Monday 22 January 2018

The Crown has taught me how to behave if I ever sit next to the Queen for dinner

Don’t tweet or email when you think the Queen isn’t looking, and in particular don’t tweet or email her, writes Howard Jacobson in the Guardian. Read on: 

On the off-chance that you are dining with the Queen on New Year’s Eve – and, by off-chance, I don’t mean to imply no chance – it’s worth familiarising yourself with a few of the finer points of royal etiquette. Don’t take selfies. Don’t touch Her Majesty’s knee under the table. Don’t tweet or email when you think she isn’t looking, and in particular don’t tweet or email her. If you are sitting on her left, it means that you aren’t the guest of honour and must not attempt to engage her in conversation until the second course. She will turn to you if you don’t know which the second course is.

This is a selection of the information I’ve picked up from listening to enthusiasts of The Crown discussing what they’ve seen. I haven’t watched it myself – it’s enough that the rest of the world is watching for me – but I have a special interest in royal protocol, particularly when it comes to how to behave around a dinner table. How not to look disappointed when you see who you’re sitting next to, for example. How to spread your attention fairly. Do you begin with the person on your left or the person on your right? Or do you sit far back in your chair so you can talk in both directions at once?

The Queen begins by turning right, but there is no rule determining which way commoners such as ourselves must turn, only that we remember to turn the other way when the plates are changed. Why it has taken me so long to grasp this I don’t know, but I’m relieved to have it settled. The food, not the company, decides the duration of the conversation. How wise a thing is protocol! At a stroke, it takes personalities out of the equation. It’s not because I have no prospects or tell the same story over and over again that Amal Clooney suddenly averts her head from me. It’s because the cheese and biscuits have arrived. A half-century of hurt feelings falls from me.

All I need is for everyone else to grasp the rules as well. That way, I will never again be left to sit there like an untouchable in a neck brace, pretending to be interested in the details of a ceiling rose, while those on either side of me remain resolutely engrossed elsewhere.

“Ahem!” I am now empowered to exclaim. “Haven’t you been watching The Crown? Soup’s over. You talk to me now.”

And what if, as a consequence, they both converge on me at the same time? Which one do I choose?

That’s something I will be asking the Queen the next time I’m sitting next to her, whichever side I’m on.

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