Posts Tagged 'Britain'



The Customs of Chopsticks

Later in the week it is Chinese New Year (14th February). This year it is the year of the tiger. As such, we thought now may be a good time to enlighten you on some of the etiquette and background that surrounds chopsticks.

The word ‘chopsticks’ is thought to have been discovered in the 1800s, when foreigners heard Chinese boatmen referring to cooking utensils as ‘kuai-tzu’. Pidgin English transformed this into ‘chop-chop’.

Chopsticks are thought to improve dexterity and memory. This is especially good for wannabe painters, apparently.

In Chinese cuisine, chopsticks are used to eat everything except: soup (a porcelain spoon is used), Peking duck (the hands are employed here), and puddings (which uses either the hands or a spoon).

Hold your chopsticks a third of the way down, leaving the thicker ends clean. This is because the top of the chopsticks are used to take food from communal serving dishes to your bowl, whereas the narrower ends are used to bring food from your bowl to your mouth. In China the higher you hold your chopsticks, the more sophisticated you supposedly are.

It is considered the height of rudeness to beat the side of your bowl with chopsticks: this is what beggars used to do. It is also ill advised to drop your sticks as this is thought to bring bad luck; similarly, leaving your chopstick upright in rice evokes death.

Chopsticks are more than just eating utensils. During the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) chopsticks were made from gold and silver. Silver was thought to detect poison: but, as a lot of diners found out, this was not the case.

Gung Hay Fat Choy! (Happy Chinese New Year!)

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

The Etiquette of the New Year Diet

As we start the year, many of us are considering how on earth to get rid of the mountains of mince pies, chocolates and brandy that have passed from lips to hips over the last few weeks.

Every newspaper and magazine is full of top tips on how to lose pounds fast, and we find it easy to get swept away in the euphoria of becoming a sylph or Adonis in ten days.  Beware, however!  If you are like this household, there will still be outstanding invitations to shooting, supper or drinks parties lingering over January and early February, and whilst you will be keen to stay on the wagon, you must not impose your new fad diet of cabbage tea and pine kernel wraps on an unwitting hostess.

As a host, it is always politic to ask your guests if they have any special dietary requirements by way of ‘is there anything you cannot eat?’, but it would be taking it far too far if a guest responded with a long list of the diet menu components, or even mentioned that they were following any form of regime whatsoever.

The only exception is for breakfast, where if you are staying in someone’s home and they ask what you like for breakfast, it is perfectly acceptable at that stage to mention one or two options, as long as they are easily obtainable and likely breakfast foods, and you do not get your hostess to start trawling the shelves of Selfridges Food Hall for Himalayan ‘yugi’ berries or the like!

If your hostess forgets to ask, or worse, you do not inform of any genuine dietary issues, then you must eat what is put in front of you.  It is acceptable not to finish, and if the items on your plate are going to make you mentally quake, then you can push them around a bit and have a few mouthfuls, but remember:  never over-burden a hostess, friend or a lover with details of your dieting regime.  Never inflict your diets on others, and save your new-found ways to skeletal happiness for conversations over coffee with your best friend.

Alexandra Messervy
Founder, The English Manner

Step in Line! The Etiquette of Queuing

Napoleon said we were a nation of shopkeepers, but I think he should have said we were a nation of queuers. Everywhere is a queue: in the shops, on the roads, abroad, on the telephone. And at the moment with the January sales, a lot of us may be waiting outside our favourite shops hoping to get a good deal on something we’ve had our eyes on for sometime. But, as with every aspect of life, there is a protocol that should be followed.

1) If you are with several people, enter the queue as one group. Don’t take it turns to reserve a place for your entire party. Think how annoying it must be to think, after a ling time waiting, you finally reach the front except for the one man in front of you and suddenly, out of nowhere, his five relatives join him, making your wait even longer. This is especially prevalent at theme parks.

2) Keep children under control. No free-range children, please. I saw an example of this the other day at a supermarket. Two mothers were gossiping away as they waited to have their purchases seen to by the cashier; their two ‘adorable’ children frolicked around the legs of other shoppers and nearly knocked an elderly gentleman over at one point: the mothers did (thankfully) apologise to the man but didn’t bother to control their children.

