Friday, 25 September 2015

The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 25 September

What to do when guests at a three-course lunch don’t act as the hostess would expect? Thomas Blaikie advises

Written by Thomas Blaikie
Dear Thomas,
This is tricky: I had six ladies to lunch. Not just sandwiches, a proper three-course affair, cooked by me, with all the trimmings. I don’t want to boast but I pride myself on my cooking. However, one lady did not show up but sent a message via another guest that she was not coming. To be fair, she had warned me that her plans were uncertain, but she might have told me in person. I don’t expect gifts, but everybody arrived with various hostess presents, flowers, wine, etc, except one lady who did not bring anything but herself. The next few days saw all of them either calling or texting to say thank you, but the non-gift bearer did not call. Surely I am not living in the last century where manners are concerned, am I? Is it not the right thing to do to bring a small hostess gift and, afterwards, convey thanks? I am annoyed to be truthful. This particular group wants to meet regularly, but I’m not so keen. Joyce Goodwood, Swansea

Dear Joyce,
You seem to have a car-crash of manners complexities so I’m not surprised you feel like giving up. It sounds as if the lunch was for people who don’t know each other very well, with the purpose of getting to know each other better and perhaps to pursue a hobby or particular interest.

It was rude of the person not to contact you herself to say she wasn’t coming, and also not to give a definite answer to your invitation in the first place. But perhaps she misunderstood the nature of the occasion and thought it was going to be more of a picnic. As for the non-thanking guest who came not bearing a gift, I agree that it is usual to bring a hostess offering although some snobbish people think that it is common to give wine – which is rubbish. A present is a present and can never be wrong.

As for thanking, your evidence suggests that this is what most people do. Furthermore, these days we are less stuffy about gratitude conveyed by text or email. Even so, it is worth mentioning that in some countries – the USA for instance – guests thank on departure and that’s it. At one time I was in favour of us adopting this custom here for simplicity’s sake, but now you can thank by text and email, I’m not so sure. It’s just possible that your guest was stunned into silence by the lavishness of your hospitality, which she had not been expecting. For these reasons, it would be a shame to give up on this group just yet. The non-thanker might decide to withdraw in any case or gain confidence to join in properly.

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


Lady Diana Cooper, the grand socialite and beauty, was famous for her notes to parking attendants: ‘Dearest Warden, Front tooth broken off; look like 81-year-old pirate, so at dentist 19a. Very old – very lame – no meters.’ Evelyn Waugh depicted her in Scoop as Mrs Stitch, who avoided a traffic jam in London by driving her small car into an underground station, across the ticket hall and up the other side.

These days you can idle away an afternoon online, reading people’s parking notes. Many of them are quite unpleasant. But recently one was left in Clapham explaining that ‘my dear spouse’ had taken both sets of keys at 5am that morning and gone out of London for the day. Therefore the car could not be moved from the restricted parking space. What’s more, the author of the note would have to do both school runs of five miles each on foot.

What these notes convey is that while it’s okay to wrangle with the authorities about the rules, it’s not okay to park badly. Occupying two spaces? Not parked straight? Don’t be surprised to find your vehicle plastered with appalling calumny.

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