Michael Kappeler — AFP/Getty Images

Exploring the delicate art of the diplomatic photo op.

By Krishna Thakker
July 11, 2017
July 11, 2017

Diplomatic events are always highly choreographed, high-stakes, and laden with pomp—and as such, they often yield some of the internet’s most hilariously awkward human encounters. Remember the time Justin Trudeau tried to shake hands with President Obama and the president of Mexico at the same time? (World leaders—they’re just like us!)

During the G20 summit last weekend, heads of state from the globe’s largest economies gathered to discuss pressing issues for business, the environment, and international relations. And, like any large formal gathering, there were myriad awkward encounters. What can the body language of world leaders tell us about global politics? Probably not that much, but watch Angela Merkel roll her eyes at Vladimir Putin, and it’s hard to say for sure.

What is clear is that the moment where politicians’ body language is the most important and highly scrutinized is the handshake, which has become and art form unto itself in corridors of power. Here, a look at some of our favorites from the last few days.

 

1. Agata Kornhauser-Duda almost leaves Donald Trump hanging.

Polish President's wife Agata Kornhauser-Duda shakes hands with first lady Melania Trump on July 6, 2017 in Warsaw, Poland.
Krystian Dobuszynski — NurPhoto via Getty Images

This photo was taken during Donald Trump’s trip to Poland in the run-up to the G20 Summit in Hamburg. So while not technically a moment from the summit, it still dominated diplomatic handshake headlines. In front of photographers, the first lady of Poland glided past President Trump and his outstretched palm to greet First Lady Melania Trump instead. The Polish president pointed out that she did—seconds later—shake the president’s hand in turn, and called the headlines that she refused “FAKE NEWS” in an English-language tweet.

 

2. The meaningful gaze.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin, left, and Trump shake hands during a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg.
Mikhail Metzel — TASS/Getty Images

The hotly awaited meeting between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump began with a firm handshake and an intense stare from both parties. The image carries even more weight in light of the news this week that Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., may have been in contact with Russian interests who claimed to have unflattering information about Hillary Clinton during the election. As more ink is spilled on the topic, you can expect to see this image again.

 

3. The near miss.

French Economy, Finance Trade Minister Bruno Le Maire, left, shakes hands with German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble during a Eurogroup meeting on July 10, 2017 at the European Union headquarters in Brussels.
John Thys — AFP/Getty Images

Another moment that took place on the sidelines of the actual the G20 summit, but that’s still worth including: In Brussels, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire bends down slightly to shake hands with the sitting German Finance Minister Schaeuble, but in a universally relatable moment, grasped only his fingers. As France navigates its relationship with the EU under its new president, its relationship with Germany has become increasingly important. EU watchers can hope the nations’ discussions turn out better than the handshake.

 

4. Merkel and Trump work it out.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, right, and Trump shake hands prior to a bilateral meeting on the eve of the G20 summit in Hamburg, northern Germany, on July 6, 2017.
Michael Kappeler — AFP/Getty Images

These two are known for their rocky public relationship—especially when it comes to shaking hands. In a particularly cringeworthy encounter earlier this year the German chancellor asked Trump, “Do you want to have a handshake?” and received no response. Things seem to have warmed up at least a bit since then.

 

5. The grand gesture.

Macron, left, shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a bilateral meeting on the second day of the G20 summit in Hamburg, northern Germany, on July 8, 2017.
Ian Langsdon — AFP/Getty Images

French President Emmanuel Macron and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands at G20. And it looks like Jinping just wants the world to know about it.

 

6. It’s hard to explain.

Trump, right, and Indonesia's President Joko Widodo shake hands during a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, July 8, 2017.
Saul Loeb — AFP/Getty Images

Donald Trump looks like he may be channeling a manicurist as he clasps Indonesian President Widodo’s hand in Hamburg.

 

7. Laugh it off.

Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron shake hands at the beginning of the G20 meeting in Hamburg, northern Germany, on July 7, 2017.
Ludovic Marin — AFP/Getty Images

Despite quirky appearances (is it a hug? a handshake) this encounter was considerably less remarkable than another Merkel-Macron handshake from this summer, when Macron appeared to dodge Trump in an attempt to get to the German leader.

 

8. A tight squeeze.

Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May shake hands dueing a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, July 8, 2017.
Saul Loeb — AFP/Getty Images

Donald Trump’s famous grip in action during a handshake with Britain’s Theresa May.

 

9. Let’s get this over with.

President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, shakes hands with British Prime Minister Theresa May during their meeting within G20 Leaders' Summit in Hamburg, Germany on July 08, 2017.
Kayhan Ozer — Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Theresa May and Turkey’s Tayyip Erdogan deadpan for the cameras, apparently unfazed by each others’ presence. These are the faces you make when you’ve shaken a whole lot of hands.

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