ROYAL personages are like any other personages, only more regal. Their perogatives include being called charming when they are civil, witty when they are pleasant, handsome when they are presentable and astute when they are informed. They are entitled, by heredity and custom, if not by divine right, to have all their weddings referred to internationally as storybook romances, and all public meals in which they participate as feasts fit for a king.
However, they do not have the right to receive physical obeisance from American citizens. Miss Manners has had to issue many times now the decree that American ladies should not curtsy to royalty, and still there are those who do so at every available opportunity. They are in error, not only in the matter of world etiquette, but of geography, physics and ancient and modern history.
Miss Manners will now graciously explain the matter once more, after which there will be no further disobedience from her subjects.
Bending the knee is the traditional gesture of an inferior to a superior. We bend our knees to God, or whatever it is that we worship -- debutantes traditionally curtsy to Society, for example. The curtsy is but one form of the gesture of adoring a sovereign. Other kingdoms have their subjects touch their foreheads to the ground or kiss the ground as royalty passes.
Thus, those who believe that curtsying demonstrates their own high social rank or breeding are mistaken. Their geography is faulty if they think that bending down will elevate them; the notion that there is a law of physics stating that what goes down must come up is erroneous.
As for history, Miss Manners considers that the matter was settled by the philosopher Callisthenes, who disabused Alexander the Great of the notion that the Persian custom of groveling to royalty could be established in Macedonia and Greece. According to an occasionally broken chain of information (Callisthenes' clerk, Stroebus, told Aristotle, who told Plutarch, who told Miss Manners), Callisthenes "stoutly stood against kneeling to the king, and said that openly, which the noblest and ancientest men among the Macedonians durst but whisper one in another's ear, though they did all utterly mislike it: where he did yet deliver Greece from open shame, and Alexander from a greater, bringing him from that manner of adoration of his person." (Miss Manners does not want to hear from scholars pointing out that Plutarch also characterized Callisthenes as grave, sour an not very pleasant. He was, nevertheless, right on this issue.)
If you require more recent history, there is that matter of the war that we Americans fought to free ourselves of subjugation to the British crown. And for absolutely up-to-date history, by Miss Manners' standards, she has a report from a gentle reader of an encounter between the lady's mother and dear Queen Victoria in which, the American not having been instructed on what to do, the sovereign kindly informned her, "you need not curtsy, but turn and walk out."
How, then, do we Americans properly treat royalty? With the dignity and respect we naturally show to heads of state and other foreign officials. Our traditional form of greeting is to shake the hand.
This gesture is not interchangeable with that of the cursy, as the State Department tried to suggest when obfuscating the matter during the last go-around, claiming that the word curtsy, being derived from courtesy, signified nothing more. If that were the case, we could surely expect the new Princess of Wales to curtsy to our Mrs. Reagan on her next visit, as a simple gesture of courtesy to an elder, a hostess and the consort of a head of state. So should the princess's mother-in-law, then. But don't hold your breath, especially while sinking to your knees. MISS MANNERS RESPONDS
Q: I am a college freshman and was recently placed in a very awkward situation. I went to dinner at a very fancy new restaurant with two girlfriends. Somehow, I found myself in charge and organizing the whole affair. Accustomed, as I am, to being taken out to dinner by men who pamper me and take care of all situations, I found myself wondering how to handle the situation that arose.
Well, we were drinking a dry white wine when I noticed a small insect in my last glass. I double-checked to make sure it was not a piece of cork or dust, and even asked my two friends. It was clearly a bug. I called the waitress over the pointed the insect out to her. Needless to say, she was aghast. She took away my glass and offered me a bottle of house wine to replace the wine we had ordered. I accepted, even though the house wine was an inferior wine, since our bottle was empty. Before we left, she asked me if I would like to speak to the manager about the wine, but I said that if she would check the rest of their stock of that particular vintage, then I would be satisfied. As I said, I am used to having men handle any problem that might arise in the course of an evening, and really had no idea how to handle myself. Please tell me, Miss Manners, if my behavior was acceptable or if I should have talked to the manager and what I should have said to him. It really was a most awkward affair, and I felt so inadequate in dealing with it. I suppose, unfortunately, that in this liberated day and age, women are going to have to start to learn aggressive behavior in fine dining establishments. Please advise this confused female.
