Posts Tagged 'customs'

Blowing Your Own Trumpet: Vuvuzela Etiquette

‘Seventy-six trombones led the big parade
With a hundred and ten cornets close at hand.
They were followed by rows and rows of the finest virtuo-
Sos, the cream of ev’ry famous band’ (
76 Trombones from ‘The Music Man’)

Vuvuzelas

The start of the 2010 World Cup has brought a new and unexpected celebrity to the world’s attention: the vuvuzela. This South African trumpet-esque instrument is blown at matches (in England we’d have a claxon) by the spectators. It’s caused television viewers to complain, as they’ve been unable to concentrate on matches due to the din of thousands of vuvuzelas; when all blown in one constant stream they do sound like a swarm of wasps.

The argument for not banning the vuvuzelas has been that people have free will and as they are not harming anyone then why should football’s governing body, Fifa, intervene? Then of course there is the ‘when in Rome’ argument: the vuvuzelas are a native instrument to South Africa and by banning their use would be a snub to the host country.

So what to do? Utilitarianism would say that we should worry about the greatest good for the greatest number, and so the opinions of the worldwide television audience would take priority over the spectators at the stadiums, and thus the vuvuzelas be banned. However, the ‘when in Rome’ counter-argument is, in my opinion, equally as worthwhile. When we are visiting other countries we should respect their customs and cultures and not just march in and expect it to be England abroad: we have to adapt. But then of course the TV audience is not in South Africa, they are in their own homes… it’s a tough one, but the tournament only goes on for a month (I never thought that I’d ever say ‘only goes on for a month’) and so we should probably just put up with it for the time being… or do what I’m doing… and not watch any of the matches at all!

William Hanson
Tutor, The English Manner

Royal Ascot: Dress & Wardrobe

2010 Royal Ascot is just under a month away. Last year, our post on Ascot proved very popular, gaining the most reads out of all of our entries. This is probably because Ascot is a melting pot and people from all different walks of life can be found here.

Next week we will talk about how to picnic in style at Royal Ascot. This week, we recap on what should and should not be worn when at the races.

Alexandra Messervy, Founder, The English Manner: “Morning suits and top hats are de-rigeur, as of course are the most fabulous hats.  Trousers for ladies are now permitted, but skirts must not be far above the knee, and if you are hoping to enter the Royal Enclosure you will need to apply for a sponsored badge many months in advance, with a reference from a member of the Royal Enclosure.  Top hats should always be black silk, and morning suits can be grey or black – my own preference is grey.  Ladies’ Day is the traditional one to ‘be seen’, when even the more conservative hat-wearer can really push the boat out.  A word of caution though:  if you are not used to wearing a hat, practice putting it on and off and wearing it around the house several times before the big day, and learn to relax – otherwise you will have severe neck strain and a bad headache before you go near the champagne!

William Hanson, Tutor, The English Manner: “In 2008 Royal Ascot was in the news as ladies were turning with too much fake-tan applied and in some extreme cases, they deemed it appropriate to go without knickers. This is never acceptable. Anywhere. For women, it is advisable that cocktail dresses are avoided. Having too much flesh open to the elements at a predominantly outdoor event will only cause goose pimples.  Dress colours that work well are pastels, bright colours, neutrals such as cream and fawn, although fashion changes and each year will see a different colour or shade in vogue. As for materials, linen creases easily and for an event where you may be sitting to picnic (smart race-goers do this in Number One car park), this is not a good idea. Lightweight wool and silk are preferable. Dresses and jackets that can be removed easily if you get too hot are canny choices. Skirts that ride up when you sit down are not, however. The Queen often wears one main colour all the way up (including the hat) which accentuates height and can make shorter people look taller. Umbrellas may be a nuisance but are worth it if it begins to rain. They can be left in the cloakroom if needs be: parasols are naff.”

For further advice on Royal Ascot, please see last year’s (very popular) entry, or feel free to contact us.

