No Shellfish, Selfies & More: Ridiculous Rules British Royals Have to Follow

By Jamie GreysonLast Updated Jul 24, 2020 8:28:47 PM ET
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Sure, being a member of Britain’s royal family sounds like a fantasy come true, but it’s not all tea and corgis and fairy-tale weddings. Unlike other wealthy celebrities who have folks waiting on them hand-and-foot, royals can’t exactly do whatever they want.

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There are guidelines — and hard and fast rules — that must be followed, no matter what. We can only imagine that it’s a lot of pressure, especially given the (seemingly) arbitrary nature of some of these mandates. From foregoing selfies to nixing your favorite nickname, here are some of the most ridiculous rules British royals have to follow.

You Must Stand for the Queen

This one seems pretty self-explanatory, right? It affects us commoners and the Queen’s fellow royals alike. Everyone is required to rise when the Queen enters or exits a room. And if she decides to stand up at any time, you’d better be prepared to jump to your feet too. But why is this the case?

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Well, although this may seem extreme by today’s standards, this rule stems from a time when monarch’s were thought to be divine. "Monarchs were divinely appointed to rule by God," Dr. Kate Williams, a historian at London’s Royal Holloway University, told the BBC. "They were kind of seen as gods, so they demanded to be treated [as such]." Following this simple rule is sure to keep you in good standing with the royal family — trust us.

Princes Are Expected to Wear Shorts

When Prince George, William and Catherine’s oldest son, was younger, he was photographed quite often. One similarity between almost all of those snaps? The prince was wearing shorts. Traditionally, trousers — what Americans consider pants — are reserved for young adult men and women.

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This means that up until the age of 8 or so, young boys in the royal family are almost exclusively dressed in shorts, a pullover and high socks. Evidently, in Britain, this is considered formal wear appropriate for boys. A historian who spoke on this matter to the BBC noted that this tradition stemmed from the 16th Century when "young boys [wore] gowns or dresses until the age of eight." By the 20th century, the gown had shifted to formal shorts.

The Queen’s Purse Isn’t Just a Fashion Statement

With her bright colors and fanciful hats, Queen Elizabeth II is something of a fashion icon. Eagle-eyed observers have noticed that she’s hardly ever seen without a handbag. Lately, Twitter users have been quick to wonder why. After all, with so many folks at her beck-and-call, the Queen doesn’t need to tote her personal items around with her like the rest of us commoners.

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Well, her purse is actually a means of being polite by allowing her to send subtle signals. For example, if she moves her handbag from her left hand to her right, she’s itching to finish up a conversation. If you ever find yourself at dinner with Her Majesty, be on the lookout for the moment she places her clutch on the table: That’s a cue that everyone should wrap things up. We really admire her ability to be polite — yet firm.

Public Displays of Affection Are Not Allowed

As a general rule, no one should engage in excessive personal displays of affection (PDA), but this rule is even more firm when it comes to the royals and their partners. Apart from holding hands, the royal family members shouldn’t kiss or embrace in public. Of course, exceptions are made for weddings.

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Why is this? Well, the royal family believes that it’s a sign of respect for others, particularly if said royals are traveling to a place with a more conservative culture. As you can tell, a lot of the rules are all about mitigating discomfort, be it on behalf of the royals or their guests. Often, you’ll see William and Catherine looking a bit stoic in public, but fear not — it’s not tabloid fodder. It’s just them skipping the PDA.

Traditionally, Heirs Wouldn’t Travel Together

If you know anything about royals, it’s probably that the line of succession is extremely important. For decades, heirs to the throne were forced to travel separately from one another, meaning that any two heirs couldn’t be on the same plane, for example. As you can imagine, that would throw a real wrench into family holidays.

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That said, William and Catherine, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, have broken with tradition — at least for now. Understandably, the two parents want to travel alongside their children. However, it’s thought that when George, their eldest, turns 12, he and his father, William, will be required to fly separately.

Royals Must Serve Their Countries — In More Ways Than One

Not all royals get to sit upon the throne, but they do have the opportunity to serve their country in other ways. That is, they are expected to enlist in the military — though it isn’t a requirement by any means. For example, William, Duke of Cambridge, was part of the Royal Air Force Search and Rescue Force, and Harry, Duke of Sussex, served two tours in Afghanistan during his decade-long stint in the Army.

