Protocol and Etiquette: A Very Royal Perspective
In the face of a national decline in deference and decorum, the Royal Household is one of the last bastions of good form, etiquette, and protocol. No other institution prides itself quite so much on its ability to ensure that at all times people are addressed correctly, letters meet with Debrett's approval (in fact the Royal Household usually sets the standard), orders and decorations are worn correctly, and umbrellas are carried as in times gone by on Whitehall. The Old Guard still reigns at Buckingham Palace.
Obeisance Lady Susan [Hussey] is popular, hers is the deepest, briskest and most correct curtsey, the taffeta of her low evening dress fairly crackles in its swift drop to the carpet.
Making obeisance is not an idea ingrained in people's minds; one has therefore to consider the reasons behind this ancient form of showing deep respect to someone of authority. Today when you attend a royal function you may be shocked to see a line of bobbing ladies and bowing gentlemen. However, this form does endure and provides a continuity at events attended by The Queen and her family. While it is no longer considered absolutely necessary, many people still make their bows and curtseys to Her Majesty and Their Royal Highnesses. Gone are the days when young women paraded before their Sovereign like vestal virgins adorned in white with feathers, trains, and fans to make their deep, reverential, and well-practised curtseys.
Today ladies may practise in front of their mirrors the night before they go to the Palace, but few take classes at the famous London finishing schools such as Lucie Clayton or dance classes at establishments such as Vacani's School of Dance, where The Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret learned to dance as children.
The curtsey is a difficult manoeuvre to execute; if it goes right it looks excellent as you descend towards the ground while shaking hands with The Queen, but if it goes wrong you may end up falling over and making a fool of yourself. "Low sweeping curtseys, although usually well meant, are best reserved for the amateur dramatic stage The curtseys executed by Lady Thatcher are one such example. However, if you are likely to come to grief while attempting this feat, it is safest to stick with the experts' advice. Men are blessed with having only to bow, the most simple act. A correct bow involves a deep nod, not a bow from the waist. Bowing from the waist should be reserved for when you are in Japan. When to make your obeisance is also a vexing question; it depends on the situation. At a church service, bow or curtsey as the royal personage passes on the way to or from his or her seat; at a garden party or other social gathering, wait until presented or when the royal personage is passing.