and meeting Mrs Obama
America’s First Lady Michelle Obama broke royal protocol during a reception at Buckingham Palace when she placed her arm around the Queen.
Quite a lot has been made of this and it is easy to dismiss it as simply friendliness but we should not get into a situation where anyone and everyone can touch the Queen. Apart from the security issues, she’s not a kind of old granny, but the Queen.
Lizard of OZ
I remember very clearly the Lizard of Oz incident when Paul Keating, the Australian PM put his arm around the Queen, some 20 years ago. I remember the outrage and incredulity of the people and the media that Keating could do such a thing, after all she’s the Australian Queen too.
The protocol regarding the Monarch is clear. You do not speak unless spoken to and you do not touch the Monarch unless it is to shake hands and then only if she puts her hand out first. The reasons for such protocols are myriad (security, time, respect….etc) and we should not just drop them so that the Monarch appears trendy and up to date.
As an Englishman I find breaches of protocol insulting. It isn’t about superiority (although technically Mrs Obama is not a head of state so not an equal), but respect for traditions and culture. I think those who are not British probably find it difficult to understand but the Queen isn’t just an old woman who appears on the currency, she’s the very embodiment of Britishness. For Americans it probably the same as the President, the flag and if Catholic (the Queen is head of the Church of England) the Pope all rolled into one person. People don’t hug the Pope, so why is it such a surprise that the Queen should not be hugged or touched? This is why it is important for visitors not to treat her like an ordinary person, but rather an ancient symbol of pride, patriotism and British values and traditions. Not treating the Queen with respect is quite literally the same as not treating Britain with respect.
It is also not British to be so over-friendly anyway. We are a reserved race. If I were to met an elderly lady for the first time I may shake her hand but I would never dream of hugging for kissing her. It is impolite, it would make her feel uncomfortable and probably a little violated.
So this begs the question, why on earth did the Queen instigate the hug by putting her arm around Mrs Obama first? Is this some misguided attempt to make the Queen appear more ordinary and down to earth? I sincerely hope not. It is bad enough that no one is required to bow and curtsy anymore (if you do not bow/curtsy when meeting the Queen, when else in your life will you get the chance?), let alone dropping all other forms of protocol to make it seem as if the Queen is ‘one of us’, she’s not. Let Philip or Charles play the fool, be overly approachable and tactile, but when they sit in the big chair they loose the freedom to behave how they want to, they should behave as the nation expects.
She should leave the insincere smiles and fawning attention to the politicians; they are far better at it. The cynic in me makes me wonder whether it is more of an attempt to make the Royals, and therefore by default Britain and the Government, appear more ethnically friendly. As if by embracing Mrs Obama this way, and by being so enthusiastic in greeting her, would prove that Britain is a forward thinking black embracing nation that values people of all colours and ethnic backgrounds.
In fact, the more I think about it, the more likely it seems. The G20 meeting seems to have been engineered to make Brown look good. His sick smile whilst greeting dignitaries at Downing Street (aren’t these sorts of events normally held at the Palace?) was reminiscent of Schwarzenegger trying to smile in the Terminator movies. The hug was probably his idea, showing the Queen hugging a black woman would show the world, and Britain, that multiculturalism was changing Britain for the better, even at the top.
Odd though that the Obamas were chosen for this honour, after all most of the Commonwealth nations have black leaders who regularly visit the Palace. Perhaps another indication that the establishment cares little for colour, creed or background but for money and power.