Can I Just Tell You?

Can I Just Tell You?Can I Just Tell You?

NPR's Michel Martin gives a distinct take on news and issues

Enter the Queen

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Queen Elizabeth's visit to the United States has those who are preparing to meet her observing strict do's and don'ts. Are we more concerned about respecting royalty than we are about respecting ourselves? In her commentary, Michel Martin weighs in.


Every now and again when I have something on my mind, I like to talk about it in a commentary. And today I have the Queen of England on my mind - or rather, the reaction to her visit. In case you didn't know, Queen Elizabeth II has been in the U.S. all weekend. It's her first official visit since 1957, although she's apparently sneaked in a couple of times to visit friends and check out some horses.

She started in Jamestown, Virginia, Thursday, for the 400th anniversary of the first permanent English settlement. She went to the Kentucky Derby over the weekend. She's in Washington tonight for a white-tie state dinner at the White House. White tie, of course, is the ultra, ultra fancy formal dress up affair. You get to pull out your biggest jewels - if you have any - and your medals and decorations. Don't feel bad if you've never been to one. This is the first one the Bush administration has ever had, and the last one held here was by President Clinton for King Juan Carlos of Spain.

I'm not hating - it's the president and first lady's job to put on the dog for the visiting swells, especially other heads of state. But what's getting on my nerves is all the instructions we commoners have been receiving from our national and local media on how to behave in her majesty's presence. Should we be honored to breathe the same air?

There's been an ongoing stream of reports on what to say, what to wear, when to offer the hand, when not to, whether one must bow or curtsy. Short answer - no, we're Americans. Hats were worn for live shots by female reporters covering the derby, which, if you didn't know, is a horserace. Excuse me? When is the last time anyone offered all these instruction on how we should treat each other? Why is it more important so show off our wardrobes and exquisite manners to somebody who comes once every 50 years than it is to maintain some measure of common courtesy to the people who live here everyday? That would be us, your fellow Americans.

How about some ongoing reminders to offer your seat to a pregnant woman on the bus, or to not wear your dirty flip-flops to work, or not to yell on your cell phone so loudly we get all the details of your custody arrangements with your ex? Now, of course, American informality is one of the things we like about ourselves, and it is, frankly, one of the things many of our foreign visitors appreciate about us. And being mindful of other people's customs is a gesture of respect for them.

It's a good way to make everybody feel comfortable. That's what good hosts to do. But can I just tell you? All these bowing and scraping over how to be correct for the queen when a lot of us here haven't mastered the art of the thank-you note or sending an RSVP - well, that's just embarrassing. We're not colonials anymore, people. We are the world's sole remaining superpower. Let's act like it. Put the hat away, get out the stationery and send a thank-you note to your grandmother.

(Soundbite of song, "The Fifth of Beethoven")

MARTIN: This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Thanks for listening. Let's talk more tomorrow. I'm Michel Martin.

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Can I Just Tell You?

Can I Just Tell You?Can I Just Tell You?

NPR's Michel Martin gives a distinct take on news and issues