For a democracy, the United States still goes loopy over royalty.
No matter how successful or hard-working a “commoner” like Bill Gates or Warren Buffett may be, they still take second place to a paper sovereign with inherited riches and a genetic code taken from a Cracker-Jack box. I’m convinced that in three generations, the monarch of Great Britain will be an incongruous blob with one eye and a deformed limb. It’ll still probably qualify as either Henry IX, George VII or Blobby I. The crown of St. Edward will be covered in protoplasmic ooze on its coronation. I wouldn’t want to be its dresser at Balmoral–you try putting a kilt on a blob.
We still have these people, in various capacities in scattered countries across Europe (the Asian and African ones tend to be a little more autocratic). Their centuries of inbreeding have produced a virtual subspecies of human that is impervious to natural selection. All of them could drop a semi-literate bubble boy at any time, and he’ll still be Duke of WhatdaF**k or whatever. One thing is certain though; no matter how dim-witted or deformed, all royals are sticklers for etiquette and protocol. They are the only things monarchs still control with an iron fist–and we Yanks can never get it right.
The most notable recent gaffe occurred in 2007, when George W. Bush mistook Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain for her demented porphyria-stricken uncle George III. In a famous faux-pas, Bush suggested that the Queen helped celebrate America’s bicentennial in 1776, not 1976. It resulted in a look from Her Shortness that would have cost Dubya a half-hanging and a set of boiling instestines a few centuries earlier. He was not alone: who can forget the elderly elf speaking below the podium upon meeting Bill Clinton…oh, wait, that was the Queen. Evidently, the advance folks forgot the tricky business of height differential–and knowing Bubba’s nature, Her Majesty should have had Handi-Wipes down there.
This week, Barack Obama becomes the 11th Commander in Chief to greet the octagenarian monarch, and this had to go right. Gordon Brown’s still trying to find a region 1 DVD player that takes 220 Volts of two-pronged goodness. But as always, we figure out how to screw it up somehow, at least according to the British press. First Lady Michelle Obama did away with the “optional” curtsy (who knew a curtsy was “optional”?), instead going straight for the good ol’ American handshake…oh, the horror. Poor Barack was so confused about the rules that he twitched his head up and down like a punch-drunk bobblehead doll. At least the Queen took it in stride–it also helped that Prince Philip, Shorty’s main squeeze, did his own foot-in-mouth routine.
The American faux pas in front of a crowned head of Europe is a tired cliche. Okay, we get it: the Yank in the ten-gallon hat slaps King ThunderJowls on the back, the nobility stands aghast, and monocles fly everywhere. Thank God that the Queen never met Lyndon Johnson…he’d probably mention how his Haggar slacks ride his crotch like a wire fence.
The British press obsess about this perceived affronty, and they have a point. Without a monarchy to kick around, Great Britain would just be some run-of-the-mill European socialist welfare state with lukewarm food and ridiculous fashion sense. To be British is, for many, to be the Queen’s subject, and it behooves a subject to protect his/her sovereign from all enemies, foreign and domestic. To save us some embarrassment, it helps that we Americans should learn at least the basics about meeting these people–the forms of address, whether to bow or curtsy, etc.
Yet on the same note, Great Britain, and all constitutional monarchies for that matter, should cut us mere commoners a little slack if we fumble at the dinner table or offer the wrong hand. We’re just not accustomed to treating people differently if they don’t deserve it. Why couldn’t the Queen make money honestly like Bill Gates, crushing competitors like insects? Or be a professional basketball/football/baseball player? Even if you can’t make an honest living, at least have the common decency to make a fool of yourself in public–just ask Paris Hilton. It takes hard work to flush a reputation down the toilet and not care.
So give us a break, your Highnesses. Rigid social order is a little foreign to us, and we need all the help we can get.
NOTE: This does not apply to absolute monarchies, especially those where the monarchs wear bedsheets and sit on huge stores of petroleum. They always get the curtsy.