Dating from the days of Queen Victoria of England, afternoon garden tea parties with over 8,000 guests each have been given annually at Buckingham Palace with Queen Elizabeth II carrying on the tradition even today. It’s an occasion for wearing nice dresses and suits, white cotton gloves, and even hats. But what if you were to have a private tea time with Her Royal Highness? There are at least ten things to remember at such a time.
1 Dress appropriately.
You don’t have to go out and spends hundreds or thousands of dollars on an outfit. Just wear something nice, not too revealing, and rather tame in coloration. Flame red or eye-popping orange are best for other, more lively, and less solemn occasions, such as celebrating that bunion removal.
2 Don’t gawk.
You’re quite likely to see some very lovely things at Buckingham Palace as you are escorted from the main entrance to the Queen’s private sitting room. If you walk along behind your escort with your head tilted up, your eyes bugging out, and your mouth hanging open, not only will you look like a total Cretin, but you will quite likely bump into something or trip over something or run into your escort and knock her/him over. Not an auspicious beginning to any tea time, especially one in such regal surroundings.
3 Know the proper form of greeting.
First, keep in mind that no one sits while the Queen is standing. Not sure why, but just keep it in mind. (Note: Those in wheelchairs are, naturally, exempted from this rule.) When introduced, a slight bow or curtsy is sufficient (no need to overdo it, as some folks in the news lately have done, and bow half bent over or curtsy to the ground) and a simple “Your Majesty” or “Your Royal Highness” will suffice. She will extend her hand (a good thing you didn’t indulge in those sticky candies on the ride over), and you accept with a light touch, then let go (no stand-up arm wrestling, vigorous arm pumping, or gorilla handshakes here). You’ll usually all sit then (the Queen first) and chat a bit.
4 Keep the conversation light.
She will usually introduce a topic for discussion. That way you won’t bring up something she has no knowledge of. It’s not nice to show up the Queen with your superior knowledge of moths or collecting Matchbox cars or the intricacies of modern-day plumbing. And remember that what you talk about with Her Majesty is just between the two of you. No running to blab to the tabloids.
5 Decide up front how you want your tea.
The Queen as hostess will most likely pour the tea, or possibly an attendant will. Either way, the pourer will ask if you want lemon or milk and sugar. You’ll need to know up front if you want any or not. Personally, I’d go for the milk and sugar and hope for the best. The most likely teas to be served are a version of Earl Grey or a black tea blend. Both will be enhanced by the addition of milk and sugar.
6 Don’t slurp.
This is a social event, not a professional tea tasting. No slurping, swishing, and spitting. While we’re at it, don’t talk with your mouth full or you’ll end up spitting cake and scone crumbs about the room, getting them into the nap of the royal carpet or between the cushions of the royal settee. Other bodily noises should be minimized as best as you can — sneezes, coughs, snorty laughs, and…uh…well, you know!
7 Leave the bib at home.
Bibs are not really tea time attire. If you dribble or drop crumbs, oh well, we’re all human. But do try your best to avoid such happenstances. It helps to take small bites, chew thoroughly, and swallow, then take small sips of tea and swallow carefully so as not to have any going down the wrong opening in the back of your throat (one leads to the tummy, the other leads to choking and gasping in a very undignified manner).
8 Know how to handle your teacup and saucer properly.
- When stirring, do not clang the teaspoon against the sides of the teacup, but rather just move it back and forth a couple of times and then place it on your saucer.
- When seated at a table, you raise only the teacup and place it back on the saucer between sips.
- If it’s a buffet tea (such as the large tea party given annually at Buckingham Palace), hold the saucer in your lap with your left hand and hold the teacup in your right hand (if you’re left-handed, oh well!). In between sips, place the teacup back in the saucer and hold both in your lap.
- Waving or holding your tea cup in the air should never be done unless you all are watching a soccer match and England’s team scores.
9 Don’t ask “Where’s the Royal Restroom?”
Actually, once the Queen has sat down, tea time has begun, and you should not leave the room before she does. However, she is an understanding sort and will be obliging if you really really really need to go (just ask for the “powder room”). It’s best, though, to take care of this before heading out to the palace.
10 Don’t overstay you’re welcome.
When the Queen stops eating, so should you. When the tea time is over, she will rise from her chair, and so should you (no one sits while she stands). A simple “Your Majesty” will serve as your goodbyes. Your escort will reappear silently and show you back to the main entrance (or, if you egregiously went against one of the items listed above, a couple of those red-coated, tall black furry hat wearing guards will show up to lead you to alternate accommodations that might not be too comfy).
So much for royal tea times. Time to get back to reality and have a nice, normal tea time where you can slurp, spew crumbs, stand when you want, eat as much as you want, etc. In other words, time to head home!
Tea Traditions — Buckingham Palace Tea
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