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Don't wink at the queen

In Belfast, in the stunningly gorgeous building dedicated by Prince Edward in 1932 (he who abdicated), where the Northern Ireland Assembly convenes, I learned why I can never be president of the United States.

I wink too much.

After a personal tour through the magnificent building by one of the country's most esteemed, gracious politicians, we, along with another colleague, settled down for coffee in the Assembly's private lounge. Conversation easily, gently drifted into the politics of our world and theirs. The charming Irishman spoke fondly of our country.

"If I weren't a proud North Irishman, I'd want to be an American," he said plainly.

Then he spoke kindly of our most recent past president before adding with a slight chuckle, "But he did wink at the queen." North Ireland, as you may recall, is part of the United Kingdom under the queen's rule, while the rest of the country is a Republic.

Something in the way he said it, told me that winking at the queen was not politically accepted.

I blinked hard. Who doesn't like a good wink?

"He winked at the queen?" I repeated in a stunned voice.

The stately aristocrat, dressed elegantly in an expensive dark suit, pink dress shirt and dark tie with pink polka dots (well dressed Irishmen love pink), shook his head firmly. "Oh no, you don't wink at the queen."

Though I was sitting there with a member of her majesty's service, there is still enough of a country girl in me that I had to know, "Why can't you wink at the queen?"

He tugged at his shirt sleeves and said warmly but firmly, "It just isn't done." He paused. "Ever."

Right then and there, my presidential hopes died hard.

"I wink all the time," I explained with a shrug and a smile. "I can't help myself. Sometimes I wink, just to punctuate a sentence. You know, add an emphasis to it."

He elegantly lifted an eyebrow. Terror slammed against my heart. Had I unwittingly made the same gauche error as the former president? My hand flew to my chest and I gasped softly, "Oh no. Did I?" I stopped. "Have I winked at you today?"

Now he was amused. "No. No, I don't believe so."

Then there in the hallowed halls of Irish government, the country girl in me returned.

"Well, don't be surprised if I do before I leave."

Winking runs in my family. Daddy had a great, powerful wink that he used to playfully accent a story or to close out a warning with, "You do that, little girl, and you'll be sorry." Wink.

Mama had a girlish wink that was always merry and fun.

"You just wait and see," she'd giggle then wink.

I once met a woman who claimed she couldn't wink.

"Could you teach me?" she asked. Of course, I thought it was a joke.

"Oh, you can wink," I said, waving away the request. "Everybody can wink."

She shook her head. "I can't." Then, to prove it, she winked. Which was actually a blink because she couldn't close and raise one eyelid at a time. Her reflex was to close and open both eyes at the same time.

I was stunned. "That is amazing." Then I felt sorry for her. "You poor thing! You've had to go all through life without being able to wink?"

Of course, now I know that does qualify her for diplomatic service so all isn't lost.

At the door, the gallant Irishman bid farewell to me and his colleague who had been kind enough to escort me to the Parliament House.

"Please come back," he said. "And the next time you visit, we'll have lunch."

I smiled. "It's been a lovely day. Thank you so much."

He tilted his head. "Shall we count on your return, then?"

"Most certainly." I shook his hand firmly and -- you guessed it -- I winked.

Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of "What Southern Women Know About Faith." Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her weekly newsletter.