A: Why does Miss Manners have the feeling that you will be disappointed if she says you behaved correctly? This awkward situation seems to have been smoothly handled by everyone concerned, including the waitress, who probably was aghast because she is used to having gentlemen pamper her by handling all such difficult aspects of life for her.
Q: I am 36, divorced and going with a man, 42, who is also divorced. I love him very much. He has two boys, 2 and 5, by a previous marriage; the ex-wife has custody. I have been with them only a few times, and the last time was the first night we all stayed over at Gene's house (I have my own house and Gene stays here most of the time).
I like the boys, but I have no children of my own and don't know any, so I'm not used to small children and am just slowly figuring out how they think and what to expect from them, and I'm just slowly getting to like them (they aren't bad or mean -- they are just undisciplined, loud and neurotic).
Gene's house is out in the woods. He has to take a ferry boat to get to the city. The house has no lock on the front door, no lock on the bathroom door, and you can't lock the bedroom door because there is no door. You go up some stairs, and you're in the bedroom.
Last night, the 5-year-old was following me around (we get along pretty well and he seems to like me) and I said excuse me, I was going to the bathroom and went in, closed the door, and sat down. I was just getting started and in he comes! I was so startled I started yelling "Out! Out! Out!" and when he didn't make a move, I physically propelled him out the door and slammed it as hard as I could. He cried, and Gene acted like I was over-reacting. I said I thought a 5-year-old boy should know better than to barge in on some lady he didn't know very well when she was sitting on the throne.
This morning at 6, the boys got up and were running through the downstairs screaming and having a howling good time. Pretty soon I heard little feet on the stairs; they were heading for the bedroom. I felt a swell of panic ready to take me over and I woke up Gene and said the babies were coming in! He acted like "So what?" I put the covers over my head and felt totally helpless and invalded. I'm really proud that I didn't start screaming. I finally said "I am freaking out! I can't handle it! I cannot deal with this!" and Gene made the boys leave. I was so shook I was fighting tears (and won) and I got dressed (need I mention I skipped my shower this morning -- no shower curtain, either). Gene acted like I was nuts and I just went downstairs and poured myself a cup of coffee. No noe ever apologized to me for the 5-year-old's barging in on me in the bathroom or pulling on my covers this morning. Gene asked me what was going on with me, and I said, "Oh, nothing, I was just in bed -- with you -- stark naked -- and two little boys I don't even know well start pulling at my bedclothes!"
Is this normal behavior for little boys? Am I supposed to run around naked in front of them and defecate in front of them? Am I uptight and old-fashioned? I was so shook up I couldn't talk for about an hour. By the way, I had rape dreams all night long -- someone peeking in the unlocked windows and rattling the door, and I felt real sick. I say they are uncivilized.
Do I expect too much from them? I know the 5-year-old won't go barging in on someone in the toilet again -- it was a rude way for him to learn that. As for their assaulting us in bed -- that won't happen again because I am never again going because I am never again going to spend the night in the same house with them. That did me in.
A: You may not have doors in this household, but you certainly have labels. Miss Manners started listing them: undisciplined, loud, neurotic, over-reacting, uptight, old-fashioned -- but then she got bored. It seems such a tiresome way of starting the obvious, which is that some people like to run around naked at home, and others don't.
You are something more than a houseguest in this house , and something less than a step-parent, but in either case, your wishes should be consulted without prejudice while you are in residence, unless they prefer their habits to your presence. Otherwise, the preferences of the modesty people take precedence over those of the nakeness advocates, simply because naked people are presumed to have thicker hides.