Like a lot of Americans, I am planning on prying myself out of bed at an unseemly hour Saturday morning, firing up my teakettle instead of the coffee machine in a gesture to the occasion, and blearily watching Henry Charles Albert David — sixth in line to the British throne — pledge his troth to Rachel Meghan Markle at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor.
I’ll feel a little silly, of course; I consider myself a patriotic American, and I even grew up in Lexington, Mass., a town that prides itself on its status as the birthplace of American liberty from the British. But I think that, for one day, we Americans can brew up our English breakfast tea rather than dumping it in Boston Harbor with a clear conscience. It’s entirely possible to enjoy the spectacle of the royal wedding without losing sight of why it’s wonderful to be an American.
For Americans, one of the great pleasures of watching an event such as the royal wedding is the sense you are doing something slightly naughty and moderately ridiculous. It’s sort of like sneaking into a concert or torrenting a movie, without any of the actual consequences for the artists. We get to watch the spectacle without being required to pick up any of the substantial security costs (the Windsors pay for the “core aspects” of the wedding, but the public coffers end up getting tapped for things like police overtime).
Under normal circumstances, that sort of peeping might inspire a bit of American self-satisfaction. Look at what our former royal overlords and countrymen are contorting themselves over! That dress is lovely, but isn’t it absolutely bananas that a woman marrying into the royal family is still expected to give up her career and buff away any sharp edges in her personality? Aren’t we lucky we don’t have an established religion like the Church of England? We can ogle all the glitter and still feel confirmed in our comparatively restrained official culture.
But American public life is not exactly normal at the moment. On the one hand, that can be upsetting for Americans. Given President Trump’s obsession with throwing himself a military parade, Louise Linton’s Marie Antoinette act and Scott Pruitt’s obsession with first-class travel, the royal wedding might actually shine a harsh light on the relative tackiness of the present regime in Washington. On the other hand, it will serve as a reminder that, unlike the British with the Windsors, we Americans won’t be stuck with the Trump administration forever. True, the president is unlikely to retire quietly to the sidelines, observing the traditions of deference that have constrained his predecessors. But he’ll be representing only himself. And if he wants to make a ridiculous splash, he’ll have to spend his own money to do it.
Finally, this time around, the traditional cultural compare-and-contrast that is inevitable when Americans find themselves captivated by a major public event in Britain, be it Prince William’s wedding or Princess Diana’s funeral, is spiced up by the addition of an actual American to the mix.
It would be going overboard to suggest Markle and Harry’s marriage represents a victory for Americanness over traditional English values, much less to suggest Markle’s addition to the royal family might transform Britain’s complex racial history and dynamics. After all, for the relationship to work long-term, Markle had to be baptized into the Church of England, become a British citizen, shutter her website, give up her acting career and start wearing hats. (That last item on the list could be either a sacrifice or a delight.) All marriages require compromise, and this one involves negotiating the differences between two very different cultures and families.
Still, those of us watching from across the pond can decide to celebrate the positive qualities we’re exporting to Britain this weekend. Markle’s relationship with Prince Harry has forced conversations about racism, the royal family and the British press, and it has seemingly given Harry the space and confidence to talk about mental-health care and his own struggles in the wake of his mother’s death. We Americans may not always make the best use of our confessional culture, and we’ve hardly solved our own racial issues. But if we can give a little bit of openness to our former mother country, that’s a national wedding gift to be proud of.