Well, it appears that the gloves are off. In an almost perfectly executed show of American pomp and circumstance, three glitches are amongst the most talked about events of Monday's inauguration ceremony: Beyoncé's alleged lip syncing, Barack Obama's gum chewing and nose picking, and Michelle Obama's eye rolling.
But Mrs Obama's eye rolling was accompanied by another aberrant act which has caused the near flawless physique of the first lady to take centre stage once again. Her fabulous arms are the subject of much scrutiny simply because one of them found itself planted in front of her while at the private luncheon following the second inauguration ceremony of her husband, Barack Hussein Obama, the 44th president of the United States of America.
For the record, this column believes that manners matter, if only for the sole purpose of making the exercise of sharing the same space comfortable for everyone. And as archaic as the placing of one's hand in one's lap while consuming a particularly delicious meal is, it is still the standard of polite Western behaviour when dining in or out. It ranks as high as chewing with your mouth open and picking your teeth at the table, or burping, or worse. And this was no ordinary luncheon. This was no casual get-together of friends in the Obama kitchen chowing down on Mrs Marian Robinson's (the first grandma's) home-cooked meals. It was the post-swearing-in ceremony tradition which dates back as far as 1897.
The offensive arm appears during the 17-second clip which has been widely circulated on the Internet and in the news, showing Mrs Obama while she partakes of a formal three-course, 3,027-calorie (without the wine) meal with over 250 guests.
(For the very curious, the meal consisted of Steamed Lobster with New England Clam Chowder Sauce, Sauteed Spinach and Sweet Potato Hay for the first course; Hickory Grilled Bison with Red Potato Horseradish Cake and Wild Huckleberry Reduction, Butternut Squash Puree, Baby Golden Beets and Green Beans, Strawberry Preserve and Red Cabbage — second course; and the third and final course: Hudson Valley Apple Pie with Sour Cream Ice Cream and a Maple Caramel Sauce, Aged Cheese and Honey accompanied at any point by Tierce Finger Lakes Dry Riesling 2010, Korbel Natural, Special Inaugural Cuvée Champagne and Bedell Cellars Merlot 2009).
It is riveting, not so much for the eye rolling but because, as dictated by protocol and decorum, the first lady is technically the official hostess of all presidential receptions and affairs, and her behaviour sets the tone for everyone else. And so when she visibly let loose her disapproval of her husband's chief political rival, Republican congressman, House Speaker John Boehner, it caused many to sit up and take notice.
The scenario is this: Mrs Obama got caught in the middle of a conversation between the president and the speaker of the House. The president leaned back to say something to the house speaker before Boehner tapped the first lady on the arm as he responded and she was caught on camera rolling her eyes as Boehner tried to engage her in the conversation and then followed her eye rolls with a noticeable sneer aimed at the congressional leader.
Larry Wenig, a lip-reading expert, told the CBS show Inside Edition that Boehner asked the president if he had a cigarette before the luncheon. According to Wenig, Boehner was referring to Michelle when he quipped to the commander-in-chief, "Somebody won't let you do it." If all the lip reading is true, then the sneer is understandable, but it was the way she shifted her body at the table when Boehner tapped her arm, the way she planted her left arm firmly on the table while she continued eating.
Clearly she was annoyed by Boehner's statement, and we would be too, but we're not the first lady, expected to control every aspect of our behaviour. Never losing our cool or sense of decorum. But Mrs Obama is not the only one guilty of bad manners as we all know, even worse than a display of poor form is someone pointing out the shortcomings of another.