President Obama and First Lady Michelle recently visited the queen of England in Buckingham Palace. Although the event obviously took place in England, for me it was yet another “only in America” event. In what other country could Michelle and Barack Obama come from where they were born and raised and end up visiting the queen? If you used that time machine you have in the garage, and went back a few decades and were driving through the Southside of Chicago or the streets of Honolulu, and you pointed to young Michelle and/or young Barack and you told your passenger, “Some day he (or she) is going to have a private audience with Queen Elizabeth,” you would have been put away faster than you could say, “totally delusional.” But there they were in Buckingham palace.
We Americans probably have even more affection for the institution of the British monarchy than the Brits themselves. Part of the charm of places like the Britannia Pub and Ye Olde King’s Head is that they are foreign, but not too foreign. We wouldn’t want to have a king or queen, but we think it’s great that they do. We love the tradition, the pomp, even the absurdity of it. Most of us will never get to meet the queen mum, so we can only enjoy a visit with her majesty vicariously, as with the president’s recent visit.
I know I did. I couldn’t help thinking what it would be like for me to be in Buckingham Palace shaking hands with the queen and Prince Phillip. Barack and Michelle are far more sophisticated than I am, but there had to be at least a moment of, “Can you believe we’re actually going to visit the queen?” Which, if they’re like most couples, was probably followed up by, “Yes, but what I can’t believe is that you’re wearing that tie to Buckingham Palace.”
I can imagine my wife giving me last-minute advice in the car. “Now, not everyone in the world cares about basketball. Don’t ask the queen if she had a good bracket for the Final Four.”
When we pulled up to the palace, I’d be struck by a moment of panic when I’d turn to my wife and ask, “Are you sure this is the right night? Check the invitation. What if we messed up and it’s next week?”
Once actually in the queen’s presence, I don’t think I’d be able to resist asking her what we’d all like to ask her: “What’s up with the purse? You carry it wherever you go, and you clutch onto it for dear life. You’ve got a zillion guards. Who do you think is going to steal your purse?”
And if there were a lull in the conversation -— because I wasn’t bringing up basketball — it’s just possible I’d say, “So, your majesty, it doesn’t look like the recession has hurt you at all. Just look at this place, your majesty. Your job is pretty secure, isn’t it?”
Sticking with tradition, the Obamas and the royal couple exchanged gifts. If you ask me, there’s a good chance that both couples will be “re-gifting” these items around Christmas. The president and his wife gave the queen an iPod and a book of songs signed by Richard Rodgers. I would’ve gone for something more personal — a bottle of wine from our basement, maybe flowers from our garden, possibly some home-baked mandel bread. The queen gave the Obamas a silver-framed portrait of her and her husband. In my fantasy, I have enough self control to wait until I get back to the car before asking the question, “Who gives a picture of themselves as a gift?”
Knowing me, sometime during the visit, I’d probably try to show off my knowledge of the British language. As I ignore my wife’s dirty looks, I’d say something like, “I was really brassed off by all the traffic on the way here from our flat. The Bobbies stopped all the lorries because some bloke nicked someone’s breakfast bangers. Which way to the bloomin’ loo?”
I guess what this all means is that President Obama and Michelle suggest that everyone in America can grow up and meet the queen. I, on the other hand, suggest, “not everyone.”
Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from “Sesame Street” to “Family Ties” to “Home Improvement” to “Frasier.” He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out his Web site at lloydgarver.com and his podcasts on iTunes.