The U.S. State Department recently released a list of all the gifts presented by foreign governments to elected officials, cabinet members, military leaders, ambassadors and other high-ranking staffers. While the majority of what's listed on the 231-page report has to do with travel expenses, there are hundreds of gifts cataloged: Many are expensive luxury items, but others -- like the 13-inch bone-shaped chew toy printed with the United Kingdom flag from Great Britain-- seem to be out of place.
It would appear that strange gifts are accepted because of something your mother probably told you about that ugly sweater you received from Aunt Tookie -- even if you don't like it, it's the thought that counts. Alongside many of the curious curios, paintings, rugs, etc. is this official statement from the government: "Non-acceptance would cause embarrassment to donor and U.S. Government."
That's government-speak for "it's the thought that counts."
Why does this list even exist? Transparency and ethics. Because we have a policy that restricts the gifts government officials can receive. It's obviously meant to prevent bribery and keep public officials at arms length from situations where it might be construed that they were being given gifts in exchange for favorable treatment by the U.S. government.
The document opens with an explanation:
The Department of State submits the following comprehensive listing of the statements which, as required by law, Federal employees filed with their employing agencies during calendar year 2011 concerning gifts received from foreign government sources. The compilation includes reports of both tangible gifts and gifts of travel or travel expenses of more than minimal value, as defined by statute.
Is there really that much to be concerned about when it comes to pricey gifts and politicians? Considering that some countries are credited with giving our officials tens of millions of dollars in goods and services -- a good answer is yes! Brazil sent more than $43 million in gifts and France reportedly gift wrapped over $42 million worth of goodies (including a very expensive Hermes golf bag).
TheBlaze has combed through the complete report and selected 12 of the strangest, most expensive, and unusual gifts we've seen.
Hermes Golf Bag (with travel case)
Obviously, President Barack Obama and his family are the likely recipients of many lovely gifts. For example, the expensive Hermes golf bag sent by France's then-President Nicholas Sarkozy. The bag had a stated value of $7,750 and also came with a $1,650 travel case (for those trips to play golf in far away lands). Forbes.com featured an Hermes golf bag in its story on "10 ways to buy luxury for less." They found the "Sac de Golf" available for a slight discount of $6,500.
The Bamboo Bicycle (or "Bambike")
Obama was given a $1,060 handmade bamboo bicycle from "His Excellency Jose L. Cuisia, Jr., and Mrs. Maria Victoria J. Cuisia, Ambassador and Spouse of the Republic of the Philippines." There are no photos of the president riding a bamboo bike -- however, we know he's capable:
A Basketball Signed by the Toronto Raptors
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper sent Obama a "basketball signed by 2010-2011 Toronto Raptors NBA basketball team, in a 10” x 10” hard-plastic display case, presented in a 14.5” x 22.5” green leather-bound box that has the Prime Minister seal on the top." This was part of a two-item gift from Canada that also included an antique map of North America. The entire package was valued at $1,880. We checked various sports auction sites and found a few Toronto Raptors signed team balls (like the one seen here), they appear to sell for around $200-250 each -- but do not include a leather-bound case from the prime minister.
A Framed, Autographed Photo of the Queen of Denmark and Her Husband
Her Majesty Queen Margrethe II, Queen of Denmark and His Royal Highness Prince Henrik of Denmark gave the president and first lady a 9.5-inch-by-2-inchframed photo -- autographed -- of themselves. Its value is stated at $485. (We checked eBay to see if there were others like it available. There were none at the time. Only an old photo of the royal couple from decades ago...and it is not autographed.)
White Porcelain Rabbit With Red Eyes
Being vice president also puts you in line for some lovely gifts from our friends around the world. Joe Biden's name appears in the gift list just 20 times. (The Obama and Clinton names are on the list more than 100 times each!) Most of the veep's swag is what you might expect -- vases, rugs and paintings. However, one gift from Biden's Chinese counterpart, His Excellency Xi Jinping, vice president of the People's Republic of China caught our attention.
The gift, a $365 white porcelain rabbit with red eyes and a red bow around the neck, sitting upright, presented on a brown wooden stand. No photos have been found of this bunny. So we can only image its beauty.
The Painting of Hillary Clinton in Traditional Tajikistan Dress
The former secretary of state set a record for visiting foreign countries during her time heading up the State Department, and in 2011, she was given a veritable planeload of gifts from various heads of state around the world. Silk scarves, gold coins, tea sets and other luxury items are cataloged as being given to Clinton. It was the description of one gift from His Excellency Emomali Rahmon, President of the Republic of Tajikistan that caught our attention. That gift -- "Portrait of Secretary Clinton in traditional Tajik painting and frame. Traditional Tajik coat vest, shoes, and hat for women."
3.4-Ounce Dirty English EDT cologne by Juicy Couture (given to a four-star general!)
Perhaps the strangest gift we spotted (and there may be others buried deep inside the list) was a bottle of "Dirty English EDT cologne" that was given to Lieutenant General Gilmary M. Hostage, III, United States Air Forces Central Command Commander, Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. The Juicy Couture scent was a gift from two other another military men, Major General Hamad Bin- Ali Al Attiyah, Chief of Staff of the Qatar Armed Forces and General Hosni Mubarak, Qatar Chief of Air Staff.
To be fair, the bottle of "Dirty English" was listed as part of a $10,000 package of gifts that also included a few other fragrances, some watches, a wallet and more. It just seemed odd that this general was receiving anything labeled "Juicy Couture" -- and something so readily available at stores like Target.
The document is fascinating on a few levels. Who knew that so many gifts were being presented to our officials? Among the most popular items -- rugs, paintings, watches and pens.