PRINCE Charles and Princess Diana are coming to call, and we have only a week to polish our curtseys and generally get our royal act together. It's later than you think -- maybe 200 years too late. Let's be frank. We Colonials have an attitude problem. Like all revolutions, our revolution led us simultaneously to overrate and underrate what we overthrew. One knee involuntarily genuflects. One side of the mouth involuntarily sneers. We are in a royal state of democratic confusion.
The monarchy has had its behavior toward plebeians down pat since William the Conqueror. It's time we plebeians codified, or at least clarified, our posture toward the royal them. Perhaps the way to begin is to examine the prejudices we somewhat meanly cherish -- those sneers.
Prejudice No. 1: All members of the royal family dislike public life, and are quite unsuited for it. Years of tutoring have barely qualified them to launch a ship. They have a gift neither for making speeches nor for making small talk. They're terrible at remembering names, and worse at remembering faces. Whenever they are among their subjects -- or anybody else's subjects, for that matter -- they long to be alone with their dogs.
Prejudice No. 2: If they show little skill for public life, members of the royal family have even less aptitude for private life. They are notably lacking in intellectual and aesthetic interests. They do ride horses rather well, though occasionally they fall off. That doesn't change the expression on their faces. All Princes of Wales feel obliged to be playboys, after the weary, grumpy manner of the Duke of Windsor. Fun isn't much fun, their faces say, but it's what a Prince of Wales is supp osed to do.
Prejudice No. 3: Royal marriages are chill cases of diplomatic duty done -- the staid embrace as foreign policy. A reputed love match like Victoria and Albert is only the exception that proves the rule. And what did they see in each other, anyway?
Prejudice No. 4: Rather than looking ``every inch a king'' (or queen), royalty is a dowdy lot, with fancies in fashion that run either to the frumpy or the flamboyant -- or both. Mannequins the members of the royal family may be, but they are irresolute ones. In particular, the men, though often kindly, are weak. The only strong characters in the palace are queen mothers.
The sneers curl on and on -- so predictable, so banal, applied with only the slightest variation to generation after generation. If we generalized this way about the ``working class,'' we would be ashamed of ourselves. How we condescend toward royalty!
To free oneself from pettiness is never a petty task. One week won't do it. But we commoners can try to take them, one prince and princess at a time, distinguishing between what should be blamed (or praised) for being royal and what should be blamed (or praised) for quite different reasons.
Consider the other case of visiting royalty -- Prince Naruhito of Japan, the grandson of Emperor Hirohito and an Oxford student, who was in Cambridge, Mass., last week, shopping at the Harvard Coop. The Prince bought a Mozart recording, six Harvard notebooks, two Harvard sweat shirts, and one Harvard mug. But what all the sneerers are going to remember about Harvard's prince-for-a-day is the least of his purchases -- a poster of Brooke Shields. You can just see the pop-culture analysts at work: ``Japane se prince enshrines American `princess.' ''
Nonsense. Wrong hierarchy. The royalty here is the Ivy League, and the sneer on everybody's lips signifies recognition of the well-known fact that a Harvard man would never enshrine anybody from Princeton. But that's a whole other set of prejudices that will have to wait examination until after the visit of Charles and Di -- and maybe the Harvard-Yale football game.
A Wednesday and Friday column