Friday, 07 August 2015

The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 7 August

Have the British finally shaken off the image of being an embarrassment abroad? Thomas Blaikie investigates

Written by Thomas Blaikie
Dear Thomas,
The holiday season approaches, but are we to expect a tirade of shaming newspaper stories about the terrible behaviour of our fellow citizens at favoured holiday destinations abroad?
Abigail Courtney, Exeter

Dear Abigail,
Yes, indeed. The latest development is outbreaks of nudity, not just on beaches. Last August there was outrage in La Barceloneta, a district of Barcelona, when three young male tourists wandered naked for several hours, shopping and so on in an remarkably blasé fashion. Residents protested on the streets, complaining of the situation in general – drunken tourists, unrelenting noise nuisance and money-grubbing landlords of holiday apartments who don’t care.

But these nudists weren’t British; they were Italian. If you google (I wonder how many of you will) you can see pictures of them, which might make you consider whether there wasn’t quite a good case for them being without clothes. But I’ll leave that for you to decide.

Recently, carried out a survey. The findings are intriguing. Who are the least likely to build a rude sandcastle? Who shy away from the topless state or the minimal string bikini? Who do not wish to be bare on the beach for the sake of a tan? You’ll be encouraged to hear – let’s embrace the good news – it’s the British. We come very low in the beach-vanity stakes. We don’t care if Italian, Spanish or German tourists bag the best places by the pool – or at least we can’t be bothered to compete. Percentagewise, Spaniards are three times as likely to hit the gym before hitting the sands, while the French are twice as likely to get a preparatory fake tan. Over double the percentage of Italians go on a pre-beach diet.

For this year at least, let’s shake off the stereotype of those gangs of British people (youths or otherwise) in Mediterranean resorts, eating chips and beans, getting drunk and behaving badly. They’re not us. Instead, let us make our national symbol the demure British person spurning the sun and the garish orange-bronze skin tone it might give. This unsunned, undieted, ungymmed form is graciously covered in towels and robes. She or he hangs back modestly as the other glaring nude or near-nude races of Europe claw up the sun loungers and fling themselves about in full view with no propriety whatsoever, before roaring off to build obscene sandcastles.

Oh yes – for we do not push ourselves forward or seek attention. Our land is green and pleasant, without extremes and with a fair bit of rain. We are nice and not nude.

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


Italians always say ‘Pronto’ when answering the phone, but we say, mostly, ‘Hello’. I’ve always been mystified by ‘Pronto’, because it means ‘at once’ or ‘immediately’. So why do Italians say this? Do they require the caller to get on with it? No, ‘Pronto’ is a way of expressing eagerness. It means, in this context, ‘I’m ready.’ But how did they end up answering with ‘Pronto’, and how did we end up with ‘Hello’?

My correspondent from Usk, Mr Ian Williams, writes that it could have been otherwise: ‘Your readers might be interested to learn that the use of “Hello” to answer the phone was originally proposed by Thomas Edison. The word itself is thought to be a corruption of Old High German “Halâ!”, an emphatic imperative used especially for hailing ferrymen. “Hello” had become common in literature by the 1860s. The inventor of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell, proposed the rather more racy “Ahoy! Ahoy!”’

In other words, our phone greetings of today were laid down by individual choice in the early days of telephony. Probably it was the same story in Italy. Lucky we didn’t get landed with ‘Ahoy’.

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