Friday, 25 May 2012

Modern Manners: 25 May

It’s not easy knowing how to behave in the modern world. This week: How to conduct yourself when you meet the Queen. Thomas Blaikie advises

Written by Thomas Blaikie
Dear Thomas,

I'm a bag of nerves because I'm meeting the Queen on 12 June at the Sandringham garden party. Of course, it's an honour, but I know I'll put my foot in it. Can you help?

Fiona Bridlington, King's Lynn

Dear Fiona,

If it's any comfort, captains of industry, great explorers, admirals of the fleet – all are reduced to a jellified state of nerves in the Royal presence. She's quite used to it. You don't have to think of anything to say; that's her job. People do confide, though not about personal matters. For instance, once during Tony Blair's premiership, some farmers told their woes. 'I know,' the Queen said, 'every week I ask Mr Blair to do more for the countryside.' Surprising.

Usually conversation with a Royal is somewhat bland. Don't press for a firm opinion, especially on politics. Also, be consoled by the fact that the Queen loves it when things go wrong. At Trinity College, Oxford, in the 1960s, the Lord-Lieutenant, Lord Macclesfield, and his wife both fainted at lunch. When the Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, tried to sit down after his speech, his chair had vanished. Departing, the Queen said, 'We've had a wonderful lunch. Bodies everywhere.'

The Royal website, has advice on how to conduct yourself when meeting Royalty. Needless to say, these days, you don't have to do anything. But tradition calls for women to make a small curtsy and men a neck bow on meeting a Royal. Otherwise you can shake hands in the normal way. On first addressing the Queen you say 'Your Majesty'. Thereafter 'Ma'am' to rhyme with ham. Other Royals are 'Your Royal Highness' the first time, then 'Sir' or 'Ma'am'.

Dress codes are given on Royal invitations and should be followed. Men wear ties. But remember to be comfortable and practical, especially for garden parties where guests seem either to be very hot or very wet – or both.

It's not a good idea to stuff food from the tea tent into your bag as mementoes, especially if that bag is going to burst all over the carpet as you're leaving the Palace. This happened to an unfortunate lady. Some try it on with Royalty but don't get far. By ancient right, the Lords Kingsdale, for reasons unknown, are entitled to keep their hats on in the presence of the sovereign. Showily exercising this privilege before Queen Victoria, the tiny Queen glared at the Lord in his hat: 'We are also a lady,' she announced eventually.

It is often said that you are not supposed to repeat what the Queen has said to you, especially to the Press. But now everyone does and the Palace does not object, not least because Her Majesty's humour, charm and quickness always comes across.

Please send your questions to Thomas. or write to him at The Lady, 39-40 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ER.

WHAT TO DO ABOUT... Litter Bugs

What to do about 'tossers'? Which is a polite way of referring to people who toss litter out of their car windows. At the Jubilee there will be happiness but also litter, dropped not just from cars. Do we follow the bold example of Alice Arnold, Radio 4 newsreader and civil partner of Clare Balding, who seized the chance to hurl back through a car window from which it had been ejected, a purple plastic receptacle?

You might say, 'She could have got stabbed.' But is this the real reason for doing nothing? Why so often do capable adults remain doggedly inert when it would be absolutely safe to intervene? Once I witnessed a group of unaccompanied small children, rowdy and spewing litter, quite unchallenged on a train packed with adults. Isn't it rather embarrassment, fear of looking a fool or a busybody, a preference for a quiet life, that holds us back?

But if we choose to retreat into our own protected world, there's not much point in complaining endlessly about discourtesy and declining standards elsewhere. In the end we get the society we deserve. At the Jubilee and beyond, let it be a better one.

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