Monday, 30 November -0001

The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 10 April

Random acts of kindness can sometimes evoke suspicion. Surely we should behave better towards those who do us a favour, says Thomas Blaikie

Written by Thomas Blaikie
Dear Thomas,
The other day I found a wallet underneath my car, which was parked in the street outside my house. With it were some keys.

Assuming the wallet to be stolen, I contacted the police, who told me it would take them some time to trace its owner, despite the fact there were credit cards inside. So I called the number on the back of one of the cards, and was told the cardholder could be reached immediately and told where the wallet and keys were. Hurrah, I thought. At least they won’t have to change their locks.

Some hours later the people who’d lost the items came round. They were extremely wary, refused to enter my home and curtly informed me that they’d already changed their locks. It was clear that they thought I had stolen the wallet. With the minimum of thanks they left, only to call up later to say that one of their cards was missing and did I know where it was. At that point, I lost my temper.
Shirley Cooke, Shrewsbury

Dear Shirley,
I’m horried by what you say. I can’t think of any conceivable reason for these people to treat you like this. How likely is it that you would have elaborately contrived to first of all steal their wallet and keys, and then take a great deal of trouble to give them back again? Or lure them to your house for some nefarious purpose, despite giving your name and address to the credit-card company? Presumably this was a classic pickpocketing crime, where the thief took any cash that was in the wallet, then chucked the unwanted residue away.

No, the suspicious behaviour of the victims who you tried to help is inexcusable. It’s not even good enough for them to claim that they were traumatised by the crime. If this is the level of paranoia and alienation that we have reached in society, then it’s a very depressing state of affairs. Trust is a strange thing, but ultimately it is a matter of instinct. The entire time we trust people not to stab us, mug us or vandalise our front gardens without having any reason to do so. Without this kind of instant trust society would cease to function.

Nor do I think that this hostile response to you doing these people a big favour can be explained as them being so overwhelmed by your kindness that they were somehow compelled to rudeness. This sometimes happens when you save someone’s life or return a scarf that they dropped. No, these people just had no idea of how to behave.

I don’t often say this, as you know, but on this occasion I think you were perfectly justified in getting annoyed. I hope that it gave you great pleasure to demand an apology.

Please send your questions to thomas.blaikie@lady.co.uk or write to him at The Lady, 39-40 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ER

WHAT TO DO ABOUT... SERVING GUESTS

One of my regular correspondents, Mr Williams of Usk, offers valuable advice about hosting a dinner party: ‘It strikes me,’ he says, ‘that many of the protocols governing the way we behave at dinner parties are born of a bygone age, when even the middle class had domestic staff and the host and hostess were able to behave like guests. But these days, between courses, my wife and I are busy in the kitchen. We do not have an opportunity to attend to our guests’ every need.

May I recommend the following three rules?
1. When guests are seated at table they should place their napkins on their laps without delay.
2. If a dish is served hot, guests should commence eating as soon as their plate is placed in front of them.
3. For each course, once the first glass of wine has been poured, the bottle is placed on the table; subsequently, each gentleman should top up his own glass as necessary, together with that of the lady to his left.

These rules work for us and our guests generally comply. I hope your readers find them useful.’


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