Archive Page 6

Denim for Dinner?!

true_religion_jeansRecently I had a sojourn to the Lake District with my family and we stayed in the same small, hotel we have stayed in for the last twelve years when we visit our relatives in the north of the region. One of my favourite things about this hotel is the excellent food they never fail to serve.

On our first night at dinner, I was shocked – no, mortified – to discover that fifteen out of the nineteen diners were wearing jeans. Jeans! Denim! I should at this juncture state that the restaurant itself is quite formal (it’s not a Harvester). Only at this point did I realise that my brother was also wearing jeans (smart jeans – not ones with rips and holes in, but jeans nonetheless). My family quickly told me to calm down and stop being such a stick in the mud.

But this is why I was shocked: when we first stayed at said hotel, the gentlemen wore jackets and ties, whilst the women wore dresses. You were looked upon in horror if you wore jeans (or dared not wear a jacket – although no rule was enforced). Now, ten years later, there has transparently been a seismic shift in standards. I should state here and now that I rolled up on the first night (going by previous experiences) with a jacket, tie and corduroy trousers. People looked at me. They stared.

When sitting in the hotel lounge afterwards I heard a young-ish girl refer to me to her father as ‘that odd boy with the tie’. Well. That’s the thanks one gets for upholding standards.

Society does change, I accept that, but what shocked me is the speed in which, in this particular instance, it has done so. My fear is that we as a nation are too lazy to make the effort for anything anymore. The chef has made an effort to produce top-notch food, so why should we be so arrogant as to wear the same clothes we were wearing all day to eat it?

Moan over. But for the record, for the next two nights we were there, I made sure I wore a jacket, tie and smart trousers. And if I had had my dinner jacket to hand, I’d have worn that: just to make my point.

William Hanson
Tutor, The English Manner

Etiquette for Thanksgiving

thanksgivingTwo weeks ago it was Canadian Thanksgiving; American Thanksgiving is still to come. When I once explained to a young American child that Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving in October, she looked at me in bewilderment and asked, “When do they celebrate Christmas?”

For those lucky enough to be invited to share in the bounty of their harvest table, here are a few etiquette tips to help you enjoy the day.  Of course, you will recognise these as your basic dinner party dictums tweaked for this festive occasion.

It’s a good idea to ask about dress code.  Thanksgiving is not a black tie affair and is often relaxed and casual.  But there is a festive air to the occasion and trousers and a sweater or a sport shirt and blazer may be the order of the day. “Casual” never means jeans. Be assured that your hosts will have gone to a lot of trouble to prepare a special dinner and an invitation to share the day is an honour. Make an effort! A quick call to your host is good idea.

While you’re making that call to your host, ask what you can bring. You might be surprised to receive very specific instructions for this particular event but unless pre-arranged, do not bake a pie or food item as this may never make it to the table. Standard host or hostess gifts are appropriate – wine, arranged flowers (sent ahead of time – you’re a pro), a decorative candle, chocolates or candy are all appropriate.

This is not an occasion to be fashionably late. Dinner will be the focus of the day and a day to arrive promptly at the stated time.

At its heart, Thanksgiving is a time for family so expect to greet your host’s parents or other senior relatives. Remember your protocol basics at a social event, the senior lady outranks everybody and appropriate deference is due.

As always, follow your hostess’s lead.  When she asks everyone to move to the dining room, feel free to lead the way, perhaps escorting a senior relative. And when seated, be aware that there will undoubtedly be grace so resist the temptation to begin. Have a grace at the ready should the honour unexpectedly fall to you, or have an appropriate toast to your hosts but only after your host has proposed the first toast.

There will usually be just enough food to feed exactly twice as many people as are at the table and this often means that plates and dishes are passed. It is not your job to enforce the traffic patterns but if you try to keep things passing to the left, it will simplify things. Be aware that many dishes may be old family recipes and favourites that make an appearance only once a year and it is a good idea to try some of everything. Even if it’s got tiny marshmallows in it. (Especially if it’s got tiny marshmallows in it.)

