Friday, 15 September 2017

The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 15 September

A shocked guest asks Thomas if she was rude at a dinner party, but it seems the host was the one displaying bad manners

Written by Thomas Blaikie
Dear Thomas
I enjoy so much reading Modern Manners. The other day I was ticked off for having very bad manners. My host poured out the wine for all the guests but there was a considerable delay before the food arrived. I took a small sip of wine. My host was very angry and upset. He said I had very bad manners. I should not have touched the wine before he began to drink.

When I was about 17, I was told I must read and learn everything written on good manners by Genevieve Antoine Dariaux.

Please let me know if I was so bad mannered, as my host suggested. He said I should have clinked my glass with his and said, ‘Cheers.’ But wouldn’t that have been rather plebeian? I resisted telling him that the wine was corked and in the wrong glass! Phew!
Rachel White, Leicestershire

Dear Rachel
I am reminded of the story of how Queen Victoria picked up the finger bowl at dinner and drank from it, because her guest, a visiting foreign potentate, had misunderstood the purpose of the bowl and assumed it was water to drink.

As Richard Hammond of Top Gear so memorably said, ‘It is the height of bad manners to criticise other people’s manners.’ I think this is one of the best remarks about manners ever made. It might seem surprising, though, that a presenter of Top Gear should have said it.

Not, of course, that reality isn’t a little different. I’m going to criticise your host quite harshly, I’m afraid. Maybe I shouldn’t. But it’s just unbelievable that he attacked you in front of other guests and got angry and upset when you were a guest in his house. This is the most extraordinary way to behave. I can quite understand that you are hurt and angry over the whole episode. Well done, by the way, for restraining yourself from exacting revenge.

The essence of good manners is never to make people feel uncomfortable about what they’re doing, especially if they are guests in your home.

There is all this etiquette surrounding drinking to which some people, especially those in pubs, are very attached. You shouldn’t drink until you have raised/clinked your glass, said, ‘Cheers’ (I agree: not hugely classy, but we mustn’t be snobbish), made eye contact, etc, with others present. Some lose their minds if these are not observed. There’s total humour failure. I’m not sure why. Superstition? A deep human need for routine? A genuine but misguided belief that some ghastly act of anti-social sabotage has taken place?

But surely if you were seated at the dinner table, you’d had drinks beforehand. So the moment for ‘Cheers’, etc had passed.

Please send your questions to or write to him at The Lady, 39-40 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ER

WHAT TO DO ABOUT...Noisy cricket

Did you hear the extraordinary story about Darlington Cricket Club? Its planning application for new nets and a practice area in a corner of its ground was objected to by nearby residents. Cricket is too noisy. They don’t like the sound of the bat striking the ball. nor the players breathing with the effort of batting and bowling. Nor, apparently, embarrassing adjustments to dress involving the dropping of trousers. Readers of The Lady should know our editor’s husband is a cricket player and in the summer she is often a cricket widow until late in the evening. But he isn’t noisy. Cricket is the opposite of noise. Its sounds (‘Howzat’ every four hours or so, the crisp click of the ball well struck) are the essence of a soothing summer – along with the marginally more animated ‘clip-clip’ of tennis balls. They’ll object to fishing next. I was taught to tiptoe near a fisherperson, but looking at it differently, you could say the noise of the line being cast and reeled in is insupportable. Plus, totally ghastly if the angler rustles their sandwich paper.

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