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What to Do (and Not Do) If You Meet a Royal

Should you ever happen to meet up with a royal, here's how to handle yourself with the utmost of elegance and decorum.

Easter Sunday service, St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, UK - 01 Apr 2018
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For better or for worse, there are no “obligatory codes”

It would probably be a lot easier if there were a specific set of rules to follow when meeting Her Majesty The Queen or any other member of the royal family. However, the royal family website points out, “there are no obligatory codes of behavior,” and our expert on the royal family, Carolyn Harris, Ph.D , who is also a historian, author, and royal commentator, confirms that’s the case. However, even though there are no “obligatory” codes of behavior for when meeting a member of the royal family, “many people wish to observe the traditional forms,” the royal family’s website observes. Read on to find out what those are.

State Visit of the King and Queen of the Netherlands, London, UK - 23 Oct 2018
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Proper presentation

Introductions to all members of the royal family are known as “presentations,” explains Debrett’s, a professional coaching company and noted experts on royal etiquette and the peerage system. But if you are ever in a position to meet The Queen, you will be properly introduced as follows: “Your Majesty, may I present [your full name].” Your full name includes your title. For members of the peerage, that would be “Duke” or “Duchess” or “Earl” or “Baroness,” etc. For commoners, it’s Mr., Mrs., or Miss (the title “Ms.” does not come into play for this purpose). Here’s the difference between a duke and a prince.

CHOGM Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, Malta - 28 Nov 2015

Upon being presented to the Queen

When you first address the Queen after being presented to her, traditional form is to call her, “Your Majesty.” For example, “I’m pleased to meet you, Your Majesty.” Don’t miss these 11 interesting tidbits about Queen Elizabeth II.

CHOGM Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, Malta - 28 Nov 2015

In conversation with the Queen

After presentation, traditional form means using “Ma’am,” which the royal website specifies is pronounced “with a short ‘a,’ as in ‘jam.” So, if the Queen asks how you are, you should reply, “I’m well, Ma’am.” Debrett’s also notes that “Your Majesty” may be substituted for “you” in conversation, and when referring to the members of the Queen’s family, it’s “His (or Her) Royal Highness” or their title (such as “The Duke of Cambridge” when referring to Prince William or the “Princess Royal” when referring to Princess Anne).

Prince Charles visit to Staffordshire, UK - 24 Jul 2018

When speaking to the king

One day, there will be a king of Great Britain. The proper way to address a king the first time you address him will be as “Your Majesty,” and thereafter, as “Sir.”

Prince Harry and Meghan Duchess of Sussex tour of Fiji - 25 Oct 2018
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When speaking to other members of the royal family

Anyone in the royal family who is not king or queen is traditionally addressed as “Your Royal Highness” the first time they’re addressed directly by someone. So, upon meeting the Duchess of Sussex (Meghan Markle), you would say, “Nice to meet you, Your Royal Highness.” Thereafter, “Ma’am” is used instead.

Spanish Royals State visit to the UK - 12 Jul 2017

If you’re a man…

If you’re a man meeting a member of the royal family, traditional form involves bowing from the neck (in other words, you simply lower your head and then raise it again). However, a formal handshake is perfectly acceptable as well.

Queen Elizabeth II visit to Liverpool, UK - 22 Jun 2016

If you’re a woman…

A woman meeting a member of the royal family is perfectly fine shaking hands. However, the traditional form is a small curtsy. “The curtsy should be a discreet but dignified movement, with a slow rise, maintaining eye contact,” advises Debrett’s. Don’t miss these times the royal family broke their own protocol.

The wedding of Princess Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank, Windsor Castle, Berkshire, UK - 12 Oct 2018

Know when to leave, as well as when to arrive

If you are ever invited to attend an event where a member of the royal family will be in attendance, here’s what Debrett’s wants you to know:

  • It is correct for everyone to arrive before the royal personage
  • No guest should leave an event before a member of the royal family, except in special circumstances when prior permission should be obtained.
Queen Elizabeth II State Visit to Cork, Ireland - 20 May 2011
Tim Rooke/Shutterstock

Upon taking leave

If you bowed or curtsied upon meeting a member of the royal family, it is traditional form to do the same upon taking leave, according to Debrett’s.

Royal Ascot 2017, Day Two, on Wednesday 21st June
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Please don’t put your iPad in front of your face

This is especially true when meeting Princess Anne, according to Dr. Harris, who tells Reader’s Digest that the younger sister of Prince Charles (and second child of the Queen’s four) has spoken critically of members of the public who hold up an iPad to take a photograph during a conversation. Come to think of it, holding up an iPad in front of anyone‘s face while conversing doesn’t seem particularly polite, does it? Find out the 10 dress code rules the royals follow as well.

Prince William and Catherine Duchess of Cambridge Visit the Offices of Child Bereavement UK, Saunderton, Buckinghamshire, Britain - 19 Mar 2013

Or break out your phone

It’s not just iPads that Princess Anne has spoken critically of, Dr. Harris tells us. Basically, she would prefer you not to snap her photo while she’s talking to you. It seems like a fair request—and one worth granting to any member of the royal family, as well as anyone else you happen to be talking to.

Prince Harry on visit to Nottingham, Britain - 25 Apr 2013
Eddie Mulholland/Shutterstock

Please don’t ask Prince Harry to pose for a selfie with you

Prince Harry has commented “selfies are bad” when he has been asked to pose for selfies, reported Time magazine. So, while he might politely accommodate you, it would be a better idea to simply forgo this particular photo opportunity. Here are some etiquette rules the royal family must follow, too.

Frank Foley sculpture unveiling, Stourbridge, UK - 18 Sep 2018

But, please, don’t sweat it

Believe it or not, most members of the royal family don’t expect you to behave as if you’ve been a member of the court your entire life and are rarely offended by an inadvertent social error, according to The International Commission and Association on Nobility, an organization dedicated to educating people about the social institutions of monarchy and nobility.

Order of the Garter service, St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, UK - 18 Jun 2018

But note: there are different rules for written communication

Please note that if you’re addressing a member of the royal family in writing, the rules are a little different—and quite a bit more complex (including capitalizing the “t” in “The Queen”). Next, read on to learn 50 things you didn’t know about the royal family.

Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York–based writer whose work has appeared regularly on Reader's Digest and in a variety of other publications since 2008. She covers life and style, popular culture, law, religion, health, fitness, yoga, entertaining and entertainment. Lauren is also an author of crime fiction, and her first full-length manuscript, "The Trust Game," was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.