On the heels of criticism that she was too blunt in assuring the Chinese the U.S. won’t make an issue of its human rights abuses, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Geneva, Switzerland, as a prelude to a meeting between both country’s presidents during the Group of 20 summit next month. In a gesture meant to symbolize the Obama adminstration’s wish to “reset” the relationship between the U.S. and Russia, Clinton presented Lavrov with a gag gift reports The Washington Post:

Clinton presented Lavrov with a palm-size box wrapped in a green ribbon. Lavrov opened it and pulled out a yellow-and-black plastic box with a red button that clicked …
Lavrov, a tough-minded diplomat, burst out in a smile. At Clinton’s urging, Lavrov joined her in jointly pressing the button down for the benefit of the cameras.
The word “Reset” was beneath the button, and the Russian word “Peregruzka” was above it.
“We worked hard to get the right Russian word,” Clinton said. “Do you think we got it?”
Lavrov, who never misses an opportunity for a diplomatic jab, bluntly said, “You got it wrong.” The word, he pointed out, was two letters off – it should have been “Perezagruzka.” What was there, he added, actually means “overcharge.”
Clinton burst out in laughter and declared, “We won’t let you do that to us.”

Pere-ZA-gruzka (перезагрузкa in Cyrillic) means “reset,” whereas peregruzka may be translated as “overload” – overfilling a cargo-carrying vessel – or “overcharge” – to charge a battery or electrical circuit with more power than it can safely hold.

So Clinton goofed a second time when she mistook “overcharge” to mean “swindle” or “charge too much.”

Russian media added its own interpretation of the linguistic gaffe. The front page of Russian daily Kommersant included the headline, “Sergei Lavrov and Hillary Clinton pushed the wrong button,” and an NTV television correspondent explained that the US-Russian relationship had become overcharged in recent years over missile defense and the war in Georgia.

Still, Russian journos have been a lot nicer about the diplomatic snafu than their British brethren were about how Prime Minister Gordon Brown was treated by the First Couple during his White House visit.

For instance, here’s what Iain Martin, a columnist for The Telegraph (London), wrote on Wednesday:

[O]n this side of the Atlantic the whole business looked pretty demeaning. The morning papers and TV last night featured plenty of comment focused on the White House’s very odd and, frankly, exceptionally rude treatment of a British PM. Squeezing in a meeting, denying him a full press conference with flags etc. The British press corps, left outside for an hour in the cold, can take it and their privations are of limited concern to the public.
But Obama’s merely warmish words (one of our closest allies, said with little sincerity or passion) left a bitter taste with this Atlanticist. Especially after his team had made Number 10 beg for a mini press conference and then not even offered the PM lunch.

Martin was still seething on Friday:

Obama looked like he would rather have been anywhere else than welcoming the British leader to his office and topped it all with his choice of present (*) for the PM. A box of 25 DVDS including ET, the Wizard of Oz and Star Wars? Oh, give me strength. We do have television and DVD stores on this side of the Atlantic. Even Gordon Brown will have seen those films too often already.

This was coupled with Michelle Obama’s casual choice of gifts for the Brown sons – matching models of the helicopter which ferry her husband around. While Sarah Brown had spent time choosing gifts for the Obama girls, Michelle had clearly sent an aide to the White House gift shop at the last moment.

For his part, Martin’s colleague James Delingpole detected Michelle Obama’s oft-commented upon barely (and not always) suppressed racial resentments as being the impetus for the snub:

We may just LURVE Michelle’s fashion sense. But Michelle doesn’t reciprocate our affection, one bit. Her broad-brush view of history associates Brits with the wicked white global hegemony responsible for the slave trade. Never mind that a white, Tory Englishman – William Wilberforce – brought the slave trade to an end. Judging by her record, Michelle does not make room for such subtle nuance.

Inasmuch as First Lady Michelle Obama is already showing herself unable or unwilling to be a genteel and gracious unofficial ambassador, it is up to Desir̩e Rogers, the new White House Social Secretary, to save her from her worst instincts. But Rogers, a former lottery game show host, is obviously no Letitia Baldrige Рas evidenced by the crass marketing terms she uses to describe her duties.

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