Archive for the 'Daily Life' Category

Barbecue Etiquette

BarbecueThe British summer is well underway and this can only mean one thing – the barbecues have been wheeled out from storage and are taking pride of place in we Brits’ gardens. I shall be honest now and say that I loathe a barbecue and think they should be outlawed in Britain, or other countries where the weather is not regularly conducive to outdoor dining.

The only type of barbecue I can just about tolerate is a sit-down with cutlery affair. If there’s proper napkins to hand then all the better. Barbecues where you have to stand up and wolf a hot dog or chicken kebab down are ghastly affairs. I like food and wish to enjoy it at leisure.

My parents have lovely barbecues (if indeed that is not an oxymoron). We all sit on the terrace at their Gloster outdoor furniture (that has been properly washed down before use), under the often-superfluous parasol, food is placed in serving dishes down the middle of the table, and we all sit with blue gingham napkins on our laps to protect the chinos. It’s very civilized and we all look like we’ve been lifted off the page from the John Lewis catalogue. It has much more relaxed atmosphere than an indoor meal in a dining room, yet one can enjoy the breeze and gentle heat. These ordeals where you have to stand up and find an unclaimed piece of patio in which to stand are so tense. You have to worry about whether you have salsa running down your chin, focus on making sure your burger doesn’t fly out the other side, and then find where you left your glass so you can have a much needed drink.

The secret of successful dining (indoor or out) is to think about your guests’ every need. I have found with stand-up barbecues that hosts are much more laid back about everything and often overlook the most basic of details. It’s only good manners to think about your fellow diners when you are hosting.

Here are our tips for ensuring that whatever style of barbecue you do this summer you get the etiquette right. (The cooking is down to you.)

Barbecue dos and don’ts…

- If you opt for a stand-up affair, consider a service table where you can place the dishes of food as well as cutlery, glasses, jugs of water, juice and the like, as well as napkins…

- …Ensure that you have put out sufficient napkins for your guests. Even if they are paper ones, make sure that they have something to wipe those sticky hands

- Men: however good you think your barbecue skills are, don’t start giving the cook unwanted advice

- Beer should always be served in glasses and not drunk from the bottle. The last time I drank out of a bottle I was 18 months old

- If knives and forks are not put out you have permission to use your fingers

- Kebabs: if eating sitting down with cutlery then hold the top of the kebab stick and using your fork slide each chunk of meat onto the plate. If eating with the fingers then hold both ends and gnaw away (inelegant but acceptable)

- Burgers: watch how much sauce you put in the middle of your burger as when picking up and biting in to it the sauce could shoot out and give your fellow diners a nasty squirt

- Peas: often seen at barbecues and quite hard to eat at the best of times. Hopefully a host would only serve these at a sit-down affair. Don’t turn your fork over in the right hand, keep it in the left and push the peas onto the tines. Or, use some of the other food as ‘glue’ (mashed potato is excellent for this)

- Whilst the men traditionally will cook the meat and often taken all of the credit, don’t forget to thank the ladies or those who prepared the salad, vegetables or puddings!


William Hanson
Tutor, The English Manner 

Fit for a King: Etiquette in the Gym

William working out in the gym

Working out with a smile

The summer is here and many people will probably want to tone up their bodies for the warmer weather. Admirable, but do remember that gyms, like everything else, have an un-written (until now) etiquette that people should follow and respect.

Here are my tips for working out politely.

Good gym kit Make sure your gym kit is clean and presentable. Men should not go bare chested either

Mirrors They are there for you to check your technique and not for preening

Music As with public transport, keep your personal music devices turned down so only you can hear them

Grunting, etc Not allowed, ever! There’s no need for others to be acutely aware that you are working out

Equipment hogging Don’t use a piece of equipment for longer than 15 minutes if there are others in the gym. There may not be a visible queue, but it’s not to say that others won’t be wanting to use your machine

Saving machines Don’t go and drape a towel over a machine you want to use next until you are ready to use it

Gym bores Don’t bore other people (inside or outside of the gym) about how well you are doing with your workout regime, or how your new diet is going. Only tell if they ask – too many people can become boorish when discussing fitness

Not a competition If the person on the machine next to you is doing a higher speed than you, do not worry that you are not as fit as them. Exercise should be taken at your own pace and not dictated by others – you can actually do yourself harm if you try to match others’ speeds

Wipe up! After use, make sure you give sweaty machines a wipe down so they are ready to be used by the next person.

William Hanson
Tutor, The English Manner

Maybe This Time: Facebook Invitations

All things considered, Facebook is a wonderful innovation. Like it or loathe it, it will certainly be around for quite some time yet. It has set itself up as a social hub: we can see photos of ourselves and our friends, we can email our friends, we can play games with them, we can instant-message them, we can send them gifts (although if any friend of mine ever sent an electronic gift – or e-card, for that matter – I’d strike them out of my address book), and we can organise events through Facebook. It’s this last one that can easily rile me.

For the benefit of non-Facebook users, let me quickly explain what exactly happens. Any user can invite friends to an event; on the event page they can list the time, place, date, and any other instructions for guests. Invited guests will see the invitation to said event when they log into their Facebook profile. Guests are then given three options as to how they wish to reply: Attending, Not Attending, or Maybe Attending. It is this last one that drives me mad.

I used to send out nice stiff white card invitations to my guests for my parties, but due to the cost of doing them for every party and the fact that a majority of modern guests wouldn’t know what on earth to do with such an invitation, I decided to concede and use Facebook to invite people to my events. To be fair, it works a treat. But when I have guests that respond that they ‘maybe attending’ I hit the roof. In my opinion, you are either attending or you are not. Called me old fashioned but when I am invited to an event I get out my diary, see if I am doing anything already on that date and if I am not, then I respond saying I can do; if I am busy, I respond saying I unfortunately cannot. This conditional clause of ‘maybe’ seems to be designed for the socially far-too-busy. Some of my guests (who have subsequently been struck off my party guest-list) put ‘maybe’ because they are clearly thinking ‘well, I shall go if I don’t have anything else better to do that night’, which is just rude.

People should make the effort, and decide whether they are going or not instead of floundering around in this new middle ground. If a host were going to the effort of putting on a party (probably with food and drink) for guests then said host would quite like to know for how many people they are catering.

You can see this clearly winds me up, and I do wish Facebook would remove the function. It is intrinsically bad mannered.

I am off for a lie down now.

William Hanson
Tutor, The English Manner

A Sample Thank-You Letter

Many people struggle when it comes to putting pen to paper with what exactly to say in a thank-you letter. Below is an example letter to give those with writer’s block some inspiration. It is by no means the most perfect thank-you letter, but it is certainly a more than acceptable one. As I said last week, these letters do not have to be make literary history – remember that a rather basic letter is better than no letter at all.

Dear Samantha,

We are, once again, in awe of your culinary skills. Thank you so much for a delicious dinner last night. It was such a wonderful evening and David and I had so much fun.

It was such a surprise to see your brother after so long – the last time we saw him must have been at your wedding; we enjoyed hearing what he had been up to over the past few years. He sounds like he has been very busy.

Once again, our most sincere thanks. You must also give me the recipe for that trifle – David has not stopped going on about how much he enjoyed it.

We look forward to seeing you all next week at Simon’s.

With every best wish,

Julie.

As I also said last week, once a formula is learned that writing such letters will become much easier.

One final word on thank-you letters – always sent by first-class post, or delivered by hand.

William Hanson
Tutor, The English Manner

That’s Gratitude for You: Thank-you letters DO still matter

My colleague John Robertson had to be forcibly restrained one day when we were teaching at a business school in Italy where the majority of the students said that they agreed with everything we said but could not see any point in writing a thank you letter. And this is the trouble, many people, sadly, think that such letters are a waste of time. But they are missing the point.

If anything, I would argue that a well-penned, hand-written thank you letter carries more gravitas than in previous generations, only because they are becoming a rare breed. We live in an age of instant communication, but this is no excuse for letting standards of civility slip, although it is, for many, an easy excuse.

Thank you letters should be written (by hand) after you have received either hospitality or a present. If someone has thrown a party and you were one of the guests, the reasoning of ‘I’ll be the only guest who does write a thank you letter so I won’t bother’ is ludicrous to say the least. If others aren’t writing letters, it does not mean to say we have to copy them – try not to be a sheep.

When I was younger, my parents used to say to me that if I didn’t write someone a thank you letter for a present then I would find that the giver would stop giving me presents. Being young, naive and slightly materialistic, this would not do at all and so I duly wrote my letters on my parents’ writing paper.

These thank you letters do not have to be lengthy essays with bibliographies and academic references: one page on A5 writing paper (letterhead optional) will suffice. If someone has put in the effort of cooking for you or taken the time to buy you a present then it is common sense (and courtesy) to show them that you are grateful.

Many people say to me that they find it a chore writing such letters and they struggle with finding the right words, but once a winning formula is learned then they become second-nature. Again, these letters do not need to be the next Harry Potter, or match the mellifluous prose of Oscar Wilde. And to avoid confusion, I shall post a mock-up thank you letter on this blog next week.

One final word, please just don’t thank someone over Facebook or a similar site; a telephone call is the best option for the lazy individual.

William Hanson
Tutor, The English Manner

Ya Boo Sucks: Please Don’t Boo JEdward!

John and Edward perform on 'The X Factor'

I do not like The X Factor, but during the series that has just passed I found reason to watch it (or at least some of it). Their names: John and Edward (‘JEdward’). The young Irish brothers were not the best of singers, but they were performers. They danced their socks off (sometimes not in time to the music or each other) but it was clear to see that they were having great fun doing what they clearly enjoyed. However, every time they came on stage during the live shows the studio audience would boo and hiss as if Hitler had risen from the dead just to come on to perform ‘I Did It My Way’.

John and Edward coped magnificently during their ritual humiliation each week. They did not once acknowledge the blood-hungry mob of an audience; they just smiled, soldiered on and did what they liked doing best. Even now (they are currently promoting their debut single ‘Under Pressure’) some people have the audacity to boo them. But why do people feel the need to boo?

There are always going to be people in life that we do not like, wish to associate with, or want to support. Yet this does not give us carte blanche right to berate them. If we do not wish to encourage or acknowledge someone, then we just do not clap (or clap less). There is no need to boo, hiss and shout insults. In doing this it does not make the booer more superior than the person they are booing. If anything, it makes the booed look vastly better and more righteous.

It must be something about the mentality of a crowd. Humans obviously feel that when en masse we can get away with doing things we would never dream of if we were on our own. Look at the proposed video the UK’s Football Association (FA) were going to launch this week to combat homophobia at matches. The video uses the shock tactics of showing a businessman walking around his office shouting pejorative words at his homosexual colleagues. The caption reads ‘this sort of behaviour is not acceptable here…’ The action then switches to the same man in a crowd at the football match shouting similar words to players on the opposition and the referee. The caption changes to: ‘so why should it be acceptable here?’

Presumably this mentality can be linked to the JEdward/X Factor situation. If we saw the pop stars walking down the street, we would not boo them as we passed, but if there are 400 other faces around us, we obviously feel like we won’t get caught. Not only is this the height of cowardice, but also is it rude. If we do not agree with someone’s view, believes, lifestyle or performance, then we should just be quiet and learn to deal with it. No one is asking anyone to convert to being a JEdward fan (for the record, I am) or switch their opinion on a certain matter, but just to respect other people’s rights. There’s something just not cricket about it all, if you ask me.

William Hanson
Tutor, The English Manner

Compliments: Harder Than They May Seem

The British are notoriously bad at accepting compliments the correct way. Whilst it can be seen as an endearing quality, we Brits often use self-deprecation when it comes to receiving compliments. When someone admires our work we’ll say, “Oh well, it was nothing, no trouble at all” or perhaps expresses a like of our clothes, “This old thing? No, I worn this many times before”. But correct form says that when on the receiving end of a compliment, we should just accept it with a gracious, ‘thank you’ and move on. There’s no need to waffle on and argue with the complimenter: that wastes time. Just say thank you and make a note to return the compliment to them in the near future: complimenting them back straight after looks silly.

Then there’s the art of men complimenting women. More often than not, men will sound like a bit of a leach when doing this. The important thing to remember is maintain eye-contact with the woman when giving the compliment. Don’t go for the obvious compliments, such as ‘Nice shoes’ or ‘Nice colour’, show your softer side with, ‘that’s a nice neckline on the dress’.

But there’s also etiquette when it comes to replying to compliments, don’t ever say ‘Well, thank you, yes I love this top too, it’s good, isn’t it?’. We should never actually brag following a compliment, even though we may wish to inside.

William Hanson
Tutor, The English Manner



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