Posts Tagged ‘civility’

Good guest graces

Sunday, April 13th, 2014

I am fortunate to write a monthly column for the Middle East’s leading lifestyle & food magazine ‘Fatafeat’ (Arabic word for ‘crumbs’) .  Below is what I wrote for then in March on good guest graces. 

1) Accept on time!  When you receive an invitation via the post, email or (sadly) Facebook, it is your duty as a guest to reply on time.  Don’t dilly-dally as to whether you want to go or not – make your mind up, post haste, and let your host know.  They will want to finalise numbers for catering purposes.  Up to three days is normally your window for replying.

2) Note the dress code.  Even casual invitations on Facebook may come with a word about what you as guests are expected to wear.  Don’t play fast and lose with it, stick to what it says.  If a host has been unfair and stated a dress code that no one other than they know what it means then it is perfectly fine for you to call ahead and ask them to clarify.

3) Arrive on time!  Did you know that different countries have different expectations when it comes to timekeeping?  In much of the Western world, if an invitation says 7.30pm then good guests will arrive from 7.40pm, arriving no later than 7.50pm.  Yet in other parts of the world, timekeeping is less of priority.  If you have been invited to a Westerner’s house then perhaps be aware that you won’t be able to get away with arriving forty-five minutes after the printed time.

4) Hostess gift.  Turning up to anyone’s house for a party empty handed is very bad form.  If the host has gone to the lengths of putting out the best silver, buffing up the cut-glass goblets and serving delectable munchiettes for you then the least you can do is present something upon arrival to say thank you.  Chocolates are the internationally acceptable gift.  Flowers are good too, but send them in advance so the host can display them ready for the party – rather than have to worry about putting them in water when you arrive: avoid showing up with a job!  Did you know?  If you are attending an event in Japan you could turn up with a steak!

5) Receiving lines.  At some of the grander parties, weddings or balls the guests will be expected to enter a receiving line.  This is where the hosts and principal guests will be lined up and guests presented to each one.  A good way to ensure they see each guest.  What you need to remember is you should not start a conversation with anyone in the line-up.  A few polite words by way of a greeting is all.  ‘Good evening, thank you for having me’ is ideal.  Anymore and your fellow attendees won’t thank you as you’ll hold up the line.

6) Greeting the host.  For less formal parties, it’s a safe bet that there wont be a receiving line.  If your hosts have not greeted you at the door then you should ensure you find them pronto and let them know you’re here.  But by all means acknowledge and have the scantest of chats with friends you pass as you make a beeline for the hosts.

7) Mingle!  It’s very tempting to stand and chat to one or two guests you are getting on well with all evening, but avoid this.  Talk to as many people as possible.  15 minutes should be the limit for conversation with one particular set of guests.  Good hosts should be circulating too and mixing everyone up.  You never know – your next romance or best friend could be in the room!

8) Knowing when to leave.  The best guests do not stay until the bitter end, however scintillating the socialising may be.  Judge when it is best to leave.  Drinks parties usually last for a couple of hours, so leave twenty to fifteen minutes before the two hours is up.  Dinners will vary based on service, but once the hosts or their staff stop offering things then it’s probably a good idea to make tracks.

9) Thank you letters.  These are not a luxury but a MUST!  The best of guests will put pen to paper the day after a party and write to say thank you to the host – even if it was a disaster (although this is where diplomatic phrasing comes into full force!)  One side of writing paper for a party, two sides for when you have been a houseguest.

10) Reciprocal entertaining.  If you have received entertainment from someone, it is polite to reciprocate within six months.  For the socially very popular, I suggest a little log of who you owe hospitality to keep you from forgetting.  If you owe a lot of people a reciprocal party you could always hold a drinks party and/or buffet (rather than numerous smaller dinners) and then your whole list is sorted in one evening.

