IT is the thorny dilemma faced by any political leader when meeting a foreign dignitary for the first time – what to buy them as a gift?
As Deputy Prime Minister and the second most powerful member of the Government, the delicate task of “gift-giving” is a diplomatic minefield which Nick Clegg is increasingly having to negotiate.
And the Hallam MP readily admits he still “learning the ropes” when it comes to his international duties.
Speaking at a lunch in Westminster, Mr Clegg said he learnt the “perils” of buying gifts for foreign leaders last week when he met the Prime Minister of France, Francois Fillon. Thoughtful Monsieur Fillon presented Mr Clegg with a “beautiful” bottle of 1967 Armagnac from the year of Mr Clegg’s birth. The Deputy PM’s name had even been inscribed on the label of the bottle.
In return, Mr Clegg presented a box of Kendal Mint Cake.
It wasn’t the first time Mr Clegg has faced the gift-buying quandary.
He also recounted buying US Vice President Joe Biden a beer tankard from a shop in Sheffield as well as a collection of beer brewed in the city.
However, he later discovered –- luckily before presenting the gifts – that the Vice President is teetotal due to family history of alcoholism.
Mr Clegg said: “I went back to the shop to buy his wife a bracelet! I’m now living in fear he will think the bracelet is for him.”
Of course Mr Clegg is not the only statesman to have struggled to find an appropriate present for a foreign counterpart.
Former Labour PM Gordon Brown was presented with a boxed set of 25 classic American films by President Barack Obama – a gift perhaps lacking the personal touch.
In contrast, Mr Brown gave the President a unique ornamental pen holder made from the timbers of the Victorian anti-slave ship HMS Gannet.