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However, only one woman from the British royal family has ever served in the Armed Forces — Queen Elizabeth. Thanks to her service in the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) — a corps of women who served as radio operators, anti-aircraft gunners, spotlight operators and mechanics and drivers — then-Princess Elizabeth later became the only head of state to have served in World War II. Collier’s Magazine reported that "one of [the Queen’s] major joys was to get dirt under her nails and grease stains on her hands and display these signs of labor to her friends." In short, her service wasn’t symbolic — she was dedicated.

At Least Six Ravens Must Reside at the Tower of London

Dating back to the 11th century, the Tower of London is one of the city’s most iconic landmarks. The historic castle is officially dubbed Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower of London, but that’s a lot of words to fit onto a souvenir keychain. Home to the British Crown Jewels, the fortress also plays host to some feathered residents.

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According to legend, six ravens must reside at the Tower at all times — or else the complex’s iconic White Tower will fall. To make matters even worse, the kingdom will face ruin. Under the care of the Ravenmaster, a Yeoman Warder, the six (well, currently seven) ravens are something the Tower’s 2.8 million annual visitors look forward to spotting. Better to be safe than sorry, we suppose.

Nix Your Nickname

If you have a nickname, nix it. Once you’re a royal, it’s proper names only. Of course, this may seem a bit confusing. After all, the public lovingly referred to Princess Diana as "Princess Di," and in the lead up to their wedding, everyone referred to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge as "Will and Kate." So, what gives?

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Apparently, if you address a royal, it should be by their full name — not family nicknames. When Kate married William, folks began referring to her as Catherine once again. Of course, some rules are meant to be broken. After all, Prince Henry Charles Albert David of Windsor is pretty much always going to be known as Harry by both his family and the general public.

Modesty Is Important to Royals

Unsurprisingly, royals must dress with modesty in mind. Anything too "racy" or "provocative" isn’t allowed, and royal women are not allowed to show cleavage. Royal family fans may recall that Princess Diana often held her evening bag in front of her chest when emerging from a car, shielding herself from the paparazzi — all while being able to step out in dresses with more "revealing" cuts.

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Like most formal dress codes, this royal restriction disproportionately impacts women in the royal family. At the same time, none of the royals are allowed to go too casual. While denim isn’t forbidden, it’s certainly only saved for specific occasions. "[I]f the Duchess is outside walking the dogs for example, then jeans are fine," Diana Mather, senior tutor for The English Manner etiquette consultancy, told the BBC.

Bright Colors Are the New Black

As we’ve already mentioned, the Queen is known for being stylish. It’s likely that you’ll almost never see her in a dark hue or neutral color. Instead, it’s always Easter Sunday in her closet. However, this abundance of bright colors and pastels might not be all a sign of Queen Elizabeth II’s tastes.

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In fact, the bright colors are more a matter of royal protocol than the Queen’s personal affinity. Those eye-catching hues make her easy to spot in a crowd, which is great for waving at her — and for making sure she’s safe. Despite this, the Queen instituted a rule that all royals must pack a black outfit when traveling, just in case there’s a sudden death. In fact, the only time you’ll see the Queen in a dark outfit is when she’s in mourning.

Marriage Proposals Require the Queen’s Blessing

For non-royals, there’s an old-school tradition of asking your partner’s family for their blessing before proposing. The British monarchy has its own spin on this tradition. In accordance with the Royal Marriages Act of 1772, royal descendants must seek the reigning monarch’s approval — not their partner’s familial approval — before proposing.

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During her reign, Queen Elizabeth has given her seal of approval to quite a few marriages, including the unions of her children, Prince Andrew and Prince Charles, to their respective wives. In more recent years, Her Majesty has signed off on William’s marriage to Kate Middleton as well as Harry’s proposal to Meghan Markle. Although all ended well, we can imagine asking your grandmother’s approval has never been more nerve-wracking!

Always Remember to Bow & Curtsy

Traditionally, when greeting the Queen, men are expected to bow their heads and women are expected to curtsy. While you’re also expected to be a bit more subtle and restrained than the over-the-top gestures depicted in grand Hollywood movies, the general idea is to show the Queen that you respect her and, by extension, respect Britain.

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Again, this may seem a bit old-fashioned. In the last decade or so, there have been shifts in the rules and decorum surrounding royalty. Back in 2009, it was breaking news when then-First Lady Michelle Obama affectionately put her arm around the Queen for a portrait. Historian Dr. Kate Williams told the BBC that "Princess Diana gained popularity because she was so much less formal." In other words, times are a-changin’.

