The Queen’s Chinese Guests from Hell

NEW YORK – “Her Majesty’s a pretty nice girl, but she doesn’t have a lot to say,” Paul McCartney sang nearly a half-century ago. Now, in her 90th year, Queen Elizabeth II suddenly seems determined to put the lie to that idea.

At a spring garden party on the grounds of Buckingham Palace – the most genteel of settings imaginable – the British monarch recently laid into the entourage that accompanied Chinese President Xi Jinping to London on his 2015 state visit. In a recorded conversation with a Metropolitan police commander, Lucy D’Orsi, the queen called Chinese officials “very rude,” and expressed sympathy for D’Orsi’s “bad luck” in having to deal with them.

For one thing, according to D’Orsi, Chinese officials walked out of one meeting in London with her and Barbara Woodward, the British ambassador to China, threatening to call off the entire visit. As for the queen, her joint ride down London’s Mall with Xi in a horse-drawn carriage was apparently nearly crashed by a Chinese security official posing as an official translator.

Of course, cultural clashes during high-level international visits are not out of the ordinary. In 2009, when US First Lady Michelle Obama briefly placed her hand on the queen’s back during a reception, the British media snorted that one must never touch the sovereign unless she extends her hand. George W. Bush was criticized for following a misstatement in a 2007 speech with a wink in the queen’s direction. (Perhaps only the emperor of Japan expects foreign leaders to follow more painstakingly detailed rituals.)