Should you bend your knees slightly in a polite curtsy? What about using official titles? Is it fine to ask for a selfie together?
Our royal neighbors from across the pond will be in Boston Wednesday, and with them comes a certain set of customs that some Americans might not be familiar with.
During William and Catherine’s three-day visit, which will culminate with the Earthshot Prize awards ceremony at the MGM Music Hall on Friday, the couple will spend time rubbing elbows with officials throughout the region, including Mayor Michelle Wu and Ambassador to Australia Caroline Kennedy.
And while there are no “obligatory codes of behavior” when meeting a member of the royal family, according to their official website, many people do “wish to observe the traditional forms.”
Local officials were mum this week when asked whether they received training about royal protocol. And a spokeswoman for the British Consulate General in Boston wouldn’t say if they advised anyone about etiquette or sent out guidelines before the royals arrived.
But two experts on royal etiquette — Myka Meier, the founder of Beaumont Etiquette; and Shannon Felton Spence, the former head of politics and communications at the British Consulate General of New England — said that several unnamed people who will cross paths with William and Kate had reached out and asked for help ahead of this week’s events.
“All of these officials would have gotten a brief” about etiquette, Spence said. “Their team would have put together a brief, the consulate would have put together a brief, and so there shouldn’t be any situation where somebody’s going to be embarrassed because they do the wrong thing.”
The consulate in particular has a vested interest in making sure the visit goes smoothly and that all parties walk away feeling valued, so will have made sure that everyone is well-prepared, she said.
So what will they need to know, exactly?
When greeting a member of the royal family, officials should use their formal titles as a form of respect, said Meier, who was trained on etiquette in London under a former member of The Royal Household of Her Majesty the Queen. For William and Kate, this would mean addressing them with “Your Royal Highness,” and following up with “ma’am” for the princess and “sir” for the prince.
Experts said while it would have been normal to bow when meeting Queen Elizabeth II, younger royals like William and Kate don’t expect that level of deference — especially since the couple will be visiting the United States, where “we do not curtsy or bow,” Meier said.
A simple handshake, in most cases, will do. But under no circumstance should an official “stick out [their] hand first for them to shake it,” Spence stressed.
“You are allowed to shake their hand if they offer you theirs, but you’re not supposed to do it first,” she said.
Most officials should be prepared for their interactions with William and Kate to last only 10 seconds or so, since they have so many people to meet, Spence said. But the royals have “mastered a way of making sure that [the conversation] feels quite natural.”
And when it comes to attire, don’t believe everything you see in the movies, she added.
Despite popular belief, experts said wearing a decorative or fancy hat isn’t necessary. Unless an occasion calls for it, Spence said, “hats are really a daytime piece of attire for the Brits.”
However, officials should adhere to a certain dress code — from business to smart casual — depending on the type of event they’re attending. Invitations will likely have outlined what “people are supposed to wear,” Spence said.
“It’s even more important when you’re dealing with the royals because you don’t want to be mismatched in your level of attire and theirs, and also everything is going to be photographed,” she said.
In modern times, it’s not just handshakes and hats that officials might be thinking about: there’s also the selfie. But should officials snap one with William or Kate in hopes of capturing a viral moment?
Definitely not — unless a royal offers to take a photo with them, Meier said. Asking for an autograph, or touching them (outside of a handshake) should also be avoided.
Although both William and Kate take a more “relaxed and modern approach to their royal duties,” said Liz Wyse, an etiquette advisor at Debrett’s, a British company that offers information about meeting royalty, people would be well advised to just follow the couple’s lead when they meet them.
“The main emphasis would be on being polite and respectful,” she said. “They are used to people being nervous when they meet them, and are very good at ignoring any signs of nerves.”
“They’re real people, and they understand that there are intercultural differences,” she said. “And so they will be very flexible and understanding.”
Either way, Joe Curtatone, president of the Northeast Clean Energy Council, who will meet the couple at Greentown Labs in Somerville Thursday, isn’t too worried about getting it wrong.
“I don’t think anyone comes to Boston to experience perfect manners,” the former Somerville mayor said in a statement. “It seems like what Prince William and Princess Kate care about is the climate crisis that threatens our entire planet.”