Modern Etiquette: Put your best foot forward at a royal event

LONDON Tue Apr 26, 2011 5:34am EDT

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LONDON (Reuters) - The royal wedding is approaching and many people will be pondering the mysteries of royal protocol. In this day and age is bowing and scraping, hand kissing and walking backwards really de rigueur?

TO BOW OR NOT TO BOW?

Although Buckingham Palace has made it quite clear that it is a question of personal choice whether you choose to make the traditional bow or curtsey upon being presented to a member of the royal family, we would strongly advise that this is a tradition that should be observed - particularly when meeting a senior member of the royal family.

Foreign nationals are not expected to bow or curtsey. The bow is from the neck and the curtsey is just a short 'bob' (not a theatrical ground-sweeping gesture).

Naturally, if The Queen offers to shake hands, you should reciprocate with a gentle handshake (no vigorous hand pumps).

The younger princes and princesses, including Prince William and Catherine, may very well neither wish for nor expect this kind of deference, except perhaps on a formal introduction, but a bow or curtsey is a safe default position.

IN CONVERSATION

If you find yourself in conversation with The Queen it is customary to address her as "Your Majesty", and subsequently as "Ma'am" (to rhyme with jam).

Traditionally, it was not done to ask the Queen direct questions, though such anodyne restrictions on conversation have now been relaxed. Generally, however, it is probably safest to let The Queen guide the topics of conversation.

Other members of the royal family who bear the style of His (or Her) Royal Highness should be first addressed as "Your Royal Highness' and subsequently as "Sir" or "Ma'am", but don't let these forms of address get in the way of natural and spontaneous conversation.

Members of the royal family are, after all, more than usually accustomed to meeting total strangers almost every day of their lives, and may appreciate a direct and friendly approach - as long as it is polite.

TITLED PEOPLE

If you are introduced to a member of the peerage there is generally no need in ordinary conversation to call anyone by name. The days of peppering the conversation with obsequious references to "Your grace" or "My lord" are well and truly over.

At social events such as a wedding assume that everyone is of equal standing and titles need not be observed in introductions. Peers and peeresses would normally be introduced by their first names and peerages, for example Anthony Gainsborough, Robin Kilmarnock, Henrietta Lichfield, etc...

DRESS CODES

These are always explicitly detailed on the invitations to royal occasions, and the royal wedding is no exception, specifying "Dress Uniform, Morning Coat or Lounge Suit".

Women should wear formal dresses or suits, and avoid halter necks, spaghetti straps and mini-skirts. Hats are not compulsory, but many women will choose to wear them - don't go completely over the top (as you would at Royal Ascot). The idea is to look smart and elegant, not show-stoppingly flamboyant.

ENJOY!

Don't be overawed by the occasion, and don't take refuge in alcohol. Remember, members of the royal family are completely experienced when it comes to meeting and greeting, so relax and take the lead from them.

Don't be nervous or tongue-tied, and try to avoid over-compensating by becoming garrulous and over-bearing. Finally, remember royal protocol is about small gestures of respect, not about being cringing, over-deferential or obsequious.

(Elizabeth Wyse is the London-based head of publishing for Debrett's, the UK's modern authority on all matters of manners and behaviour. The opinions expressed are her own. Debrett's website is www.debretts.com)

(Editing by Paul Casciato)

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