Monthly Archives: May 2011

Obama’s Royal Toast Faux Pas

So the print and visual media, on both sides of the pond, have had a field day over President Obama’s royal toast faux pas during the recent state banquet at Buckingham Palace.

President Obama had hardly finished his toast speech to the Queen when the orchestra of the Scots Guard prematurely began playing God Save The Queen.  The President continued with his toast speech and breached royal protocol by speaking over the national anthem. When he raised his glass to the Queen, while the anthem was playing, Her Majesty did not respond.

Although the president later remarked that he thought the national anthem was a “soundtrack to his speech,” some have criticised him saying he should know better. On the other hand, strangely enough, some of our American cousins take the view that the Queen’s snub of President Obama’s toast is a snub of the American people. Okay, the U.S. is a former British colony, but it’s not as if Americans are still British subjects. Anyway, let’s press on.

Adhering to royal protocol may not always be easy for those who do not normally mingle in royal circles. There are far too many complex points of etiquette to remember. Nevertheless, our American cousins should understand that political clout, power or money does not exempt foreign dignitaries, visiting Buckingham Palace, from observing royal protocols.

Those of us who do not ordinarily move in royal circles are more prone to royal protocol gaffes when in the presence of royalty. Members of the Royal Family generally ignore such gaffes when they do occur. Quite ironically, it is the media and, sometimes, a few royal courtiers, who take offence when these gaffes do happen.

I remember vividly my first meeting with the Queen at Buckingham Palace in 2002. I practiced my curtsy extensively the day before and I hardly slept that night from worrying. To hold me in good stead, I sought advice on royal etiquette from some royal courtiers I knew professionally. The pointers given to me included the following:

  • how to curtsy correctly;
  • to address the Queen initially as “Your Majesty and then “Ma’am;”
  • to shake the Queen only if she extends her hand to me, and then to shake her gently;
  • not to wear a trouser suit as the Queen does not like them on females;
  • not to wear over-powering perfume;
  • not to stare at the Queen’s jewellery;
  • not to speak until I am spoken to; and
  • not to turn my back on the Queen.

Incidentally, I was too nervous to remember any of the cues when I was presented to the Queen. My curtsy wasn’t deep enough and my legs almost gave way under me. As I couldn’t remember which to use first, “Ma’am” or “Your Majesty,” I simply used both interchangeably. What’s more, I stuttered through the first half of my conversation with the Queen before finally gaining my composure. Thankfully, my breach of royal etiquette, which was down to nerves, didn’t receive any airtime. More importantly, the Queen didn’t seem perturbed by my exhibition.

Now back to President Obama. Even when you park royal protocol to one side, one would expect President Obama, as Commander-in-chief of the U.S. Armed Forces, to know that it is wrong to speak over any national anthem.

So far, two official visits to Buckingham Palace and two breaches of royal protocol. Hopefully it will be third time lucky for the Obamas.

The CNN video clip below shows the breach of protocol and the subsequent reactions from the media.

Vodpod videos no longer available.