On this happy, festive occasion, keep the conversation entirely above board – family, holiday plans, what books others are reading, the food and table decorations. This is absolutely not an occasion to discuss politics or the economy.

Stay alert to your hostess’s cue for the end of the meal and when she suggests that everyone move to the next room for coffee, again, feel free to be amongst the first, and again, offering to assist any who need it. Never, ever stack dishes at the table thinking you are assisting your hostess.  (Unless, of course, she asks you to.)

There’s one more cue to be on the alert for, and that when it’s time to go home. The focus of this day is the dinner and you are not expected to settle back for the evening.  Comments such as “What a lovely day it’s been, I’m so glad you could join us” are your cue to be gathering your wits and taking your leave.

Finally, within 24 hours, write your thank you note.  Considering the trouble and expense your hosts have taken to entertain you, a telephone call or an email just won’t do. The thank you letter lets your hostess know how much you appreciated the day and is a reminder that she can re-read and share.  A telephone call is over in a few minutes, and an email deleted even faster.  I could go on about thank-you letters, but that’s a whole other blog.

Happy Thanksgiving!

John Robertson
Tutor, The English Manner

Pearls Before Swine: Shaking Hands and Swine Flu

A question etiquette consultants have been asked over the last few months is ‘do I shake hands with someone for fear of catching swine flu?’ A lot of people are becoming worried – perhaps paranoid – that if they shake someone’s hand at the moment the chances of catching the H1-N1 virus increases. The same applies for social kissing.

The English Manner’s John Robertson says, “Go ahead and shake their hands. You’re going to pick up more germs anyway as soon as you touch the next door knob and you should just continue to wash your hands frequently and carry a little squeeze bottle of hand sanitiser if you’re really worried”.

A good sanitising product readily available in the UK is ‘Flu Pak’, which can be bought at all good pharmacies and drug-shops, as well as online.

It is rude to refuse someone’s hand when proffered and this should be remembered at all times. On a medical note, swine flu is no different to normal influenza. Whilst it is harmful to pregnant mothers, the very young and the elderly, to everyone else, it is just the same as having common or garden flu. As with many recent diseases (I’m thinking bird flu) the media have been as helpful as ever in stirring up public paranoia with this disease.

Of course, if you have the disease then you should be in bed and not shaking hands with anyone, so it is a fair assumption to assume that people who have swine flu will not be proffering their hands to anyone.

John Robertson continues, “Shaking hands doesn’t give you the virus, it doesn’t pass through your skin. The infection is passed when you put your hands near your mouth or nose or your eyes. So wash your hands often and keep them away from your face; good advice at any time”.

It would seem the best antidote to swine flu is common sense.

William Hanson
Tutor, The English Manner

A Basic Shooting Glossary

Whilst I can’t claim this to be comprehensive in any way, it should give a shooting novice some idea of the terms used. It is good form to know the terminology if you are going on a shoot, as novices will be easily spotted if they fail to understand the phrases and words used.

All Out! – What beaters call at the end of a drive

Bag – Game killed that day

Beaters/Drivers – They flush out the game by ‘beating’ the ground

Couple – Wild ducks are counted by the couple

Covert – A wood (silent ‘t’)

Covey – A group of grouse or partridge

Drive – Each sweep taken up during a day’s shooting

Gun – This doesn’t just refer to the actual firearm but the person shooting it, as well

Hill – A Scottish moor

Loaders – They load guns

Peg/Stand – Where the guns are located (although for grouse shoots it is called the ‘butt’ and for duck shoots the ‘hide’)

Wisp – A group of snipe

William Hanson
Tutor, The English Manner

Sticking to Your Guns: Shooting Etiquette Faux Pas

shootingOctober sees the pheasant, woodcock and capercaillie shooting season begin and so listed below are The English Manner’s top etiquette blunders to avoid at all cost when out in the fields.

