Postscript to yesterday’s offering:
An American reader asked me why I didn’t write, near the beginning of yesterday’s post, my husband and I decided (because she thought that my use of we was awkward and ambiguous; when your friends are editors, you have these kinds of conversations).
Here’s why I didn’t do that: over here, that phrase is a big a joke. Over here, everybody knows that the person famous for starting off a bit of verbiage with my husband and I is Her Majesty the Queen.
Documentaries include clips of her saying it; comedians make jokes about it; every impressionist who imitates the queen works the phrase my husband and I into the routine. If you innocently say my husband and I over a drink at the pub, you’re likely to get some ribbing.
Maybe she works as hard to avoid using we when she’s off-duty as the rest of us do to avoid my husband and I all the time. Because when the queen says we, she could be referring to herself in the role of the personification of the country, that is, using the royal we, also called the Victorian we and the majestic plural. (Technically, this is nosism, which means using we to refer to oneself.)
And no impression of the queen would be complete without the phrase Did you come far? Apparently that’s her all-purpose question when meeting the public; it has the advantages of implying a polite interest in the other party while being apolitical, completely inoffensive, and easy to answer. Her Majesty is nothing if not diplomatic. Presumably when she meets residents of hospitals, children’s homes and the like, she has a backup question ready.
When we first looked into moving over here, I happened onto some advice from a British ex-pat for fellow-countrymen moving to the USA. He suggested that Americans’ inexplicable attitude to their flag makes more sense if you think that Americans feel towards the flag the way the British feel towards the queen.
Most people do seem to feel affectionate towards her, although there are lots of republicans, too—republican meaning, over here, someone who thinks we should get rid of the monarchy. Still, even republicans seem to show the queen a certain respect in person, although in print, anything goes. For starters, cartoonists and satirists refer to her as Brenda, and I’ve never figured out why; one suggestion is that it takes her down a peg to have a name common (as it were) in the working class.
Once I explained all this, the reader suggested I could use my husband’s name, if I explained who I was talking about, and so make the whole thing more clear without using my husband and I. Why didn’t I just write Ernest, my husband, and I? But that makes it sound as if, as Princess Diana famously said, there are three people in this marriage, and I don’t really want to go there.