Etiquette villain of the week: Oxfam

Thursday, September 6th, 2012

Before I begin, I should just say that I was thinking of running a similar feature alongside this one called ‘Etiquette hero of the week’ but sadly – and this is indicative of the times in which we now live – I was struggling to find one. I will, naturally, post Etiquette heroes as and when I find them – perchance this blog may turn into a boring whine.

This week’s villain of the week goes to the Oxfam Emporium on Oldham Street in Manchester. I haven’t been to a charity shop in central Manchester before – indeed, they seem to be few and far between – but someone in the Farrow & Ball shop suggested Oxfam in the Northern Quarter. So off I trotted.

Oxfam Emporium, Manchester

Oxfam Emporium, Oldham Street, Manchester

Upon arrival I dropped off what must have been £200+ worth of books I no longer required. You would think that the assistant/volunteer would have thanked me for donating my cast-offs, but no.

I unloaded from the the heavy-duty bag – the assistant looked through a few of them; I finished, looked up, said thank you (why was I saying thank you?), and the girl replied “bye”.

Not a word of gratitude! Clearly Oxfam have got enough donations and so we can all stop donating as evidently they’d rather not receive anything.

Charity does not begin on Oldham Street!

Etiquette Postbag: 1st June 2011

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

More questions have come in over the last few days and below are some of the more interesting ones together with my answers.

1) Please let me know, does etiquette teach arrogance? I am asking this because, if it does, then I will decide to book you. Is it worth learning it, as  I want to be able to respond with the same attitude to those people calling themselves “Royals” who display it on a daily basis toward others outside their circle.

Etiquette does not teach arrogance, and nor do I condone it. Sadly in today’s world, those who people think have good manners often are quite rude and, as you say, are arrogant and supercilious (especially to those ‘outside their circle’). This is one of the reasons that manners and etiquette have gained a bad image in the last decade or so. Being polite and courteous should be universal and everyone should be treated equally and with respect.

2) What should you call Kate Middleton now e.g. Your Majesty or Your Royal Highness?

The latter. Now that Catherine is part of the Royal Family then she is given the title of ‘Your Royal Highness’ (or ‘Ma’am’) when speaking to her in conversation. Only the Monarch is called ‘Your Majesty’, all others are ‘Your Royal Highness’, followed by Sir/Ma’am.

Her Royal Highness, Duchess of Cambridge

Her Royal Highness, Duchess of Cambridge

3) When seating guests at a formal dinner table, I typically seat the lady of highest honor (based on age or station) to my right. Is this proper?

This is proper. The most senior guests go to the right of the host/hostess. Thus, if President Obama hosted a state dinner for Her Majesty The Queen at the White House, Her Majesty would sit to the right of the President, and on the First Lady’s right would be Prince Philip.

4) In light of recent events, I have a hypothetical etiquette question for you. If for example in Ireland it was considered social protocol to clink glasses when greeting someone, would it have been a faux pas on Her Majesty’s behalf had she refused? Similarly, if in America the formal way of greeting someone was to hug them and Michelle Obama hugged The Queen, would this be inappropriate? Who’s right in a clash of cultural etiquette?

Good questions! Taking your first, it would be impolite of Her Majesty to refuse to clink glasses, should it have been social protocol to clink glasses. Thankfully, nowhere in the Western world is it correct to do so (correct me if I am wrong). If Her Majesty was in America and the First Last hugged Her (and it was that country’s custom to do so) then Her Majesty would graciously go along with it. (But it’s not!) The phrase ‘when in Rome’ is key here.

5) What are the social rules of getting onto an already packed-solid tube [the underground]. Squeeze in? Ask politely?

Well, if it’s packed-solid you won’t physically be able to board! You’d have to wait for the next train or try a different carriage. If there is clearly enough room for your personage then you can ask politely, although really the people already onboard should move for you (although on the London Underground nobody thinks properly).

Do keep your questions on etiquette, manners, taste and protocol coming in via my contact page. You can now hear me answering a daily question on Bolton FM at 3.30pm every Monday to Thursday.