Obeisance is not a word that is often used in Britain today or even thought about. There may even be people who have no idea what it means. Effectively it means allegiance, homage or respect and this ancient manner of displaying respect to anyone in an authoritative position will always be seen wherever the Queen and members of the Royal Family are present.
At a royal event, when people are presented to the Queen, ladies will curtsey and gentlemen will bow. In today’s society it is no longer essential to do this but it has become so much a part of tradition that everyone still does.
Etiquette classes for curtseying and bowing
In years gone by young ladies were taught to curtsey as a matter of course but nowadays many women will perform curtseys in front of a mirror to practice for a visit to the Palace the next day. However, there are etiquette classes available in renowned finishing schools or dance schools in London where ladies can learn the perfect bob. Indeed, anyone who has taken ballet lessons will find it much easier to learn how to curtsey. One such dance school is Vacani’s where the Queen and her sister Princess Margaret learned to dance when they were children. And of course, children can learn to bow or curtsey properly at Niche Etiquette Children.
In many respects, it is actually much better for ladies or girls to take etiquette classes rather than do a quick practice the night before because although it may look simple, the curtsey is not as easy a manoeuvre as you might imagine. To curtsey properly, you need to lower yourself to the floor whilst simultaneously shaking hands with Her Majesty and when you have got it right it looks very graceful and elegant. However, if you don’t get it right you can topple over and look incredibly foolish in front of the Queen, something I am sure all ladies would choose to avoid. The curtsey does not have to be low and sweeping; a short bob is more than sufficient
Men and boys only have to bow but there is protocol in this simple act. If you were visiting Japan and meeting the Emperor it would be expected that you bow from the waist. In Britain, when meeting Her Majesty it’s more of a deep nod, bringing your neck slight forward and head down as far as it will go. And it’s done very quickly.
When to courtesy or bow
When to courtesy or bow is also a consideration. For example, if you are attending a Royal event by invitation you would perform it when presented to the Queen or when she passed you. However if you were at a state funeral attended by the Queen you would curtsey or bow as the Queen or members of the Royal Family pass you, on their way to their seats in church; and also when they leave. The Royal Household will always be more than happy to advise you should you have any doubts about the etiquette of obeisance.
If you have any questions about social etiquette in any sphere I am always available to help.
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