Royal Roundup: Row Over the Bow, or, Case of the Missing Curtsy

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, left, meets the Queen, Oct. 19. (John Stillwell/AP Images)

Who would have thought that the omission of a curtsy to the Queen would have caused an uproar in a country as informal and easygoing as Australia?

As we reported yesterday — and then expected to hear the end of it — Australian Prime Minister Prime Minister Julia Gillard did not curtsy when she met the Queen on her arrival at Canberra’s RAAF Fairbairn airfield. Also not curtsying was Australian Capital Territory Chief Minister Katy Gallagher.

Both women pointed out that it was perfectly acceptable protocol to bow their heads and shake hands with the Queen, which is what they did.

But listening to some of the self-proclaimed etiquette experts in Australia, you’d think that the two women high-fived the Queen, or spray-painted her.

“Forget the Republic,” wrote Adelaide Now, “the nation’s great debate has shifted to the curtsy.”

Etiquette-watcher June Dally-Watkins said, “I thought it was really hilarious and of course very rude. It’s a matter of paying courtesy to a queen, to the Queen.”

“I understand she thinks we should ditch the monarchy,” said Matthew Archer of the Victorian branch of the Australian Monarchists League, “but it’s just a sign of courtesy, it actually would be a sign of respect.”

From England, defender of royal etiquette William Hanson, speaking to a Sydney radio station, told an Australian audience: “She is your prime minister, she is representing the people, but the Queen tops her, so as a sign of respect, whatever her opinion on the monarchy is, she should have curtseyed.”

Hanson continued: “You’re not making some grand gesture that’s going to shake it to its core. It’s just a bit churlish not to do it.”

According to the Daily Mail, Hanson also said that Gillard should have worn a hat.

Again, both Gillard and Gallagher said that their greetings had observed proper protocol, though they were silent on the issue of hats.

There were, in fact, plenty of royal etiquette experts who defended a simple bow and handshake.

Melbourne’s Herald Sun wrote: “Royal experts in London hailed the PM’s decision not to curtsy as a sign Australia was catching up with the modern monarchy.”

The Herald Sun quoted London royal watcher Richard Fitzwilliams as saying: “Times have changed. Curtsying is entirely optional now.”

In fact, the Queen’s own website supported Gillard’s and Gallagher’s etiquette choices. Although many people choose traditional forms of greeting royals — a small curtsy for women, a neck bow for men — the website said, “The simple answer is that there are no obligatory codes of behaviour — just courtesy.”

On Friday morning (that’s Canberra time), Gillard again met with the Queen, this time at the Government House.

The Prime Minister again bowed, twice this time, and shook the Queen’s hand. During their discussion, according to The Australian, the Queen noted that the flower show she visited the day before was very popular.

”I suspect it was more popular because you were there,” replied Gillard.

Whatever royal etiquette experts may say, it doesn’t get more courteous than that.