Saturday, May 5, 2007

Speaking of Queens....

I have just met the Queen. Of Belgium that is. I was doing my annual stint on the ECHO stand at the Berlaymont for Open Day, which I always enjoy, when along come a six-camera media circus, a flash of photographers, and an assortment of large men in dark suits milling around our Commissioner, Louis Michel, and her Majesty Queen Paola of the Belgians. Sans tiara, in case you're wondering.

My fellow Brit colleague S and I, trained (in my case from my earliest youth by my Hyacinth Bucket of a mother) for the elaborate protocol of dealing with the doyenne of all monarchs, our Second Elizabeth, stood to attention and smiled tightly. When you are British, you do not speak to royalty unless they speak to you first, you do not offer a hand to shake unless theirs is extended. If invited to shake hands, one rips off a small bow or half-curtsey, which I had been a bit nervous about as my balance is still a little unreliable and I had worries of keeling over and bringing down the whole stand, pamphlets and postcards fountaining up and out in a mushroom cloud of information, which would not have been very elegant, would have shamed my mother forever, and furthermore would almost certainly have violated protocol.

Our non-Brit colleague Su, though, seemed unaware of such restrictions. She launched into an explanation of our activities, repeatedly calling the Queen's attention back for a further sentence or two (unbidden! the horror! we Brits curled into small mummified versions of ourselves), and then presented her Majesty with one of our rather classy jute rucksack bags, stuffed with pamphlets featuring our most photogenic beneficiairies and all in her native Italian. Her Majesty was somewhat nonplussed at being offered such an item, which apparently no other stand had had the gall to try doing. She turned to her retinue and made a help! gesture, whereupon the Commissioner scooped it up and handed it to a senior official. We have no idea where it went, but at least it didn't come back.

All I can say is it's a good thing we weren't all Brits behind that stand, otherwise the Belgian Queen would have thought Europe's entire humanitarian aid effort was staffed by wan, tight-smiled mutes.

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