Dinner Parties Have a Lot of Rules

When it comes to the royal family, there’s no such thing as a casual dinner. In fact, there’s a lot of planning and protocol that goes into each royal soiree. Even the Queen must observe a tight schedule— and a few non-negotiable rules — during meal time. For example, if she needs to step away from the table before finishing her meal, she is supposed to cross her utensils so the waitstaff doesn’t clear her plate.

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Once the Queen is officially full, she will place her utensils side-by-side, angled so the handles face the bottom right of her plate. Apart from utensil etiquette, the Queen also schedules her dinner conversations. During the first course, she will speak with the guest seated to her right. For the second course, she will converse with the guest on her left. Although pre-planning conversation seems extreme, at least no one feels left out.

Children, Not Best Friends, Make Up the Bridal Party

When most Americans hear the phrase "bridal party," they think of their Maid of Honor or Best Man — all those college friends and siblings and cousins who want to share their special day with them. However, royal weddings are a bit different. Bridesmaids and page boys, who are responsible for scattering petals, are required to be young children, not adults.

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Some royals still have a maid of honor or best man, but it isn’t a requirement. What is a tradition? Having young girls carry the bride’s train — a huge responsibility, especially given the grandeur of royal wedding gowns. However, Meghan Markle opted for Jessica Mulroney, her best friend, and Mulroney’s two young sons to carry her train, making for a more personal moment.

There’s a Strict Protocol When It Comes to Drinking Tea

All jokes aside, most of us know that drinking tea — and tea time etiquette — are hugely important across the pond. But, like everything else, there’s a proper way to drink tea. On a near-daily basis, royals take part in afternoon tea — or "high tea" — so even though there are a lot of rules, they are quite practiced.

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When holding a teacup, you must pinch the top of the handle with your thumb and index finger. Meanwhile, your middle finger is used to support the bottom of the handle and ensure that it is kept at 3 o’clock. (Yes, even turning your teacup eschew could be disrespectful!) Wearing lipstick? Etiquette dictates you sip from the same place so your makeup doesn’t stain the entire rim of the cup.

Bridal Bouquets Have Specific Requirements

Unsurprisingly, there are quite a few guidelines when it comes to royal weddings, so much so that even the bridal bouquet is under scrutiny. It must include myrtle, an aromatic evergreen shrub with white flowers. Evidently, this custom started with Princess Victory and has remained in vogue, especially since myrtle symbolizes hope and love.

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For her wedding to William, Catherine upheld this tradition, featuring a myrtle-centric bouquet. Meanwhile Meghan’s bouquet featured not just myrtle but lily of the valley, astilbe, jasmine, astrantia and a few flowers that Harry hand picked from their private Kensington Palace garden. In a nod to Princess Diana, the small yet beautiful bouquet even featured forget-me-nots, Harry’s late mother’s favorite flower.

No One Is Allowed to Have a “Marilyn Monroe Moment” — For Obvious Reasons

The 1955 film The Seven Year Itch is responsible for the arguably most infamous Marilyn Monroe moment. In the movie, Monroe, in her iconic white dress, deals with a bit of a wardrobe malfunction when her gown billows up around her, thanks to an ill-placed subway grate. Of course, anyone who has worn a skirt or dress before can tell you that even when there’s no grate present, a wayward gust can cause a mess of unexpected problems.

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On several occasions, this was unfortunately the case for Catherine. In 2011, the Duchess of Cambridge had a bit of a Marilyn moment when visiting members of the Royal Air Force. Thankfully, the Queen has a wardrobe hack for Catherine. Designer Stewart Parvin says that pennyweights are often sewn into the hemline of the Queen’s garments soshe doesn’t inadvertently show too much skin — especially useful when it gets breezy.

No Selfies, Avoid Touching, Don’t Walk Too Close to the Queen — Any Questions?

Apart from greeting the Queen with a bow or curtsy and standing to honor her presence, there are a myriad of other rules when it comes to interacting with Her Majesty — or any member of the royal family. First, but certainly not least, royals are not allowed to take selfies or sign autographs. Not only are selfies a bit casual, it might also show preferential treatment.

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For that same reason, royals must stick to two shakes maximum when shaking hands and avoid touching commoners for too long. Additionally, all royals must maintain strong eye contact during a handshake. For their part, royals must also carry themselves a certain way: Women must stand and walk down the stairs with their chins parallel to the ground and their hands at their sides. Perhaps our favorite rule: No one should walk completely in stride with the Queen. Even her husband, Prince Philip, walks two steps behind her as a show of respect.

