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Overcoat etiquette

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James Reynolds | 15:40 UK time, Friday, 20 February 2009

Hillary Clinton is here.

Hillary Clinton arriving in BeijingOn Friday evening, in the ice of the Beijing winter, I went to the airport with a group of journalists to watch her plane arrive.

We were allowed into the VIP terminal - a kind of miniature palace lined with red flags and chandeliers. I was told that the building was equipped with specially ornate showers for its guests (which I did not get to see).

We were escorted out of the building and onto a semi-frozen metal press stand on the edge of the tarmac. Twenty minutes later, we saw Mrs Clinton's plane taxi towards us.

A group of Chinese officials - led by the assistant Foreign Minister Liu Jie Yi - came out of the terminal. Two sets of mobile steps - one lined with red lights, the other with blue lights - were driven towards the secretary of state's plane.

All the non-newsworthy passengers quietly got out of the back door. Then, a few minutes later Mrs Clinton walked down the steps from the main door.

From where I was standing - at least 50m away - I could see that she had an overcoat on - the same level of winter protection that her Chinese hosts were wearing.

Incredibly enough, this is an important subject. Overcoat etiquette is a big thing in the world of diplomacy. US presidents, in particular, like to go out in the freezing cold without much wrapping in order to demonstrate their vigour. This habit has sometimes embarrassed hosts who've come to welcome them in sensible winter clothes - only to end up looking like they're too weak to stand their own cold weather. No overcoat embarrassment tonight though.

No elaborate welcoming ceremony either. It was far too cold for national anthems, guards of honour, and folk dances. Mrs Clinton shook hands with the assistant foreign minister, and was escorted the five or six paces into her limousine.

A few moments later, her 23-vehicle motorcade drove away.


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