Royal Exchange: On Second Visit, Obamas Improve Gift-Giving Skills

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The slogan goes, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” But the Obamas recovered nicely in their second visit to Buckingham Palace this week.

Social missteps seemed to plague the President and First Lady during their first meeting with Queen Elizabeth II in April 2009. The fashion industry mocked Michelle Obama for wearing a boring black-and-white outfit in front of royalty. “You don’t … go to Buckingham Palace in a sweater,” said designer Oscar de la Renta at the time. Michelle also skipped the curtsy for a bolder hug, which was deemed controversial since it’s against protocol to touch the Queen. (A Palace spokesman maintained it was “a mutual and spontaneous display of affection.”)

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And finally, there was the gift exchange. While the royal couple gave the Obamas a traditional framed photo of themselves, the President and Michelle presented the Queen with an engraved iPod that was pre-loaded with videos and photos of her 2007 visit to the U.S. The gift was widely mocked for being both tacky and uncreative.

This year, though, the Obamas learned their lesson. Michelle showed up to Buckingham Palace Tuesday in a bright pink blazer and gorgeous teal dress that looked a bit like the Queen’s outfit. And when it came to gift giving, the First Couple presented the Queen with a handmade leather album filled with rare memorabilia and photographs that highlighted her parents’ visit to America in 1939.

(PHOTOS: Queen Elizabeth’s Visit to Ireland)

Still, Obama has been prone to other gaffes during his trip. After visiting Westminster Abbey Tuesday afternoon, the President signed the guest book and dated it “24 May 2008.” Later that evening at the official state dinner, Obama looked painfully awkward as his speech to the Queen was interrupted by the band and his toast unreturned by attendees. “I thought that it was like, it was like out of the movies when the soundtrack kinda comes in,” he later joked to Nick Clegg, the UK’s Deputy PM. And one day earlier in Dublin, a car in Obama’s motorcade, nicknamed “The Beast,” got stuck on a ramp leaving the U.S. embassy. Officials denied that the Cadillac, which is bomb-proof and designed to protect the President in any kind of attack, was carrying the first couple at the time. But it still appeared embarrassing that such a mighty car could be hampered by something as small as a speed bump.

Despite the “Beast” breakdown, the trip wasn’t a total, umm, bust. Obama teamed up with U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron to play ping-pong with students at the Globe Academy in Southwark Tuesday. The two leaders also hosted a barbecue at the garden of 10 Downing Street for military families on Wednesday, proving that, for all his small slip-ups, Obama’s relationship with the U.K. is nothing short of special.