Hats, Tiaras & Headwear All Have a Time & Place

As you may recall from the recent royal weddings, it’s all about the hats. Both men and women donned pretty spectacular headwear for both Willam and Catherine and Harry and Meghan’s nuptials. However, for royal women hats are a must for most formal appearances that happen during the day, a custom that socialiates and aristocrats also follow.

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Once the clock strikes 6 p.m., these same royal women break out the tiaras — some of which are loaned to them from the monarchy’s stash of crown jewels. When it comes to tiaras, only married women in the royal family are allowed to wear them, meaning both Catherine and Meghan had to wait until their respective "I Do’s" to test out these regal statement pieces.

Shellfish Are a No Go

A royal’s health and safety is of utmost importance, and quite a few of these regal rules are enforced for the royal family’s well-being. Although it may not seem like a matter of safety at first, shellfish cannot be served at royal meals. This is because shellfish are common culprits when it comes to both severe allergic reactions and food poisoning.

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Other than that, the royal diet is all a matter of taste. And by that, we mean specifically the Queen’s taste. Reportedly, Her Majesty is not a huge fan of garlic — a surprising stance, we’ll be honest! — so the ingredient is nixed from meals that she hosts and attends. Speaking of royal dinners, the Queen also sets the pace for the meal. Once she stops eating, everyone else is expected to wrap things up, even if they’re still hungry for seconds.

None of the Queen’s Dogs Are “In the Doghouse”

Queen Elizabeth II has loved her corgis since she was a young girl. As such, she has always been very protective of her canine companions throughout the years. One rule that all staff at both Buckingham and Kensington Palace must follow? They cannot reprimand the royal pooches — no matter what. Don’t lay a paw on them.

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Although she enjoys walking her dogs daily, the Queen is also of the mind that they should have, well, free rein (or, should we say, reign) to explore the grounds of the palaces. Moreover, these regal dogs are served gourmet palace chef-prepared meals, which are delivered by footmen. When traveling with the Queen, the corgis are carried off the plane by staff. What we’re saying is these lap-dogs truly live in the lap of luxury.

The Queen Can’t Sit on a Foreign Throne

As any Game of Thrones fan well knows, she who holds the power almost always sits upon the throne. However, when Queen Elizabeth II visited the set of HBO’s Game of Thrones, she shocked the show’s producers and cast when she politely refused to sit on the now-legendary Iron Throne prop. However, it wasn’t for lack of wanting to do it.

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In fact, regardless of what the Queen wanted or not, she’s simply not allowed to sit on foreign thrones. Sure, this throne from the Seven Kingdoms is fictional, but the Queen takes her oath seriously. This custom stems from an old tradition that prohibits the reigning English monarch from sitting on a foreign throne, as doing so could be considered a symbolic act of aggression. Although no one would accuse Her Majesty of starting things with Cersei, we admire her dedication to protocol.

The Queen’s Approval Is Needed for More Than the Wedding Proposal

As we covered earlier, the Queen must give her blessing to any royal proposal. Moreover, until as recently as 2011, there were a few other wedding stipulations she controlled. Namely, royals were not allowed to marry Roman Catholic as per the 1701 Act of Settlement. These days, royals can marry someone of any faith, so long as the Queen gives the okay.

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One wedding custom that doesn’t seem likely to shift any time soon? The fact that the Queen has final say over a wedding gown’s design and aesthetic. A few weeks before her wedding to William, Catherine showed her Sarah Burton-designed Alexander McQueen dress to her now-grandmother-in-law for approval. Luckily, Her Majesty said yes to the dress.

Royals Can’t Refuse a Gift

Look, we’ve all been known to regift an item once in awhile, especially if we don’t have a need for it, right? (Just us?) Well, for royals, regifting isn’t an option. The royal family is required to accept every gift they receive, regardless of how bizarre it may be. Furthermore, Queen Elizabeth II gets to decide which member of the family receives which gift.

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Although some gifts — like this Australian stuffed animal being presented to the Duke and Duchess’ son — are great, others kind of miss the mark. Some of the strangest gifts the royals have received include 500 cans of tinned pineapple, which was given to Queen Elizabeth II for her marriage in 1947; a box of mud from World War II battlefields, presented to Her Majesty by the Wellington Barracks; and not one, but two, pet sloths, presented to the Queen when she visited Brazil in 1968.

