But, it’s all just as well. Interacting with Her Royal Majesty, or indeed any member of the royal family, is fraught with very specific points of etiquette. You see, meeting the queen is not like meeting any everyday schmo—tradition must be upheld and rules must be obeyed. If you’re ever lucky enough to be invited to a social gathering where she or her family are in attendance, remembering what to do—as well as what not to do—can be the difference between peaceful cooperation and an international incident.
Do rise when the queen walks into the room. The only person who was exempt from this particular rule was the Queen Mother, who passed away in 2002.
Don’t introduce yourself. Wait to be presented by a host or attaché.
Do bow or curtsy if you’re a British subject or a citizen of any part of the Commonwealth. Americans are under no obligation to show deference in this way (since they are not her subjects), but a small nod of the head or curtsy-like motion is still appropriate and appreciated.
Don’t make exaggerated displays of fealty, such as a Japanese-style bow from the waist or a low, sweeping curtsy. A low nod is the proper form for a bow, and a small, dainty curtsy is fine. However, if you happen to be particularly graceful or well-practiced in the art of the curtsy, it’s said that Her Majesty greatly appreciates the gesture.
Do feel free to make eye contact and smile.
Don’t offer your hand to be shaken or touch the queen in any way. Even after a first meeting, it’s a good rule of thumb to never attempt to touch any member of the royal family.
Do take her hand to shake if she offers it.
Don’t grasp tightly or shake vigorously.
Do refer to the queen as “Your Majesty” the first time you address her. After this first time, feel free to address her as “Ma’am.” The queen, since she is the monarch, is the only member of the royal family who should ever be referred to as “Majesty”; anyone else should be called “Your Royal Highness” on first meeting and “Sir” or “Ma’am” on subsequent meetings.
Don’t ever refer to any member of the royal family by his or her first name. Instead, refer to him or her by title. The queen should always be referred to as “Her Majesty,” and other members of the family should be referred to as The Prince of Wales or The Duchess of Cornwall instead of Prince Charles or Lady Camilla. Never call any member of the family by a nickname. Although younger members of the royal family may be slightly more relaxed about this than their elders, this is quite important when meeting the queen, and Prince Charles in particular is known to be a stickler about etiquette.
Do dress appropriately and conservatively to meet the queen. Modest sleeveless dresses are acceptable for ladies; if a woman chooses to wear gloves, it’s not necessary to remove them. It’s also not necessary for men to wear hats, but it is still appropriate. If a hat is worn, it should be removed before being presented to the queen.
Don’t ask the Queen or any member of the royal family any questions about their personal lives, political opinions, or anything even the least bit controversial. If you have even the slightest doubt about whether a question or comment is appropriate, skip it.
Do make polite conversation, following Her Majesty’s lead. Keep conversation general, impersonal, and suited to the occasion. There’s no need to be overly serious or formal, but it’s also not the time to crack jokes.
Don’t address any royal personage as “you.” Refer to whomever you’re speaking to in the third person. Rather than “Are you enjoying the weather?” ask, “Is Your Majesty enjoying the weather?”
Do utilize proper table manners if you have the privilege of dining or having tea with the royal family. Observe proper protocol for tea service (such as returning the teacup to the saucer after each sip), hold wine glasses by the stem, and use the proper flatware for each course. (Remember to progress from the outermost utensil to the innermost.)
Don’t draw attention to yourself with bad or otherwise boorish behavior. Don’t speak with your mouth full, don’t clank flatware against the plates, and don’t slurp.
Do stop eating when the queen takes her last bite.
Don’t attempt to take personal photos at any royal event.
Do address the queen as “Your Majesty” one last time before departing.
Although it seems to be a lot to remember, it may be comforting to know that Her Majesty and the royal family are so steeped in politeness and graciousness that even if you make a major faux pas, they won’t make you feel bad about it. The British tabloids, on the other hand, who dubbed Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating “The Lizard of Oz” for accidentally touching the queen’s back, may not let you off so easy.