3) Be patient – everyone in the queue is the same position. I did once have a man get cross at me for the length of time he had been waiting, but it was nothing to do with me: I was standing behind him, anyway. Equally, if there has been a long queue, when you get to the desired point, try to be as brief as possible to ensure that others behind are not kept waiting.

4) Before you enter a queue (if it’s a lengthy one) make sure you’ve gone to the loo so you don’t need to disturb the rest of the line trying to get out. As silly as this may sound it does happen. If you leave the queue you cannot expect to come back two minutes later as fresh as a daisy and take up your old place. Others will not be happy about this.

5) Respect the personal space of others. There is no need to stand body-to-body in the queue, doing so will only irritate people and may heighten an already fractious situation. Also, if you are a smoker, now is not the time to light up – save that until you are well away from the queue.

6) Probably the most frustrating of all queuing faux pas is queue jumping. Quite simply: don’t! On my one and only visit to a nightclub I happened to be in a queue to get to the outdoors part of the club (no silly music out there!) and someone tried to push in. I think under normal circumstance they would have got away with this as everyone else would have been too drunk, doped and disorderly to notice or comment. Sadly for this one poor boy, I was totally sober and swiftly admonished him and sent him on his way to the back of the queue. That was the only positive I can draw from my nocturnal experience.

The British love a good queue but there are still who break the rules mentioned above. It is interesting to note than in America, a ‘queue’ is practically unheard of: they call it ‘standing in line’. I was once told – and I’m not sure how true this is – that ‘queue’ is not in all American dictionaries. That said, the rules still apply wherever you are!

William Hanson
Tutor, The English Manner

The Year of the Blog: Reflections on 2009′s Musings

Happy New Year to everyone!

February 2009 saw the very first blog entry for The English Manner eleven months and 37 posts later, it is clear to me what a range of subjects we have been able to cover. From the very first post, which commented on suitable business attire in the modern day, to one of our latest entries about respecting age, I think you will agree that etiquette does apply to all aspects of life.

The blog has now had a slight lick of paint to give it a fresher feel; I hope you like it (if you can notice any difference at all!)

My personal favourite of all of the blog entries has to be the one from the 23rd November on Pre and Post Lactarians. I do realise that I have written a majority of the blog so it sounds almost immodest to pick one of my own piece, but what I like about this particular one is the grandiose terminology that Professor Alan S. C. Ross invented (or cited) in one of his books on the subject of sociolinguistics. It’s so pompous it just has to be tongue in cheek, I am sure.

Each year, May sees the start of the British sporting and cultural season. Last year we commented on the major events of said period, such as Royal Ascot, Wimbledon and the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. More posts on these events are inevitable, as they never fail to flag up questions of protocol and social customs. Incidentally, if any of our readers have any queries we are always willing to answer them. Please see our main website for details of how to pose your question.

The problem with writing a weekly blog (give or take a week here and there off) is that it becomes slightly difficult when the yearly cycle of events begins again. Does one post the same musings on the Royal Epsom Derby again? Should one try to cover new ground about the same event? The trouble with that is, eventually one will run out of things to say as it will have all been said. As to how we at The English Manner will be getting round this minor dilemma, you’ll have to wait and see.

What is to come in 2010, I hear thousands of you all ask? We aim to provide an insight into events such as the Oxford & Cambridge boat race, Glastonbury, and the State Opening of Parliament, as well as commenting on the etiquette that is associated with wine, flags and behaviour when abroad. Naturally, blogs are reactive and as such anything that crops up in the news that regards etiquette will probably get a look in on our blog, too.

But we want your ideas and suggestions for postings, too. If you have a subject you’d like further investigating or a couple of questions about the same topic, please feel more than free to send them to us. Equally, if you read one of the posts and disagree, are confused, or concur with what we’ve said… comment! We love reading what you’re saying – a lot of the time they can be insightful and sometimes amusing.

Here’s to an interactive 2010.

William Hanson
Tutor, The English Manner

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.


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