Royal Children Can’t Meet with World Leaders

Regal babies truly get the royal treatment. When they’re born, the Tower of London honors a royal newborn with a 62-gun salute, and Green Park, nearer to Buckingham Palace, joins in with a 41-gun salute. When Prince George, William and Catherine’s eldest, was born the royal family was showered with 610 unofficial presents from fans. Still, there are some restrictive customs.

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Namely, royal babies don’t traditionally get to bump elbows with world leaders or foreign dignitaries. As a general rule of thumb, members of the royal family aren’t allowed to vote or publicly express political opinions, so this rule might stem from that line of thinking. Nonetheless, this tradition of babies not meeting world leaders was broken in 2016 when Prince George stayed up late to meet President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.

The Queen Has Banned Certain Footwear

We all have those things we inexplicably don’t like, right? Well, for Queen Elizabeth II that thing — aside from garlic — is wedges. That’s right, Her Majesty reportedly hates wedge-heeled shoes. A source close to the royal family told Vanity Fair that the Queen "really doesn’t like them, and it’s well-known among the women in the family."

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That said, you won’t see Meghan or Catherine wearing wedges — at least not in the Queen’s presence. Evidently, Catherine has been known to wear a wedge at events the Queen has no intention of attending, such as on a 2014 holiday with William to New Zealand and Australia. Of course, that makes us wonder — how does the Queen feel about Ugg Boots? Or Birkenstocks? We’re guessing she’d definitely nix a pair of Crocs.

Princess Anne Changed the Royal Family’s Connection with Competitive Sports

The royals love their horses, but perhaps none of them in recent memory are as known for their equestrian talents as Princess Anne, the only daughter of Queen Elizabeth II. In 1971, Princess Anne won a gold medal at the European Eventing Championships, becoming BBC Sports Personality of the Year. She went on to win two silver medals at the same event two years later.

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Photo Courtesy: @RoyalFamily/Twitter

In 1975, the Princess Royal won silvers in individual and team disciplines at the European Eventing Championships with her horse Doublet. These achievements led to her becoming the first member of the royal family to qualify for and compete in the Olympic Games, which she did alongside her horse Goodwill at the ‘76 Games in Montreal. This paved the way for her daughter, Zara Tindall, to become the family’s second Olympian, also in equestrian events.

Royal Babies Weren’t Given Last Names

Royal children were homeschooled until Princess Diana, known for being a more relatable royal, sent William and Harry to private schools outside of palace. Since homeschooling was in vogue, there didn’t seem to be a need for royal kids to adopt surnames; instead, they were called by the house or dynasty to which they belonged.

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Photo Courtesy: @SkyRhiannon/Twitter

These days, royal children go by a single surname at school to simplify things. For example, Prince George Alexander Lewis is referred to as George Cambridge at school, seeing as how his parents are the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and, likewise, his sister, Princess Charlotte Elizabeth Diana, goes by Charlotte Cambridge.

Unlicensed Driving Is Okay for the Queen

During her time as a driver and mechanic in the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) in World War II, then-Princess Elizabeth learned to drive every vehicle she worked on, including trucks and ambulances. Although Her Majesty took pride in her work and service, she technically didn’t need to go through all that training to operate a motor vehicle in her day-to-day life.

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Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

That is because legally the Queen is allowed to drive without a license. She can even drive without plates on her car! Of course, even if she needed a license, Her Majesty probably would have aced the test. Queen Elizabeth enjoys driving, famously shocking Saudi Arabia’s Prince Abdullah in 1998 when she insisted on driving him around herself on her estate in Scotland. Meanwhile, the other royals don’t get off the hook so easily. While they don’t have to make an appointment at Britain’s equivalent of the DMV, all other royals are actually required to have a valid driver’s license.

Royals Can’t Use Certain Words

Perhaps unsurprisingly, politeness goes hand-in-hand with word choice for the royal family. When at dinner, for example, royals aren’t allowed to say they are getting up to use the restroom — they are just told to say "Excuse me." In general, the word "toilet" isn’t okay, so the restroom is always referred to as the "lavatory." Instead of saying "pardon," a royal is expected to say "sorry" if they want to interject. (Even royals say "sorry" too much!)

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Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

If you’re ever speaking to a royal, there are some words you should avoid or replace as well. For example, unlike other uppercrust Brits, royals aren’t "posh," they are "smart." So as not to offend, never compliment the Queen on her perfume — instead call it a scent. And, if you’re relaxing at Buckingham Palace, you will likely be on a "soda" in the "drawing room" — never on a couch in the lounge.