Hey Michelle! Don’t Touch the Queen!

Michelle Obama has officially made her first big mistake as First Lady.

President Obama and his wife are currently in England for the G-20 summit meeting between twenty top economic powers to discuss the global financial crisis. Before this important meeting the Obamas met with Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace.

And everyone knows the strict protocol on meeting the Queen of England. Be polite. Bow to her (if you are one of her subjects. The Obamas definitely are not). Don’t touch her unless she initiates the contact. This means don’t shake her hand until you see her extend her hand toward you first. Even then, don’t firmly grip her hand like a tele-evangelist meeting with this donors. Be gentle.

Michelle Obama apparently didn’t quite get the memo. Or, at least, the British media are making a bigger deal out of this than is necessary.

The situation is quite simple: Mrs. Obama and the Queen hugged. Uh oh. That offensive gesture is equivalent of throwing your shoe at the president in the Arab world, apparently. The Queen is not a touchy-feely type of lady. I guess that’s what happens when you’re one of the longest tenured heads of state in the world.

But most observers in America are noting that the Queen started it, and Mrs. Obama simply followed suit. No harm, no foul, right?

Wrong. Those stuffy Brits sure love their Queen. At least Michelle didn’t pull off a George W. Bush and give German Chancellor Angela Merkel an unexpected backrub. That would be supremely awkward.

This is the difference between our cousins across the pond (their not my cousins, however. I’m Japanese) and us. We have a more egalitarian approach toward our leaders. We should be polite to our president when we meet them in person, but outside of that, anything is fair game. Mean jokes, brutal satire, the works. The royalty still holds an important place in their hearts, apparently.

Which is interesting considering the Crown is more of a symbolic position than an active political role. Prime Minister Gordon Brown is really in charge in that country. But tradition is tradition, and the regent should be appropriately venerated. That’s their culture. Not ours.

But what is the difference between the Queen and us? Or Pope Benedict XVI, or King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, or Ayatollah Khamenei for that matter? They are mere human beings like us. Why act like they’re some sort of divine figure living among us mortals?

That’s because that’s sort of how people feel about these folks. Dating back to the divinely-appointed Caesars of the Roman Empire, there has historically been the belief that regents are chosen by the Almighty. God wants these people to lead the people, so they should be treated like a god. The Queen of England is technically the head of the Anglican Church. She is the “pope” of this significant denomination of Christianity. Talk about being a VIP.

In our post-Enlightenment rational society that values democracy over outdated monarchical government, this concept is incomprehensible. We see our leaders as people like us, who bleed red and put their pants on one leg at a time.

Maybe this says something about our views of politics and government. To us, America is a country founded upon the values of freedom, civil liberties, and distrusting governmental authority (we won our independence from those Brits, after all). We select our leaders to represent and fight for our interests. If we don’t like them or we think they’re doing a bad job, we vote them out. This really destroys any notion of divine right to the throne.

If politics are subjective, so are the people who lead it. They are men and women like us, who make mistakes and do the best that they can given what they have to work with. Last year George W. Bush was one of the most powerful people in the world. Today, he’s enjoying retirement life like millions of other Americans. No special privileges there.

This attitude is why we find no reason not to hug our elected leaders. We can pat them on the back, shake their hand firmly, even chase down a few shots of whiskey with them (as then Senator Hillary Clinton did on the 2008 campaign trail). Presidents, senators, congressmen, governors, state representatives; they’re all disposable. One is always ready to be replaced come every election.

This explains why we yanks can’t wrap our minds around why following proper etiquette to meet Her Majesty is so important.

Besides, the only Queen that we care about is a rock band from the 70s.

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One Comment on “Hey Michelle! Don’t Touch the Queen!”

  1. Alyce Says:

    If the Queen doesn’t want to be touched, then she shouldn’t have touched Michelle. It is my understanding that the Queen can be extremely “frosty” (A Brits own words-not mine) if and when she thinks she has been disrespected. However after Michelle’s warm returned show of affection, she asked Michelle to keep in touch with her (Not offended at all). Maybe the other Brits should follow their Queen’s example. I don’t consider it as Michelle’s first big mistake as First Lady. I think she’s great and as the Brits called her “Mighty Michelle”. I’m proud of her!!! We should all Stay focused on more important issues.


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