Thursday, April 2, 2009

First Lady's Faux Pas a breath of fresh air

Michelle Obama has done the unthinkable. In her recent meet and greet with Queen Elizabeth, she broke protocol and touched the monarch (a big no-no), not once but twice. Breach #1 happened at the start of their meeting at Buckingham Palace when, after initial introductions, the U.S. first lady gave the Queen a hug. Later, at a "get to know you" drink, they were seen with their arms around each other. According to observers, the Queen seemed awkward but unperturbed by the faux pas.

I haven't met Michelle Obama personally but I would like to know her. She is a smart, engaging woman known for her intellectual prowess as much as her fashion sense. At ease in any situation, she is the very epitome of etiquette, making those around her feel instantly comfortable.

Presumably, the Obamas received a briefing on the dos and don'ts of an audience with the queen but this wouldn't be the first time an American has generated headlines for a royal etiquette blunder. In 2007, then president Bush lasted only 14 minutes into his official meeting with the Queen before accidentally implying that she was 300 years old.

In Steven Frears amazing 2006 film The Queen, the British Monarch (played by the inimitable Helen Mirren) struggles to balance the rules of protocol that define her title with the need to appear more human after the death of Princess Diana. The devastated public needs her to share their emotional pain but she is strangled by centuries of etiquette that requires her to appear stoic and detached in the face of tragedy.

In hugging Michelle Obama, is the Queen suggesting that, after almost 60 years on the throne, it's okay to bend the rules a little? Or is the new first lady so disarming that even the most formal heads of state relax in her presence?

Either way, I think it's a good thing.


  1. I completely agree.

    And given that the Queen wanted to personally meet with the Obamas (and not any of the other leaders), I wonder if even royalty has their idea of 'royalty'.

  2. Great point Martin. Perhaps the Obamas represent 'earned' royalty, as opposed to the inherited kind. But, they're still in the honeymoon phase of the presidency.

  3. Hmmmm..... I actually believe the Queen is so much more mannered that she immediately made the best of the situation during the hug. As I am sure the Obamas were reminded during the lull between the two incidents, this touching simply isn't done. However, if the Queen was too gracious, she may have mistakenly encouraged the second touch. Regardless, when you have been briefed about the rules, you should follow them. In the instance of two heads of state meeting, such as this, your actions represent everyone in your home country. The Queen obviously would not encourage hugs from every single American based on how much she likes Michelle. Bad form, I say.

  4. I've of two minds about this. I love the idea of protocol and rules of engagement because it removes the confusion from situations and, assuming people are properly briefed, should help prevent awkward situations. I can't imagine Michelle Obama went into this meeting without a full briefing on royal etiquette so she either forgot in the moment or decided to wing it. Either way, I still like her.