I DON'T KNOW, man. They look like redcoats to me.

Hey. I've lived in England. I'd move to London for good if I could afford it. I love all the different kinds of Brits: the Yorkshiremen, the wights on the Isle of Wight, the West Country people, the Welsh (it was a Welshman who gave me a lift when I was hiking in the rain in Ireland), the Scots, the East Londoners among whom I lived for a year, the Geordies. I wrote a book about a Geordie once.

Hey. Some of my best friends are British.

But this is getting out of hand.

For some weeks now, certain people around here have been nervously asking each other when one should curtsy to the royal couple, and how you curtsy anyway. Even Miss Manners knows Americans don't have to curtsy. As I recollect, we once fought a war about that very thing.

It won't make any difference. Washingtonians who would snoot a senator will be bobbing and smiling so hard you would think they were meeting St. Peter.

And those of us who didn't get invitations will be pushing each other off the curbs to look inside the smoked-glass windows of the limos as they shriek past.

It was always this way. When that other Prince of Wales, the future Edward VIII, made his uproarious visit to Canada and the United States in 1924, we couldn't get enough of him, drunk or sober. The Encyclopedia Britannica makes a revealing comment on this: "King George V was a little apprehensive of the informal behaviour of the prince on these imperial visits, but he readily admitted their remarkable success."

We should note two words here: "imperial," meaning that after all we are still considered a colony, and "success," meaning that the visits have a specific purpose.

I wasn't here for 1924, but it seems clear that the purpose this time is to sell hotel rooms and Concorde flights and antique silver and raincoats and Mrs. Thatcher's policies and marmalade and maybe the odd country house. Nothing the matter with that, we do it all the time, but let us remember, if we will, that Charles and Diana are, therefore, salespersons.

Do you curtsy to a salesperson?

Well, you know, I don't mean to sound disagreeable, but it is all beginning to get to me. The whole thing. The visit, the guest lists, the Royals Watch in this newspaper, which has been holding its breath for nine days and is looking definitely purple. And the Treasure Houses exhibit at the National Gallery.

Now there's something. Have you seen that stuff? Well yes, there are the Titians and Turners and all that culture. But there is also an awful lot of what can only be called rich people's art, the kind of thing you order up simply and precisely to demonstrate that you're drowning in money, things covered in gold, worked half to death with inlaid ivory and tortured by rococo afterthoughts. Chairs that don't want you to sit on them because you're not up to them socially. A 200-pound solid silver wine cooler whose significance is that it is 200 pounds of solid silver. God forbid our children should see it and get the wrong idea about beauty.

Thorstein Veblen would have had a stroke.

And we are gawping at this display of tasteful vulgarity the way your dog watches the ball in your hand.

We are being impressed. Our rather charming faith that we are a classless society is being shoved down our throats.

We are being reminded that, even though we are forgiven for the Revolution, it was nevertheless, you understand, a gaffe.

We are being asked to keep our eye on the ball and not notice that these cosseted young people are really perfectly ordinary young people and not terribly intelligent looking, possibly even dim; that in fact the entire royal family (a portrait of them is pasted on an office window near me) looks somewhat glazed. Nobody ever accused the Windsors of being brilliant.

"Pay no attention to that little man behind the curtain," said the Wizard of Oz. I have nothing against Charles and Diana. As I say, they are nice young people, according to all the magazines. They could probably be quite charming at a tailgate picnic.

Let me know when they're gone.