Meeting the Queen is a complicated thing. You have to curtsy, you can’t extend a hand before she extends hers, you can’t pick up food before she does, and you definitely, most certainly, never, ever are allowed to attempt to hug or kiss her. Which is why it caused quite the hilarious stir yesterday across the pond when Her Royal Highness half-embraced Michelle Obama. Nearly the entire nation simultaneously snarfed their English Breakfast. And then, the unthinkable happened: Michelle hugged her back.
A breathless eyewitness explains to the Daily Mail:
“There was a bit of a bottleneck as all of the leaders filed out so the Queen started chatting to Michelle Obama. She appeared to look up at her and make a comment about how tall she was. As she did, she put her arm around Mrs Obama and rested her gloved hand on the small of her back. Almost simultaneously, Mrs Obama put her arm around the Queen’s shoulders rather more firmly. The pair then looked at their feet and appeared to be discussing their shoes. The Queen then dropped her arm and, a few seconds later, Michelle did the same. The entire exchange lasted around eight to ten seconds but was absolutely extraordinary.
It is believed to be the first time in the 57 years of her reign that Elizabeth of England has ever performed such a gesture. It is against protocol to touch the Queen unless she touches you first.
Earlier in the day, the Queen and her husband, Prince Phillip, gave the First Couple their traditional gift of a signed, silver-framed portrait of themselves. The Obamas responded by presenting the Queen with an iPod programmed with some of his speeches, a video of her last visit to the the United States, show tunes (her favorite) and also an extremely rare playbill signed by Richard Rodgers. Prince Phillip, after hearing about Obama’s morning of meetings with Asian continental leaders, cracked: “How could you tell them apart?” Which, in retrospect, might be why his wife later felt it necessary to make such a colossal gesture of friendliness to the wife of America’s first minority president. But still!
UPDATE: An earlier version of this post referred to Elizabeth II as the Queen of England, much to commenters’ dismay. We regret the error, and from now on will only refer to her by her proper title: Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas Queen, Defender of the Faith, Duchess of Edinburgh, Countess of Merioneth, Baroness Greenwich, Duke of Lancaster, Lord of Mann, Duke of Normandy, Sovereign of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath, Sovereign of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle, Sovereign of the Most Illustrious Order of Saint Patrick, Sovereign of the Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George, Sovereign of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, Sovereign of the Distinguished Service Order, Sovereign of the Imperial Service Order, Sovereign of the Most Exalted Order of the Star of India, Sovereign of the Most Eminent Order of the Indian Empire, Sovereign of the Order of British India, Sovereign of the Indian Order of Merit, Sovereign of the Order of Burma, Sovereign of the Royal Order of Victoria and Albert, Sovereign of the Royal Family Order of King Edward VII, Sovereign of the Order of Mercy, Sovereign of the Order of Merit, Sovereign of the Order of the Companions of Honour, Sovereign of the Royal Victorian Order, Sovereign of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem.