Archive for December, 2009

Hang On To Your Hats

I received this question last week:

It is common knowledge that gentlemen do not wear hats indoors. Does this apply to Christmas party hats?

The answer: No.

A very short missive this week as this is the last posting for 2009. We’ll be returning with more musings and jottings on etiquette in the New Year.

Thank you to all our readers. Merry Christmas!

Crumbs! Brits’ Entertaining Skills are Dunkin’ Disorderly

Once it was an integral part of the British psyche, but new research reveals that Britain’s once famed hospitality has taken a nose-dive in recent years, with the younger generation in particular failing to observe basic etiquette when it comes to entertaining.

Fox’s biscuits – who carried out the study – have identified the following manners as missing in tea time action:

1)    Turning off the TV: Almost half of Brits (45%) don’t bother to turn off the TV when visitors arrive, and the younger the host, the less likely they are to do so. Only a third of 25-34 year olds (33%) switch off their favourite shows, compared to the majority of the over 55s

2)    Twitter chatter: Four out of five under 25s (78%) tweet at the table, or carry on surfing the net from their phones or PCs when their friends come round to visit

3)    Taking the coats: the tradition of taking guests’ coats and putting them on the bed or stashing them out of sight is dying out. While more than 80% of the over 55s take their guests’ coats on arrival, this drops to just over 50% of the under 35s, who prefer to leave their visitors to sweat it out on the sofa.

4)    Tea time treats: Whilst most of us manage to rustle up a mug of tea or coffee, tummies in Britain’s homes are frequently left rumbling, with almost half of Brits failing to offer their guests so much as a biscuit, despite this being identified as one of the best ways to make visitors feel at home

5)    Bring out the best china: Only 8% of under 35s bring out the best china, compared to a third of the over 65s (31%)

Instead, in true Hyacinth Bucket style, Brits today are more interested in keeping up appearances than being polite, with houseproud hosts focusing most of their time and energy on making their homes (84%) or themselves (71%) look good in advance of a visit, rather than making their guests feel welcome.

The research also identified the top tea-time crimes that an inhospitable host can commit. These are:

  1. Having a row with your partner in front of your guests (70%)
  2. Making your guests feel like they’re in the way (69%)
  3. Continuing to read or watch TV once your guests have arrived (60%)
  4. Letting your kids run riot or behave badly (53%)
  5. Nodding off while guests are still there (52%)
  6. Not offering your guest something to drink (37%)
  7. Having badly behaved pets (29%)
  8. Giving guests something horrible to eat or drink (26%)

Guests beware however, as there a few things you shouldn’t do if you want to be invited back, and the most annoying are:

  1. Running your fingers over surfaces to check for dust (64%)
  2. Criticising your host’s house in any way (58%)
  3. Leaving without saying thanks (54%)
  4. Making a mess (38%)
  5. Being fussy or difficult about the food or drink on offer (33%)
  6. Turning up late or early (27%)
  7. Asking your host to remove pets from the room (25%)
  8. If they insist on trying to help with cooking or clearing (15%)

Rachel Moffatt, Brands Sector Director for Fox’s, says: “We were disappointed to discover that tea time etiquette seems to be dying out amongst younger generations. Our survey respondents were unanimous that attentiveness and great conversation are the key to good entertaining, yet so many young adults fail to give guests their undivided attention when they drop by, despite this being one of our biggest gripes when we’re on the receiving end.

As for not feeding guests, for a nation that’s practically been built on tea and biscuits, it surprised us to learn that giving guests something to snack on, however small, isn’t always on the menu. We hope this is one tradition that doesn’t die out completely.”

International manners and etiquette consultant William Hanson [tutor at The English Manner], says “Manners and etiquette have always been at the core of what makes us proud to be British. Offering a biscuit with a cup of tea, turning off the TV when your guests arrive, and taking someone’s coat on arrival are all basic British manners. It is truly a sad day when these everyday etiquette essentials are ignored, and guests are left feeling unwanted and neglected.”

Re-printed from the press release with kind permission from Clarion Communications.

Respecting Age

Susan Osman, associate of The English Manner. Picture: SWNS.

Susan Osman, associate of The English Manner. Picture: SWNS.

Associate of The English Manner, Susan Osman, made the news last week (click here for full article) for commenting on how the Chinese revere age and experience when it comes to the professional world. Susan has been offered a high-profile job with China Radio International’s English service. Having previously worked for, amongst other organisations, the BBC, Susan felt that youth was not seen as vital in Chinese broadcasting, unlike in Britain.

This made me think that sometimes we as a nation are too quick to judge someone over their age. Does it really matter what age someone is when it comes to doing a job? Granted that there are some jobs that do require a certain youthfulness, and for each of those, there will be a similar number of jobs really only suited for older people.

I have encountered people mis-judging me due to my age. I was in a taxi yesterday and the driver asked me how old I was. I replied (20) and he looked very confused. Admittedly, I do look quite young (although older than 20) but sound like a 55-year-old. But I often get asked how I can be an etiquette consultant at my age. To be fair, it’s a valid question. The stereotype of etiquette experts is that of a woman in her early sixties with half-moon glasses and a brooch. I’ve had some fairly harsh comments in the past; although I have a thick skin so can rise about these easily.

There is no pre-requisite that to be an etiquette tutor one has to be over fifty. It is perhaps true that someone of more advanced years will have experienced life more, but as for knowing the rules, nuances and protocols, anyone with enough determination, vigour and vim can pick these up fairly straightforwardly. And being young also gives one the advantage of being able to talk coherently about other aspects of life that older colleagues may not be able to cover.

So which can see that ageism can work both ways. We should not judge someone just based on how old they are. This is wrong. What matters is one’s understanding, determination and ability.

William Hanson
Tutor, The English Manner

The Office Christmas Party: Use It! (Part 2)

sb10063164f-001Last week, I commented on how to use the office Christmas party to your advantage. This week, some more tips which will help you gain kudos with colleagues and your boss.

Enjoy the hospitality in moderation Hold your drink in your left hand to ensure that your right hand is free—and dry rather than cold and clammy—to shake hands.  This also keeps your right hand free for sampling the finger food as it is passed. Avoid the temptation to juggle a plate of food and a drink while standing. If holding a plate, lose the glass. Serve yourself moderate portions at a buffet—better to return for seconds than to heap your plate high with an unattractive mixture of everything in sight. When alcohol is being served, stay well under your limit. Gentlemen: don’t finish your second drink; ladies: don’t finish your first. Switch to mixers or juice.

Mingle and make polite conversation Use this opportunity to introduce yourself to senior managers and meet people from other departments.  Meet your colleagues’ spouses and partners (gay couples are treated exactly the same), and acknowledge that they have lives and interests of their own—they are not merely appendages to their partners.  Any question that might appear on a government form or mortgage application is to be avoided. Also to be avoided: “shop-talk” and office gossip. Holiday plans, children, common interests, current events are all simple openers that will not offend or embarrass. Best to skip politics and religion.

Thank your host and leave By the end time stated on the invitation, you should be finding your host to say thank you and taking your leave.

And finally… If you’ve followed these guidelines, a thank you note to the evening’s host will distinguish you in the workplace as a confident and knowledgeable employee with superlative social skills. And that’s where the 85% factor comes into play.

John Robertson
Tutor, The English Manner


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