How the Queen Talks

By: Garrett M. Graff

The lament about conversations at Washington cocktail parties is that they all start the same way: “What do you do?”

We’re inclined to expect royalty to be more erudite, more eloquent.

The question of what to say to Queen Elizabeth II during her visit here preoccupied many who had the chance to meet the monarch who has ruled for half a century. At her garden party at the British ambassador’s residence, the chosen elite mostly played it safe. Guests asked about her experience at the Kentucky Derby, expressed honor at being in her presence, or thanked her government for some assistance.

It was with no small degree of surprise I found her speaking to me. After David Manning, the British ambassador, introduced her to the businessman next to me and they discussed transatlantic cooperation, the queen—officially “Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith”—turned and, peering up at me from under her bright-pink hat, broke the ice. “And you,” she said in her royal British accent, “what do you do?”