Why should we care about royal protocol?


Some years ago in a post titled God save us from the queen, I wrote about the absurd obsession that even people in the US, especially in the media, have with observing the ridiculous protocol rules that the British royal family tries to impose on everyone who comes in contact with them. That post was prompted by the US media getting the vapors and reaching for their smelling salts when the Obamas violated some absurdly trivial protocol rule when they visited Buckingham Palace, caused by Michelle Obama touching the Queen.

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And now we have a similar reaction because of what happened when Prince William and Kate Middleton attended a basketball game. Following the game, LeBron James gave them gifts of cupcakes and two Cleveland team jerseys, one a small one for their one-year old child. It was a nice gesture but the media are all of a doodah over the fact that during the ceremony, James (oh, the horror!) touched Middleton on the shoulder.

According to protocol in Britain, a commoner is not supposed to touch members of the royal family — even if it is an innocent gesture.

The official website of the British Monarchy says “there are no obligatory codes of behavior” for meeting a member of the royal family, “but many people wish to observe the traditional forms.” “For men this is a neck bow (from the head only) whilst women do a small curtsy,” the website says.

My feeling is that those who want to can bow and scrape all they want to whomever they want. But there is no reason why we should treat members of the British royal family with any more respect than we would give to any other person. I am glad that James maybe broke with protocol because he did not do anything that violated the normal rules of polite behavior. I hope that the media does not hound him into making some sort of apology that he did not know the ‘proper’ behavior. In fact, I hope he did know and was deliberately making a point with his casual gesture.

Comments

  1. says

    Thanks for the corrective pic, Rob. These complaints about royal stuffiness seem to be getting most overblown by the media, with little or no input from the allegedly-offended royals themselves.

    We also need to remember that several years ago, an unarmed black woman twice the Queen’s size gave the Queen a big hug, and didn’t get shot for it. So I’d say the Queen is a bit less stuffy than a lot of non-royal white Americans.

  2. hyphenman says

    Mano,

    I remember a story, imperfectly I’m sure, of President Reagan’s first visit to England.

    A young lady on his staff made an inquiry as to how she should curtsey when she met the queen.

    The gentleman overseeing the event said words to the effect that: “Your ancestors fought a rather long and bloody revolution so that you would never have to curtsey to her majesty.”

    Once again, Americans’ knowledge of our own history rears its ugly head.

    Jeff

  3. tecolata says

    I thought we Americans had a revolution against the British crown back in 1776?
    Royals are just parasites.
    I once worked with a woman who was a big fan of the British royal family. She told me that her grandmother had traveled to England for Elizabeth II’s coronation. I told her in that year MY grandmother made the cover of Life magazine picketing the White House to protest execution of Julius & Ethel Rosenberg. I’m hella proud of my grandmother.

  4. says

    Hi Mano,

    A similar furor errupted in New Zealand a few years back whern the then Prime Minister, Helen Clarke, attended a a dinner with Betty Windsor and wore trousers instead a skirt!

    The NZ right are still foaming at the mouth over that one.

  5. Kimpatsu says

    Mano, the curtsy instruction is interesting because when Reagan was president and visited the UK, it was announced beforehand that Nancy Reagan would not curtsy but rather shake hands, and the UK media went apeshit with one pundit saying they would not let her into the country if it were up to them.
    BTW, Michelle Obama wore a short-sleeved dress when meeting Liz, which is also a faux pas, but which led Alan Duncan to remark that it was OK because Americans have the right to bare arms…

  6. lorn says

    You have something of a point, but then again there is the matter of personal autonomy that is completely independent of any elevated status. Some people simply don’t want to be touched and it is something of a violation of freedom to chose if anyone were to ignored their wishes and touch them after it has been established they don’t want any of it. Outside any argument about royalty and protocols, are you going to assert that you have a right to touch people? Even if they don’t wish to be touched?

  7. Rob Grigjanis says

    @8: Do you have a source for that? It looks an awful lot like something Thomas Paine wrote:

    …because the idea of hereditary legislators is as inconsistent as that of hereditary judges or hereditary juries; and as absurd as an hereditary mathematician, or an hereditary wise man; and as ridiculous as an hereditary poet-laureate.

    And even more so when filtered through Hitchens;

    Hitchens states rather concisely that “to [Paine], the idea of a hereditary ruler was as absurd as the idea of a hereditary mathematician”

  8. Trickster Goddess says

    Last week Lisa Helps, the newly elected mayor of Victoria, BC was sworn in and cause a bit of a stir when she declined to swear the traditional oath of loyalty to the Queen. The Monarchist League was outraged with some complaining that they wouldn’t have voted for her if they had known she was going to be so treasonous. However, most of the people don’t seem to care or outright approve. As one letter to the editor put it: “If I need to have a passport just to go visit her home, she obviously isn’t Queen of my country.”

  9. Mano Singham says

    lorn,

    There is no general right to touch people. It all depends on the context as to whether it is appropriate. In this case of a photograph of a group of people, it is often the case that people put their arms around each other when posing and people who are touched this way usually put up with it even if they do not particularly like it. If James had done the same thing to any other person than a member of the Windsor family, would anyone have thought it worth commenting? In fact, if the touched person recoils from such a common gesture, we would think that person was weird and had some sort of phobia.

    I recall one incident when a female colleague extended her hand to a male faculty member to congratulate him on winning an award and he refused to take it because he is an Orthodox Jew and that means he cannot touch a woman in case she might be ‘unclean’. While I knew the reason, I thought his refusal was rude and insulting and I was angry on my female friend’s behalf, though she was very gracious about the rebuff.

  10. soogeeoh says

    There is no general right to touch people. It all depends on the context as to whether it is appropriate. In this case of a photograph of a group of people, it is often the case that people put their arms around each other when posing and people who are touched this way usually put up with it even if they do not particularly like it. If James had done the same thing to any other person than a member of the Windsor family, would anyone have thought it worth commenting? In fact, if the touched person recoils from such a common gesture, we would think that person was weird and had some sort of phobia.

    I get a feeling of unsolicited-compliments-on-the-street :-/

  11. moarscienceplz says

    Having never lived in a monarchy, I don’t really “get” the feelings some people have for the royals, whether it is awe or disdain. I have only seen them on TV, but my impression is that they are generally nice people who are hamstrung by the realities of celebrity. They are kind of like the people at Disneyland who dress up like Cinderella – they know it is their job to make people feel welcomed and special, but there are only so many hours in a day, and after the ten thousandth little girl tells you that you are so pretty, and she has a dress just like your’s, etc., even the nicest person can feel the urge to run away screaming. Add to that the fact that the Disney employee gets some choice whether or not to do that job, and the royals don’t get to choose.

  12. hyphenman says

    @moarscienceplz No. 14

    Actually, the royals do have a choice, King Edward VIII being perhaps the most famous recent example. Lesser known, however (at least outside of England) are two of Queen Elizabeth II’s grandchildren Peter and Zara Phillips who have chosen to live without titles. They do, of course, enjoy the fruits of their family wealth.

    Many of our own 1 percent here in the the former colonies continue to seek the added notoriety of royal titles by buying their way in through marriage (the Countess of Grantham being one fictional example).

    These people do have a choice, but choose to keep their hereditary titles and all the benefits they entail. I don’t lose any sleep over their petty hardships.

    Jeff

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