Protocol for the Formula One Season

It is the world’s richest, most extravagant sport, but protocol is not be forgotten as the 2010 Formula One season begins in Bahrain this month. Unlike many other sporting events, the Formula One world championship does not take place over a number of days or weeks in one location. Instead, there are 19 Grand Prix in 18 different countries, spanning 5 different continents, each taking place over the course of one weekend at some point between March and November.

The most important detail for spectators to consider when attending a Grand Prix in a foreign country is that the culture, customs and rules of protocol may be different to their native land. For instance, in a devoutly Islamic state such as Abu Dhabi, the everyday rules of etiquette may be completely opposite to what we are used to. It is therefore of the utmost importance that before travelling to a foreign Grand Prix destination, spectators are aware of the customs to which they will be expected to adhere, and should plan their trip suitably. Planning should involve special attention to clothing. Although there is no strict dress code for Grand Prix, both sexes should be wary of showing too much flesh in Islamic countries, even if temperatures are high and such actions would be considered permissible in one’s home country.

More generally, behaviour around the circuit should be tailored to the individual safety requirements of the tracks. All motorsport is potentially dangerous and even spectators are not completely free from danger. For instance, spectators should be wary of standing too close to crash barriers as fatalities have been known when a car collides into a tyre wall and causes high-speed impact with onlookers. Therefore, it is vital that observance and responsibility are displayed at all times.

Formula One is also, understandably, a very noisy event. Earplugs are advisable, and if spectators are planning on using klaxons to show support, it is courteous to ask the permission of any nearby spectators, who may not be prepared for such loud noises at such close proximity.

James Hanson

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

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

Travel Tips

The summer is nearly upon us, and for many of us this is reason for a holiday; whether you are traveling to distant lands or welcoming international visitors at home, make the most of the opportunity to improve your country’s profile and reputation. While no-one sets out to insult or offend their hosts or guests, unknowledgeable and naïve travellers may leave a trail of ill-will and hard feelings.

Before you go, obtain at least enough local currency to get you through the arrival process, tips for the airport porter, your driver and hotel bellman. Your home currency will be of considerably less value to them if they need to convert it at a bank and it suggests an arrogance to flaunt your home currency as though it were an international standard. Don’t over-tip, some cultures find it insulting. While recognising exceptional service is appreciated world-wide, standard services such as handling your baggage or driving from airport to hotel require only a modest tip, if any.

superstock_1598r-82430Prepare yourself with a few key phrases in the language of your host country. The first and most important phrase to learn is “Thank you.” Along with good morning/afternoon, and goodbye, these phrases, delivered with a smile even in your questionable accent, will ease your arrival and minor transactions during your stay.

Familiarise yourself with the culture you are visiting.  While hotel destinations in the Middle East are accustomed to Western dress, once off the hotel property or when traveling through the airport, women especially need to be aware that even simple items like sleeveless dresses or anything revealing the shoulders are considered immodest and may cause offence.  While alcohol is available at resort properties, when leaving the compound to experience the very culture you came to visit, don’t mention it or try to order it.

Even on the most casual of vacations, have at least one decent set of clothes to wear when the occasion presents itself. While formal dress codes are rare, a sense of moderation is encouraged or requested in many dining situations. For men, this means a collared shirt and long trousers (not jeans).  Ladies, no halter tops or shorts in the dining room.  And everywhere at all times, gentlemen (unless they have a medical or religious reason to keep it on) remove their hats indoors and this includes the ubiquitous baseball cap.

If you see an international visitor about to commit some glaring offence, a considerate prompt might be appropriate.  Remember, no-one sets out to offend or antagonise their hosts. A polite suggestion that saves a visitor later embarrassment or discomfort will be much appreciated.

Remember that when travelling, you are an ambassador for your country and the impression you leave behind reflects on your country and affects the way your fellow citizens will be welcomed in future. Arrive as a stranger, leave as a friend.

John Robertson
Tutor, The English Manner


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