Honolulu Lite


Americans just
don’t kiss rings

Many Americans and two or three Mexicans were surprised when Mexico President Vicente Fox kissed Pope John Paul's ring last week.

Americans aren't big ring-kissers. In fact, our country was established, in part, to escape the tyranny of ring-kissing. To this day, people from other countries flee to America to get away from oppressive ring-kissing regimes.

America: The land of the free, home of the brave and the place where, if someone kisses your ring, you'd better check to see that it's still on your hand when they are through smooching it.

Ring kissing is an ancient rite that infers obedience, subservience, respect from the ring kisser to the ring kissee. The Catholic Church is probably one of the last great ring-kissing organizations. I'm not a Catholic, so I don't know what the ring-kissing rules are. I don't know whether only the pope gets his ring kissed or whether any of those other guys in the big hats do, too.

I'm an Episcopalian. We believe in getting closer to God by drinking cheap white wine and having frequent potluck lunches. There may be some ring kissing in the higher echelons of the Episcopal Church, but seeing as how I never rose above acolyte -- and not a very bright one, at that -- I never heard about it.

Mexico is 90 percent Catholic, so just about everyone there was thrilled when President Fox kissed the pope's ring. There were a few disgruntled nationalists who felt it was unseemly for the head of the country to diminish the office by such a show of servility.

Diminish the office? Easy, boys. We're talking about Mexico here. It's not like Mexico is some serious powerhouse on the world stage. It's last major military triumph was the Alamo. So if Vicente Fox wants to kiss the pope's ring and, coincidentally, win the undying admiration and support of 100 million Catholic voters, good for him. Hey, shine the pontiff's shoes and clean the windshield of the Popemobile while you're at it.

George W. Bush doesn't kiss rings. (Although it's said that when it comes to oil-rich allies like Saudi Arabia, he'll pucker up and kiss other things.) The president of the United States is the alpha male of the world. Not only does he not kiss rings, if you don't show him respect, he's liable to mark his territory with a couple of nukes.

And Americans in general don't fawn over royalty, religious or secular.

When former national basketball star Charles Barkley went to England, he was instructed about protocol when meeting the Royals. He was told, above all, when he met the queen, "Don't touch her."

Barkley, in a show of true American disdain for any class distinction, reportedly said, "Don't want to touch her."

Or kiss her ring, either.

Charles Memminger, winner of National Society of Newspaper Columnists awards, appears Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. E-mail

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