Etiquette isn't just about being polite. It's an ever-changing code designed to show who belongs and who does not— and British royals are particular experts in reading the signs that expose social climbers. So if you find yourself invited to tea in Buckingham Palace, what comportment will avoid making you look like an uncouth Yankee boor?
Note: for those who have yet to be blessed with an engraved summons to dine with royalty, you'll still be able to make use of these tips when E! airs The Royals, which chronicles the glamorous, fictionalized exploits of Queen Eleanor, Prince Liam, and an attendant host of crown-wearing, scepter-carrying fancy-pantses. As you watch, be sure to keep track of which royals have mastered the art of etiquette and which need to haul their ermine-draped asses back to finishing school before they reveal themselves as ill-mannered pretenders to the throne.
Upon Meeting the Queen
Call her "Your Majesty" at first, and "Ma'am" thereafter. Men, bow with your heads only. Women, do a small curtsy. Do not take a knee like a Shakespearean thespian or a prima ballerina at the end of a performance.
When faced with other members of the Royal Family, the same rules apply — but address them as "Your Royal Highness." (Only the queen or king is majestic enough to be "Your Majesty.") If you're a commoner, and find yourself in flagrante delicto with the prince, you should call him "Sir." Maybe after a few times he'll let you call him Prince Liam. Play your cards right and perhaps you'll be calling each other Squidgy someday.
How are titles inherited? Through primogeniture — which means be the first born and be male. Or at least that's how it used to be until the Life Peerages Act of 1958 gave women the right to a seat in the House of Lords. According to Nancy Mitford, "An aristocracy in a republic is like a chicken whose head has been cut off: it may run about in a lively way, but in fact it is dead. But in England the queen is the fountain of honors, and when she bestows a peerage upon a subject she bestows something real and unique." Naming yourself Prince does not make you one. (Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course.)
When at Ascot
Ladies, if you want to sit with the queen at the races, you must wear a hat. Where fascinators were once allowed, they are no longer. In 2012, the dainty little toppers were banned from the Royal Enclosure, although they're still permitted in the less formal grandstand. So go big with your topper. But not too big — wearing wide-brimmed hats makes it difficult to socially kiss, and there's nothing less graceful than women locking horns/hats like stags as they greet each other.
As for gentlemen, with regards to your ties, do not use anything other than a four-in-hand knot. (Also known as a schoolboy knot.) Anything else is ostentatious. A big Windsor knot does not make you look like a royal. It makes you look like an estate agent. Or worse, a footballer.
At Tea Time
With regard to utensils, work from the outside inwards course by course. When you have finished eating, place your fork and knife together on your plate with the tines facing upward.
Pouring milk in your cup before your tea is a dead giveaway that you're not quite ready for teatime, as is adding milk to your Darjeeling or Lapsang souchong. Should you commit such a faux pas, you'll notice the upper class exchange knowing looks around you. This is their Masonic handshake. Raise only your cup and never your saucer, and be sure to set it back in its place after each sip. And for God's sake, do not dunk your biscuits — by which I mean cookies. This isn't a doughnut shop. You should also note that Earl Grey is terribly common, and if you have to ask why, then you are common too. (Not that there's anything wrong with that!)
A few other things to keep in mind: when it's time for pudding, eat it with a spoon and fork. If port is served, the decanter must always be passed to the left. Should the port pass you by, send your glass down the table and ask for it to be filled.
In the 1950s, a professor of linguistics named Alan S.C. Ross deigned to separate words into two separate categories, signifying the class of the speaker: words used by the upper classes were thus designated "U," while words connoting less...sophistication were dubbed "non-U." Nancy Mitford expanded upon this further in an essay entitled "The English Aristocracy," in which she provided further taxonomy for these shibboleths.
House is U. Home, non-U. Scent: U. Perfume: non-U. Sofa: U. Settee: non-U. What?: U. Pardon?: non-U. Fuck cuts across all classes — just don't say it in front of the Queen.
Got all that straight? Brilliant. Now toss it out, because contrived gentility isn't just non-U — it's plain American. Even small U-children know this. So if your blood runs something other than blue, own it. Your tiara may be rhinestone, but you can still feel superior in your manners when you sit down to watch The Royalson E!, this Sunday, March 15, at 10/9c.
Misti Traya is a writer and actress living in London. Her recipes and ramblings can be found at Chagrinnamon Toast.
Illustration by Alexandra Cannon.