11 November 2010

Frau Gillard

A G20 summit is currently being held in Seoul, Korea. The event also coincides with the Seoul Lantern Festival where Cheonggye Stream is lit up by some 27,000 lanterns.  To commemorate the summit, one of the installations at the lantern festival is a wedding cake-shaped structure with dolls of G20 leaders in national dress.

Photo: AFP via Sydney Morning Herald
Australian Prime Minister Ms Julia Gillard was unfortunately depicted in a red costume from Austria, despite holding an Australian flag. The Sydney Morning Herald (Michelle Grattan) reported that "Australian authorities complained to Seoul counterparts, with a metropolitan government official saying he planned to change the doll's outfit today".

My source has reported that the Korean Embassy in Canberra, Australia is in "damage control".  No doubt, a very apologetic letter would have been sent by the Korean Ambassador.

It seems that it is not only Americans who confuse Australia with Austria, so much so that a t-shirt with a sign reading "no kangaroos in Austria" is now a common tourist souvenir.

Given the strong bilateral relations between Australia and Korea, particularly since the 1980s when both countries worked together to establish APEC, such a blunder would have come as a surprise.

During Ms Gillard's visit to Korea, a free trade agreement (FTA) is expected to be concluded.  As part of an expression of contriteness, there might be an opportunity for Australia to export kimchi to Korea, given the recent cabbage shortages there.

However, Korea's faux pas could be Austria's gain. A presentation by the Austrian Ambassador to Ms Gillard of a correctly measured and made dirndl, declaring her an honorary Austrian, together with an invitation to the Austrian Embassy's national day celebrations would gain incredible mileage in an otherwise low-key bilateral relationship.

The Australian Prime Minister in Austrian dress? This I would like to see. Given her inability to demonstrate any Welsh singing ability, there is an unlikelihood that she would carry the honour of being an 'Austrian' further by singing a few bars of Edelweiss (1). Still, we could be thankful for being spared the image of Mr Tony Abbott dressed in lederhosen.

(1) Contrary to popular belief, the song Edelweiss was only written by Rogers and Hammerstein for The Sound of Music and it has no connection to any Austrian folk song, nor is it the Austrian national anthem.

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