"America in Raptures over Royal Visit," the London Times reported proudly the other day as Queen Elizabeth began her ballyhooed California visit. Judging from the extensive coverage in the British press, though, it's been pretty much downhill ever since.
"Queen's Trip in Turmoil," the London Evening Standard headlined this evening, describing the havoc that persistently bad weather has wrought on the monarch's plans.
But not only the weather is being blamed for the unfolding misadventure. Watching Britain watch Americans watch the queen offers some textbook examples of cultural misunderstanding. The trip is in trouble, it is alleged here, because Americans are subjecting the queen and the duke of Edinburgh to gaffes, boorishness and repeated breaches of protocol.
"American excitability" is the problem, according to Peter McKay of the Daily Mail. "Although they have been bombarded with news of our Royal Family for all the Queen's 30-year reign, the Queen and Prince Philip might be from another planet as far as some of their hosts are concerned."
Bill Cleator, the acting mayor of San Diego, apparently incurred regal displeasure when he "placed his hands" on the queen's back as he squired her around the city's art museum. "The Queen was visibly bothered," the Daily Express said, "and frowned her disapproval. Mayor Cleator was puce-faced with embarrassment."
Even Ronald Reagan has blundered, the Times asserted today. Arriving at the Reagan ranch after an arduous journey, the queen "appeared disapproving when the president kept her and her party waiting while he gave a mini news conference to the accompanying White House press corps." "Reagan puts press before the Queen" was the front-page headline.
A highlight was supposed to have been the dinner Sunday night at 20th Century-Fox, when scores of Hollywood's top names turned out. But the occasion got mixed reviews at best. "It might have been thought that Mrs. Reagan would choose something simple to wear on the basis that she would want her guest to shine," wrote McKay in the Daily Mail. "Instead she shimmered in the spotlights in an extraordinary glittering purple and metallic gold gown, a color traditionally associated with royalty."
"Snub for Yanks," the Daily Star said of the affair, because the queen was never introduced to such greats as Bette Davis, Fred Astaire and James Stewart. Singer Elton John, who is British and did sit at the monarch's table, was quoted as saying the dinner was "so boring I almost fell asleep." Actress Pamela Mason said, "It was the usual Hollywood cattle-call, rather dull in many ways," according to the London Sun.
The Guardian's grouchy reporter didn't think much of the evening, either. He observed actress Joan Collins yawning, and said Frank Sinatra's voice had become rasping and flat. "Overall," he wrote, "it was not exactly an exhilarating performance."
"The antics of the American media," as the Daily Mail put it, are also posing difficulties. In the first place they can't get titles straight: "From the moment she stepped ashore, American TV and radio reporters have been bawling into their microphones about 'the Queen of England and His Highness Duke Philip.' "
Moreover, when 200 reporters were invited aboard the royal yacht Brittania, they were specifically warned that anything the queen or Prince Philip said was not to be repeated. But one local television reporter rushed on the air with the revealing insight from the monarch that she was looking forward to visiting Yosemite National Park this weekend because "it'll give me a chance to put my feet up a bit."
Prince Philip observed that he avoided American press conferences because a Chicago reporter once asked him the color of his underwear. No sooner had he told that story, the Daily Express recounted, "than a San Diego reporter put the question to him. It was gleefully reported that he tugged at his trouser top and pretended to look down."