HALIFAX – Ladies, no hats after 6:30 p.m. Gentlemen, loosen the grip on that handshake.
The Queen is in Canada this week and next, and there are a few things one should know to avoid making a royal faux pas.
A sampling: Don’t ask the Queen personal questions and wait for her to strike up a conversation. Ditto for handshaking. Address her initially as “Your Majesty.” Afterwards, ma’am’s the word.
“They’re not rules that you have to really be super concerned about,” says Florence Sassine, chief of protocol for Nova Scotia, the first stop on a nine-day Canadian tour by Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh.
“They are guidelines for you to feel comfortable.”
That may be so. But it hasn’t stopped the media from salivating over public snafus and skewering offenders, particularly celebrities and politicians.
Observers still recall when former Australian prime minister Paul Keating was branded the “Lizard of Oz” for touching the Queen’s back during a royal visit in 1992.
Former American president George W. Bush made international headlines in 2007 for a speech he gave during the Queen’s visit to the U.S. Bush stumbled over his words, nearly suggested the Queen was more than 200 years old and topped it off with a wink — reportedly prompting a brief but frosty glare from Her Majesty.
Not all gaffes have involved politicians.
In 2002, Canadian champion cyclist, Louis Garneau, blundered by putting his arm around the Queen while posing for a photo, though the BBC remarked she didn’t seem to mind.
Most recently, Michelle Obama put her arm around the Queen during a meeting in April 2009 at Buckingham Palace, though she mostly spared criticism.
The Queen had reportedly remarked on Obama’s height and placed her arm first around the first lady’s waist. The U.K.’s Daily Mail called it “an electrifying moment” that was “utterly astonishing.”
Sassine, who has worked in protocol for 25 years, says the No. 1 question her office has received ahead of the royal couple’s arrival is about curtsying and bowing.
“There is no offence — if you don’t feel comfortable — in not curtsying, as long as you’re welcoming and friendly,” she assures.
But for those who wish to do so, Sassine has a few tips:
—To curtsy to the Queen, for example, women should place the right foot behind the left heel, bend the knees slightly, keep eye contact and say “Your Majesty.”
— Men who bow to the Duke of Edinburgh, for example, should make a slight nod of the head and say “Your Royal Highness,” followed by “sir” for the remainder of the conversation.
It’s also possible the Queen or the Duke of Edinburgh will extend their hand for a gentle touch during their stops in Toronto, Ottawa and Winnipeg.
“I know people get excited and they want to be very effusive but it’s really better probably not to,” says Sassine.
Sassine says the event will dictate clothing choices. Hats and gloves are appropriate for women during daytime events, though not required. Gloves do not need to be white, nor do they need to be removed before shaking hands. Sassine also suggests going with sleeves instead of straps for women and wearing nylons.
For men, it’s appropriate to wear slacks and sports jackets during the daytime. More formal attire for both men and women is advised for evening.
“The one thing that the palace will always stress is they don’t want people to go through a lot of unnecessary expense for events,” says Sassine.
While the protocol shows respect for tradition, Sassine says it is most important to be yourself in the company of royalty.
“Royals are more relaxed now,” she says. “The rules and the guidelines have relaxed a little bit, but the respect will always be there.”