Tips for Bush on Meeting the Queen

Even for presidents of the former colonies, there is something daunting about meeting the Queen of England.

State visits are very formal affairs with complicated social rules that only the British completely understand. So how should the president from Texas conduct himself when he lunches with Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace on Thursday?

David Williamson, co-editor of Debrett's Guide to Etiquette and Modern Manners, says he would advise Bush to be himself when meeting the queen.

"Well, he will be meeting the queen as a head of state. My best advice would be to behave naturally. And you know, I imagine he is a reasonably well mannered man," Williamson said.


behaving naturally

can lead to trouble. For example, when Bush visited Spain last month, he gave King Juan Carlos a hug. That was fine in Spain. But you don't touch the Queen of England. It just isn't done — although certain prime ministers from Down Under have had a hard time with this rule.

No Touchy-Feelers Allowed

In a 1999, a British Broadcasting Corp. TV report closely analyzed Australian Prime Minister John Howard's body language.

"As the Prime Minister John Howard escorted the queen at a parliamentary reception in Canberra, he came close to touching her," the BBC said. "It brought back memories of her last visit eight years ago when the then-Prime Minister, republican Paul Keating, put his arm around her and sparked controversy. Today Mr. Howard, a staunch monarchist, denied he made any contact with the queen. He had he said simply been guiding her."

So how does one know how to act around the queen? It just so happens there is a rule book of sorts on the subject in Britain. It's called Debrett's Guide to Etiquette and Modern Manners.

Rule No. 1 one on being presented and taking leave of a member of the royal family: It is usual for men to bow and for women to curtsy. For Britons, not to do so is considered churlish.

So to avoid appearing churlish, President Bush should not offer to shake hands unless the queen offers hers first. He should address her "Your Majesty." And if he bows, he should bend from the neck, not from the waist.

The president's staffers say he is ready.

"Just because you come from Texas doesn't mean you don't know how to behave yourself," said White House press secretary Ari Fleischer.

The queen herself rarely appears annoyed by breaches of protocol. She usually just pretends not to notice.

When she was on a visit to Australia, some little kids kept asking what her name was, and she just ignored them, too.

Not Fond of Leis

There are exceptions, of course. One time the Indonesians gave her a necklace of flowers that she apparently didn't like, and she promptly removed it from her neck.

Although there are pictures of the queen sleeping in public concerts, Williamson insists she has never slipped up.

Most presidents have performed admirably around the queen, but there have been some significant gaffes.

Ten years ago, President Bush's own father invited the queen to Washington. He led her to a podium so tall that the microphones covered her face.

The queen later joked about it in Congress, saying, "I hope you can see me from where you sit."

Perhaps the most famous presidential gaffe happened in 1976. While President Ford danced with the queen, the band played the song "The Lady Is a Tramp." Her Majesty, it is said, was amused.