-       Never attend a shoot if you have never held a gun or had adequate training. Being dangerous is considered frightfully rude

-       Pick up all spent cartridges at the end of drives. This used not to matter but now in the environmentally-friendly society we live in, it is considered bad form not to

-       Make sure you mark your quarry for pickers-up and their dogs: never leave a dead bird to rot

-       Always ask what one is allowed to shoot before commencing. Hosts will have different rules from each drive to the next

-       The polite guns never boast about their scores

-       In the unfortunate circumstance that one shoots something that one is not supposed to, or that you cause a fellow gun an injury, it is expect that you leave the party immediately. Other guns are expected to be discreet about the incident, too. NB: If a major accident occurs, unwritten rules of etiquette dictate that the guilty gun never shoots again

-       Restrain yourself: a shoot is not the place for loud, bawdy behaviour

-       Under no circumstances should one shoot a white pheasant

-       Never swing your gun along the shooting line or in the direction of other guns

-       Make sure each bird shot is dead before proceeding onto the next one. It is better to use both barrels on one bird than two barrels on two birds (with the first barrel not yet fully killed).

-       Do also remember to tip the keeper. Anything from £15 upwards is usual; more if he has cleaned your gun.

Unsure about the terminology used in this blog? Next week: a beginner’s guide to shooting terms.

William Hanson
Tutor, The English Manner

Swearing: Think of Our Language!

Three in ten of us are subjected to swearing every five minutes, according to a recent report. When I was asked to comment on this for BBC Radio 5 Live the other day, my initial thoughts (apart from how bad this is) were for the English language itself. We have such a rich, vibrant and beautiful language and to limit it to a handful of words is such a pity.

People use the F-word and the like now as nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, conjunctions, pronouns and prepositions. We hear swearing on the television, in the cinema and on the street. These taboo words are not only unnecessary but also horrid for the ear: they have no mellifluous quality that some words do: none of us want to hear those abrasive sounds. Perhaps then they are well suited to their purpose.

But swearing all the time devalues it. There is (sometimes) a time and a place for the occasional swear word (although using a curse-word to describe someone is never acceptable). If someone who never swears does occasionally exclaim something a bit off-colour, then those around will know that the person is truly annoyed and angry But if we go about swearing left-right-and-centre, willy-nilly, then we automatically take away the gravitas and oomph that any invectives may have.

William Hanson
Tutor, The English Manner

The Modern Student

A teacher at my old school once remarked to me in a conversation about higher education, “University is a reward for the intellectual, where one can do as one pleases and do very little work for a period of three years”. However true or false this may be, it seems that many contemporary students have misinterpreted this concept. It is certainly not a rest or lapse period for decency and basic courtesy.

Student life is something that most of us have looked forward to from our early teens: we break away from our parents and begin to become our own person. We become domesticated, we become mature; we become adults. Alas, it isn’t quite as straight forward as that. The average student dresses in baggy, comfortable clothes, goes out drinking at least five times a week, and probably comes close to (or actually partakes) in dealing in substances of disrepute. We are only young once, however, so perhaps such behaviour is acceptable.

Yet, just because we are students, it doesn’t mean to say that we actually have to behave like them. Nevertheless, this is not a call for us to attend lectures in morning suits and address our peers with high reverence and grandiose language. A modern, savvy student is someone who respects and considers those around him. Many adults get cross with students and their lifestyle – perhaps they are jealous – they argue that they are slovenly and uncouth. Maybe they are right: there are times when one really doesn’t want to be formal or worry too much about what others think.

However, I argue that University is a journey, a bridge. It marks a transition between childhood and adulthood. There used to be no word for the inter-regnum, until someone created the concept of a ‘student’. A majority of students subconsciously believe that we become adults the moment we graduate, and this grants us with an excuse to behave as we wish for the three or four years in between. This is not the case. We become adults during the period of our enrolment. Some will grasp the (really quite straight forward) concepts of adulthood sooner than others.

As I say regularly, good manners are a skill for life, which will stand anyone in much better stead than any degree or qualification. Clarence Thomas said, “Good manners will open doors that the best education cannot”. Think what you could do with both.

NB: Educated people go to ‘University’. The rest go to ‘Uni’.

William Hanson
Tutor, The English Manner


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