In Lima Peru, the latest APEC gathering attended by leaders of countries bordering the Pacific Ocean has just concluded. Of course it was attended by our Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, and so our media fully covered the event.
I don’t know how the custom began or when, but these conferences now traditionally conclude with attending heads of state being presented with a wearable souvenir, typical of the host nation, which they don while participating in photo opportunities on the last day. There have been some memorable Malay and Indonesian batik shirts, and the Philipines presented them with those lovely peñasilk dress shirts worn everyday by men there. Of course, as every traveller knows, something typical of one culture can look a bit comic back home, and nothing shrieks louder of a returned tourist than sporting a piece of culture-to-wear, like a Union Jack waistcoat, an Akubra hat with shark tooth adorned headband, or a t-shirt adorned with native american symbols worn with turquoise and silver jewellery.
For the host nation, the trick is to choose something identifiably national and that can be worn by both male and female leaders. The following is a link to the photo gallery in today’s issue of The Australian, of the leaders jollying around in their gift ponchos from the people of Peru, hand woven, natural coloured and doubtless very fine quality alpaca fibre:
Although some in the photos clearly don’t have much idea how to put them on or how to stand up straight when wearing such a thing, I am pleased at how our Kev did wear his well and with respect. On the other hand, George W looks as he possibly felt – a total dork, with very little good grace. Being a textiles collector, I have my hand up in case Kev decides to quietly dispense with his, but reckon his wife will snag it and wear it with appropriate style some time over a great shirt or top and pants with boots. Perfect for our national capital in winter.
The prevoious APEC gathering was in Sydney, Australia. The government of the day would have sifted through various national clothing ideas – stubbies, thongs and t-shirt perhaps? (stubbies are very short shorts) but maybe not for the sheilas -stubbies are often revealing enough on the blokes. They might have considered white t-shirts with shark bites out of them and splashes of what looks like fresh blood? bad taste, and pun intended … shady hats with bobbing corks around the rim? They eventually came up with the ubiquitous Akubra(brand) wide brimmed felt hat, worn year round by blokes and sheilas, in town and country – perfect. Then our people went way over the top with excessive largesse, teaming these hats with indivdually sized and coloured suede trimmed Drizabone rain coats. These are robust waterproof coats of oiled fabric, styled with a split back to enable the wearer to be mounted on a horse OK while droving or working out in wet windy cold weather. They’re legendary, and totally wonderful, but not your everyday wear for most Aussies, and in addition they aren’t cheap – think several hundred dollars. It felt to me like we were wanting to totally out-do our Pacific neighbours, rather like the suburban mum planning a kiddies’ birthday party wanting the take-home party favour lolly bag to be bigger and better than anyone else’s. So nouveau riche.
So I thought this article on the poncho gifts and photo opps windup was particularly snotty and rather embarrassing to read in our national newspaper. It will find its way back to Peru, and there will be taken as an ignorant put-down. Peru’s APEC ponchos resemble ‘potato sacks’ The Australian Shame on you, Matthew.