where things get interesting – countries start giving out things like shepherd dogs which young staffers are then tasked with caring for while they find them a home. You might even get some swords or art or a “large desert scene on a green veined marble base featuring miniature figurines of gold palm trees and camels; large gold medallion with the Royal seal in a green leather display box; large brass and glass clock by Jaeger-LeCoultre in a green leather display case” (who’s up for a round of name that oil-producing, generously gift-giving country?). If you’re curious about what the US receives, you can see the full list by the State Department every year.
But anyway, after a few slips of their own in the gifting department, the Obama White House recently changed up the stock gift – at least for the wives club. Michelle Obama hired in Kara Ross to design a chunky wooden bangle that by all accounts she herself would wear (the first sign of a good gift), made from fallen trees on the White House property. Marked with a small silver buckle and interior silver inscription plate it’s understated but elegant and a nice, democratic high-low mix. My grandmother took one look at it and declared it resembles a shackle, so I could see how not everyone will go for this. To get one, you have to be invited in official capacity to the White House. I think I might be waiting for that particular call for awhile. My grandmother too. So we’ll have to continue to debate the merits of this gift by photo alone.