Yesterday, at a reception at Buckingham Palace for the G20 summit, the Obamas met Queen Elizabeth, and Michelle did the unthinkable: She touched the Queen. This seems pretty innocuous, however, apparently it’s a big deal. Well, at least to some people.
When you meet royalty there is certain protocol that, while not set in stone, is nearly always followed. In the Time article “The Queen and Mrs. Obama: A Breach in Protocol,” Howard Chua-Eoan considers whether Obama was too friendly for British standards when she put her hand around the Queen’s back in a sort of half-hug. Chua-Eoan writes that one defense for Michelle’s behavior is that she isn’t a subject of the Queen, so she doesn’t have to curtsy before her.
The UK’s Guardian also took up the subject, saying that over the years, some of the protocol prohibiting physical contact with the queen has softened: “The Queen is widely regarded as formal, but close observers point out that a number of traditional rules for dealing with the monarch have been relaxed in recent times. Bowing, for example, is no longer required.”
The Times, another British paper, went as far to say that the American media is making a bigger deal out of the whole ordeal than it deserves. A spokeswoman for the queen told the paper that, “This was a mutual and spontaneous display of affection and appreciation between The Queen and Michelle Obama.”
So, it seems that no one needs to worry about whether Michelle was correctly briefed on the “rules” for meeting the Queen. If you’re polite and charming, even the Queen of England will warm to you.