Sarko and Carla visited L’Angleterre last week and of course images of the odd couple took up more space in the UK’s newspapers than reports of Zimbabwean election-rigging, Hilary-slamming, and new revelations of the brain cancer-mobile phones link put together. Actually, the rags showed only a few token pictures of Sarko in his platforms, and devoted most space to “Carlamania”: Carla in the seven outfits she wore during her two-day visit, Carla kissing the prime minister, Carla offering her dainty hand to the prince’s puckered lips, Carla tucking her dainty ankles under her chair on the cover of The Independent, Carla apparently having spent much effort not to out-glam the traditionally sub-chic wives of English politicians. Carla curtsying like a shy schoolgirl to the queen.
It is the last pose I mentioned, or rather the exaltation of praise from the mags on her impeccable manners and proper respect for British protocol with that picture as the exemplary image, qui me derange.
Why should the wife of the President of the Republic of France curtsy to the Queen of England? I’ve asked several Britons this, and most of them, in an attempt, I assume, to avoid a discussion of the modern relevance of feudal custom, said that the curtsy is foremost a gesture of respect for the great age of the hardy monarch. However, I know that this is la merde de la vache, parce que if 40 year-old Carla Bruni were meeting another head of state—say the US had an 85 year old female president (Ayez l’imagination!)—she would not curtsy. She would accept the aged figurehead’s offered hand for a business-like shake, perhaps dip her head a bit. She would not bend at the knees, she would not diminute her super model frame in a gesture of subordinance, however brief, to the leader of a foreign nation. It is not the queen’s age, but her status, which requires one to symbolically demonstrate the recognition of that status in one’s physicality.
But first of all, why should status transfer between the citizenries of different nations? Elizabeth II is not Carla Bruni’s queen. I’m not suggesting the French first lady should have spit on the ground before the English throne, but why should she be required to perform the same obeisance as would a subject to that throne?
Secondly, as ridiculous as this might sound, considering Elizabeth II had already been referring to herself in the royal “we” for over a decade before the Bruni was born, as well as that half a year ago Bruni was no more connected to politics than well, your average aging model-turned-pop singer, but as wife of the president of the republic of France, she’s technically, if not historically or in the affections of the public, equal in rank to the queen. One could argue that this isn’t so since she is the wife of, but is not herself, the head of the French government, but then neither is the queen the head of British government—the prime minister is. Nobody curtsies to Gordon Brown.
Is it all so simple as that she was visiting the queen on British soil and was therefore obliged to act according to British custom? I’m trying to imagine the queen visiting the French leader and his new wife on Rue St. Honoré, and I just can’t imagine her submitting her royal form to any attitudes of deference. And in that case, would Bruni once again curtsy in the same way I did when I was about to perform the twinkly-toes dance in ballet class when I was five? It just seems so undignified.