As the romance between Prince Harry and his American girlfriend Meghan Markle continues to go strong, fans — okay, us — are hoping for another royal wedding on the horizon. Although the Suits star has already proven she has natural charisma, compassion and grace, there are a few small yet important etiquette lessons that any future princess would likely have to master before kicking it with Queen Elizabeth II.
To find out how a non-royal can get princess-ready without the aid of a fairy godmother, we attended the Plaza Hotel Finishing Program with Beaumont Etiquette to enlist the help of Beaumont Etiquette founder and expert in all things proper, Myka Meier. In a duchess-worthy suite at the famed Plaza Hotel in New York City, Meier walked us through how-to of becoming
1. Sit Like a Lady
Meier instructs that the proper way to sit is with an “egg’s width of distance” between the back of the chair and your back. In addition, your chin should be parallel to the floor (and your back straight, of course) with your hands folded in your lap. Never cross your legs at the knee, instead opting to either keep your ankles and knees together or crossing your ankles if it feels more comfortable. Meier also suggests employing “the duchess slant” when sitting (i.e., slanting your knees to one side) as it can create a flattering silhouette and can be more comfortable for the long-legged among us.
The “duchess slant” is inspired by Princess Kate, who often sits with her legs slanted to the side. (Her late mother-in-law, Princess Diana, was also a fan of the pose.)
2. Time for Tea
The Suits actress already hinted at “tea time” with her boyfriend, and as a royal she would be expected to take part in many afternoon teas — not to be confused with “high tea,” which, despite its lofty name is more of a casual meal. Meier explains that the royal family love their afternoon teas, which are filled with finger-foods like sandwiches, pastries and scones.
To properly hold your cup, Meier advises pinching the top of the handle with your thumb and index finger, with your middle finger supporting the bottom of the handle. She also explains that the handle of the cup should always be kept at 3 o’clock and you should try to take sip from the same spot to avoid getting lipstick stains around the rim. (This sipping-on-the-same-spot rule applies to whatever you’re drinking, not just tea.)
While you aren’t likely to use cutlery during tea (aside from the occasional butter knife), Americans typically hold their forks in the right hand, tines up, and only hold the knife to cut. However, royals eat the Continental way, holding their forks in the left hand, tines down, and the knife in the right. You also never put down your utensils while eating unless you need to take a drink or use the restroom, at which point you cross your silverware on your plate to let the wait staff know you aren’t finished eating.
Holding the silverware can be trickier than it looks. (Our princess stand-in and PEOPLE writer-reporter Char Adams said it was the most difficult lesson to master.) Both utensils should be held pinched between the thumb and middle finger with the index finger extended on the top of the utensil as support.
Once you’ve gotten a grip on your cutlery, there’s still more. Meier says that “ladies of leisure” will spear their food with their fork and keep the tines facing down while bringing the morsel up to their mouths. However, a royal wouldn’t spear her food and would instead balance her cut food on the top of her tines as she brings it up to her mouth. It’s tricky, which probably explains why only royals bother doing it. Just avoid ordering peas!
3. A Royal Greeting
One of the British royals’ biggest jobs is going on official engagements — and that means greeting, and charming, thousands of people each year. Luckily, the etiquette is simple: make direct eye contact, give a firm handshake (avoid more than two pumps) and smile.
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Kate rarely uses purses on her engagements, instead choosing a small clutch if she is carries anything at all. The clutch can also help keeping proper posture while walking and chatting, as it gives you a place to put your hands (both hands grasping the clutch with a slight space between your fingers). If you aren’t holding a clutch, Meier recommends clasping your hands together as if you are sitting.
As for greeting friends, Meier says that cheek-kissing is common among the well-heeled Brits, but there are rules for that as well. Don’t actually kiss the person’s cheek, don’t make an overly loud kissing noise or a dramatic MWAH and know your audience — most Europeans do two kisses but the Swiss typically do three.
4. Curtsy Queen
While Markle would likely be using the above greetings with most of the royal family, she would still be expected to curtsy in more formal situations. Meier says that the curtsy should be subtle — a ballerina curtsy this is not — but the deeper and longer you pause shows more respect and formality. To curtsy, Meier instructs placing one leg behind the other (whichever one is more comfortable for you) and bowing your head slightly while bending your knees.
It’s rare to see the royals curtsy to one another outside of extremely formal situations, and even then they usually only curtsy to the Queen. However, Markle would be expected to curtsy to the Queen, Prince Philip, Prince Charles, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, Prince William and Kate. She would also be expected to curtsy to “royal princesses” like Anne, Beatrice and Eugenie if Harry wasn’t with her. (Although she’s royal-by-birth, Zara Tindall does not have a princess title so Markle wouldn’t be required to curtsy to her.) She would also be expected to curtsy to any foreign royals who out-rank her.
5. Car Care
Gracefully exiting a car can sometime be difficult, especially if you are wearing a skirt and photographers are parked right outside the car door. Meier suggests that the best way to elegantly get out of a car is the “swivel and pop” — first you position yourself at the end of your seat and as close to the door as possible, then you place both hands behind yourself and use them to support yourself as you turn (with ankles and knees together!) to place your feet outside the car. The final move — the pop — is as you stand and exit the car, looking photo-ready.
If you have a handbag, Meier says that you should place it on the seat next to you before employing the “swivel and pop.” Then, after you stand , you gracefully reach back into the car (without turning around) to get your bag.
6. Step by Step
As for getting down stairs, Meier says that Harry would likely be aware of helping Markle walk down any stairs in her path, especially in a formal situation. But, even if she doesn’t have a prince to help her, the rules of descending are simple. Meier says you should keep your chin parallel, back straight and hand by your side. If you need to use the banister, Meier instructs that you should simply rest your hand on it (not grip) and keep your toes pointed toward the banister as you walk down.
Even if you aren’t planning on being a princess, Meier’s etiquette tips can help anyone looking to infuse a little royal grace into their daily life. But we’re still holding out hope for a royal wedding!
Model: Char Adams
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