Whether Kate and Wills lost your new address or your invitation got lost in the Royal Mail, don’t lose heart. There’s still a faint hope that the gold-leafed summons to the most talked-about wedding in thirty years is on its way.
Though you earn preparedness points for having a flight to Heathrow on hold (Virgin Atlantic, of course), there are still the finer points of etiquette to be mastered before you’re ready to cross the Pond and dip into the waters of a Windsor wedding.
Fear not, etiquette experts Thomas Farley and Diane Gottsman (that would be me) are here to help out with the burning questions everyone is asking. In the great tradition of British humorists, with a dose of Burke’s Peerage thrown in, forthwith are their responses to your FAQs about Royal Wedding etiquette:
What’s the correct way to address the Queen and other members of the Royal family?
TF: “Your Royal Highness” is the safest bet for family members who are not the Queen, and has the delightful duality of being gender-neutral. When meeting heads of state of other nations, the title changes ever so slightly. If you should bump into the Prince of Japan, for example, he is Imperial Highness; the Prince of Monaco would be Serene Highness.
DG: When addressing the Queen for the first time, refer to her as “Your Majesty” and thereafter as “Ma’am,” to rhyme with spam, ham, scram, or blueberry jam.
Do I curtsy (or bow) when I meet the Queen? Is it okay to kiss or hug her Or is it best just to shake her hand?
TF: Whatever you do, make sure you don’t give the Queen a fist bump. Save that for when you meet America’s commander-in-chief.
DG: If you are from Britain, you are expected to curtsy or bow. If you are from the United States, it is a polite gesture to give a slight bow, eyes lowered, but you will not be bounced from the nuptials for not doing so. The only acceptable physical greeting is a light handshake, but only if the Queen extends her hand first. If she does not offer her hand, don’t make the first move or lunge forward for a quick peck on the cheek. Never act over-eager.
What do I say to the new couple when I meet them in the receiving line?
TF: An appropriate response: What a blissfully wonderful day. My sincerest congratulations to you both. An inappropriate response: Kate, my Manolos are killing me! Mind if I grab a ride to the reception in your Rolls?
DG: An appropriate response: Congratulations. It was a lovely ceremony. An inappropriate response: Fancy ceremony. How much did that dress set you back?
What is the dress attire for the Royal Wedding?
TF: Given that it’s springtime in London, you should anticipate weather that’s dreadfully cold and gray, with a 100-percent chance of rain. In other words, not much different from the weather in summer, autumn and winter. So don’t be afraid to brighten it up a bit with a vibrant color.
DG: The invitation specifically reads, “Uniform, morning coat or lounge suit.” Translated, that means, a nice suit for men and a conservative dress or suit for women. Ladies no visible cleavage, excessive thigh, lycra or spandex allowed.
Can I wear my new white dress and matching hat?
DG: White is reserved for the bride and should not be worn by anyone else, including those in the wedding party. If your next question is about the exception for that sleek off- white or ivory dress, the answer is still no – please move on to a completely different color family.
How about asking the Royal family for autographs?
TF: This would be gauche, and you should avoid it at all costs—even if Fergie is selling her Jane Hancock for £10 a pop.
Is it okay to take a souvenir picture of the big day?
DG: Only if you buy the postcard or take the picture from far, far, very far away. Not in the Abbey or any other formal reception. It would also be inappropriate to use a flash camera in close proximity of the Queen.
What about uploading the whole thing to YouTube?
TF: We wouldn’t blame you for wanting to capture highlights of the day on camera, but if you do so, make sure you do so discreetly and without blocking anyone else’s view. And needless to say, your video should NOT wind up on YouTube. Your Facebook page, maybe.
Can I Tweet before, during or after the vows?
DG: Don’t even think about doing anything of the kind during the Royal Wedding ceremony. (Although we would be very tempted but still wouldn’t!) If you have somehow managed to get a great snapshot of the bride and groom, be careful of what and where you post it. Respect and responsibility are both important to your own reputation.
If I am lucky enough to have a conversation with the Queen, should I ask her about her kids or talk about mine?
DG: No personal or invasive questions for the Queen and note, she really doesn’t want to see pictures of your kids on your most recent vacation. Stick to dry, safe and boring conversation like the weather or the time of day. The Queen won’t be sticking around much past a friendly “hello.”
What do I do if Randy Prince Andy asks me to dance?
TF: It would be highly impolite to decline. On the other hand, if the band is playing a Lambada, request his forgiveness and excuse yourself to the rest room, telling him you’ll save a spot on your dance card for him later in the night.
I hear the reception is canapés-only. How do I fill up hors d’œuvres alone?
TF: Small as they are, canapés can be greasy, flaky and overall messy. You’re probably better off eating a big meal before the ceremony and planning to have a proper dinner afterward. This will save you from embarrassment of having sticky palms or food stuck in your teeth. It will also free up your left hand for a cocktail—and your right hand for handshakes. (Except, as we mentioned, with the Queen!)
What else should I be aware of during the reception?
DG: It’s a breach of protocol to turn your back or position your back to the Queen. After all, she is the most important guest in the room. Also, pinkies down when you are sharing a cup of tea.
Would anyone take offense if I asked the band to play “King for a Day” by the Thompson Twins?
TF: First of all, you score major brownie points for being an American who knows an ’80s Britpop band besides Duran Duran. Second of all, as long as you’ll be in the UK for a stretch, you’d better get those spellings right….it’s offence, Yank! Finally, and we do hate to disappoint you, but our advice is to leave this song for Charles.
Will Kate be throwing a bouquet?
TF: She will not. In accordance with tradition started by William’s great-grandmother, Kate will leave her bouquet at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey. As for whether Wills plans to remove Kate’s garter and toss it to the lads at the reception…don’t count on it.
What do I get the couple who probably has everything?
DG: Kate and Will probably have one or two toasters too many, therefore they are requesting you donate to specific charities in lieu of a gift. You can find their suggestions at www.royalweddingcharityfund.org and make your donation on-line. What else would you get the couple who has everything…literally, everything.
Do Britons do the Macarena?
TF: Sadly, yes. Although deep down, they much prefer the minuet.
If things get a little dull, can I slip out the back?
DG: The Queen will enter the Abbey last (prior to Prince William and Kate) and generally exits first, once again. Only then may you leave the ceremony to save your table for dinner and dancing. Just don’t move the place cards around to get a closer seat near the Queen.
Stick to these simple rules and you’re likely to get invited back when Prince Harry decides to settle down. By the way, if that invitation never does pitch up, most of these tips will get you through any other wedding you may be invited to this summer, royal or not.
Thomas P. Farley is a manners expert who has been interviewed on matters of etiquette by the Today show, the CBS Early Show, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Christian Science Monitor, People Style Watch, USA Today, CNN, ABC and Nick at Nite’s TV Land, as well as on radio stations across the country. As the overseer of Town & Country magazine’s “Social Graces” column from 2000 to 2008, he helped to shed light on topics from “Elevator Etiquette” to “Horrible Things People Do in Public.” His book, Modern Manners: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Social Graces, went into multiple printings. He is also a featured contributor to the new book The Experts Guide to Doing Things Faster (Clarkson Potter; 2008). He’s presently at work on a book that will tackle the topic of tech etiquette. You can follow Thomas on Twitter @MisterManners.