US President Donald Trump is billed to make his first visit to the United Kingdom since becoming president this week.
The British government announced Friday that the president and his wife, Melania, are scheduled to meet Queen Elizabeth on July 13 at Windsor Castle.
“It’s a great myth that there are lots and lots of rules and formalities” about meeting a king or queen, said Rupert Wesson, academy director at Debrett’s, a British coaching and publishing company on etiquette. Actually, he added, “there are surprisingly few.”
While the royal family’s own website says that there are “no obligatory codes of behavior when meeting the queen or a member of the royal family,” it notes that many people do wish to observe traditional forms.
“So, if Trump does want to adhere to tradition, the standard protocol for meeting royalty is for men to make a small bow, while women curtsy.”
“It wouldn’t be a huge sort of sweeping bow,” Wesson said. “It’s more a nod of the head. It’s pretty subtle.”
“People say you meet the queen,” Wesson said. “In reality, you are presented.”
This involves a royal aide announcing a guest’s name to the monarch before greetings are exchanged. As with most things related to royal protocol, this isn’t a hard and fast rule, more of a non mandatory tradition.
“So someone would probably say: ‘Your majesty, may I present to you the president of the United States, Mr. Donald Trump.’ At which point it would be customary for him to bow.”
Some reservations have been voiced about how Trump — who is not known for adhering to diplomatic niceties — will deal with the delicate issue of royal etiquette and protocol.
Many other high-profile visitors have attracted negative headlines for falling afoul of perceived etiquette breaches.
Trump is known for his fondness for fast food and well-done steak. How will he deal with the refined nature of dining with royalty?
Wesson said the best way to approach sharing a meal with the queen is with “calmness, steadiness, and a little bit of delicacy.”
“There are little differences between American dining and British dining,” he said. In British dining, the fork remains in the left hand and the knife remains in the right hand, assuming you’re right-handed.”
“I think the most important thing is that you relax, you enjoy the occasion and that you’re a good guest.”
It is widely believed that touching the queen is highly frowned at and not in tandem with royal protocol. First ladies, prime ministers and governors -general from around the world have all attracted negative attention for this perceived lapse in protocol. Michelle Obama, for example, made headlines when she appeared to embrace the queen in 2009.
For all the pomp and ceremony surrounding a royal meeting, experts said the most important thing is for Trump to speak to the queen in a relaxed and open way.
“She’ll want conversation to flow freely, and I think they’ll probably find some common ground in discussing his Scottish heritage and his links to Scotland,” Tominey said.
“I think, equally, if Prince Philip is with him, then he’ll quite enjoy having a robust conversation because the Duke of Edinburgh enjoys a bit of banter and debate. That could be quite interesting.”