Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are having lunch! Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are having lunch! This is exciting to Americans because we just spent several mortifying days with our several mortifying relatives eating hopefully decent turkey, and now Romney is in our last-week's shoes, sort of, as he prepares to sit across a table in a strange kind of tradition, breaking bread with a man he not so long ago vowed to defeat. So, yes, that's slightly uncomfortable, perhaps. Kind of like the opening montage on Project Runway when those people who got kicked off in the first few episodes are all in your face saying how they're number one and they're going to win this whole thing, just watch.
This lunch will happen Thursday. Press is not allowed, which seems advisable. The lunch will be held at the White House (Obama's home turf advantage) Private Dining Room ("next to the Oval Office in the West Wing"), and is the fulfillment of a promise Obama made on election night, as we reminded you earlier, that the president would meet with his former opponent. This is their first meetup since the election, or as the White House statement puts it, "It will be the first opportunity they have had to visit since the election." Visit, of course, is the euphemism your grandmother uses.
This lunch, between a couple of men who didn't seem terribly keen on each other just a few weeks ago, brings up a host of modern-day etiquette questions. Here, we do our best to answer them.
What should Romney and Obama talk about? Conversations about the election, clearly, should be avoided, unless Obama confesses to Romney that he really, really thought he might lose. Well, even that should be avoided for fear of "sarcastic" or "rubbing it in" interpretations. Fair topics include recent movies—Twilight! Skyfall! Silver Linings Playbook! (actually, delete Skyfall. Too political)—what ridiculous gifts the kids are demanding for the holidays this year, how to JetSki, favorite foods, least favorite foods, how they feel about The Hunger Games (Team Peeta or Team Gale?), whether GIF should really be the word of the year,
what they've been up to since the election, who has the best takeout in D.C., is D.C. really hip (and can it ever be?), favorite colors, favorite numbers, favorite gaffes, favorite magazines, wars on women, who gives the best hugs?, Thanksgiving, favorite albums, Amercia, Michelle's pushups, Ann's horse, the Olympics, Dancing With the Stars, volunteerism, what it's like to fly on Air Force One, what it's like to be president, Modern Family, can print be saved?, sports. If things start to go awry with any of these subjects, one or the other of the lunchers should clear his throat and ask for more water, and then introduce a new, less charged topic—like, Joe Biden.
Should Romney bring a gift? Yes. Gifts are customary when dining at someone's house; Obama is offering hospitality and therefore Romney should show his appreciation with a small token—a commemorative coin, or that giant flag pin that trumped Obama's that he wore at all the debates, or a pet rock, or perhaps a beautiful seashell he found on his last beach vacay, or one of those bottles of colored sand. Failing that, perhaps something they can enjoy together. Subtly decorated apolitical cupcakes? A Mad Libs?
How should they behave? They should eat, with full-fledged appetites, and napkins in their laps, dabbing their lips politely between bites. No one wants to sit in front of a person who's picking at their food like a bird, but no one likes an open-mouthed chewer in front of him, either—that can really put a person off! Obama should open things up, but then let Romney talk, and talk, and talk, and he should listen. Then he should say, as he did, in his first news conference after the election, “[You] presented some ideas during the course of the campaign that I actually agree with. And so it’d be interesting to talk to [you] about something like that.” But he should not say actually. Romney should not tell Obama that he thinks he lost because of Obama promising gifts to people. Neither should bring up past grudges or offenses; one of them should definitely say, "let's let bygones be bygones," and the other should nod, and maybe there will be tears or just a bit of misty glassiness in the eyes that neither acknowledges but they both just know what it means. Obama should not challenge Romney to a game of basketball, but if he does, he should let him win but never tell him that he did.
What should they eat? First-date foods, essentially, are best here. Nothing that can stick in one's teeth and make one blush in embarrassment when later one sees the giant piece of broccoli that was right there front-and-center the whole time, and then feels a sharp jab of resentment that one's dining companion did not tell one of said broccoli. No spaghetti with marinara sauce. No corn on the cob. If burgers, they must eat them with their hands and they should be medium-rare, but that probably doesn't pass White House food standards, so no burgers. A nice grilled chicken salad? Dressing on the side, just oil and vinegar please. And nothing garlicky or oniony! Avoid foods one might be prone to feel politically incorrect about, like foie gras or veal. Soup. Soup is good! No slurping.
What should they drink? This is difficult. It's lunch, and at least one of them is probably going back to work afterward, but a small beer or glass of wine to take the edge off would be nice. Then again, Romney doesn't drink, so, no. Obama should offer fruit juice, sparkling and still water, and perhaps Diet Coke, with a tea and coffee service appearing with the cupcakes that Romney brought and the White House staff shall serve.
How do they greet one another, and how do they say goodbye? A nice, convivial handshake, perhaps with a mutual clap on the back, with eye contact. No rushing into it, like at the start of the debates. No sneaky looks to the side, rude gestures behind the back, or weird facial expressions. The same upon departure. Hugging and cheek-kissing has the potential to go so wrong, be so very awkward.
What does one wear to a White House lunch with the president who defeated you? We kind of wish these two would go casual, new-Romney casual, in workout gear or Mom jeans or wrinkled shirts and khakis, or even shorts and polos or man-leggings, because that would be interesting, but it's November and chilly and they are Important Men in the Public Eye and they will surely wear their typical uniforms of crisp suits in black or off-black or maybe navy, crisp shirts in probably white, and ties of a red or blue color, brown or black shoes. And besides, Romney has that arm hair now. Of course, they'll be inside and maybe the White House could pump the heat up and they could sit in casual comfort, but this will not happen, I'd bet. If this does happen, no one should find it amusing to wear an "I'm with Stupid —>" T-shirt. Or a campaign tee, either.
Are there any ways to make this whole event a little less potentially awkward? They should Facebook friend each other prior to the lunch, and also follow one another on Twitter as a show of camaraderie. Then, after the lunch, one of them can passive aggressively upload the worst photos of the other and totally tag and tweet them, without even a flattering Instagram filter. Whoopie cushions to break the ice. An early but meaningful fist-bump. Bo should be there, and he should be cute. Obama could offer Romney a job? Or ... maybe that makes things weirder.
Good luck, guys!
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.