Our guide to mod­ern man­ners

The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - Contents - By Mar­i­anne Tay­lor

MAN­NERS maketh man, goes the old say­ing, high­light­ing the im­por­tant role eti­quette has al­ways played in so­ci­ety. Things change over the years, of course – when was the last time you saw a man putting down his coat over a pud­dle for a woman? – but what we say and how we be­have in pub­lic still matters.

You some­times hear older peo­ple com­plain that man­ners aren’t what they used to be, par­tic­u­larly now that tech­nol­ogy rules so many ar­eas of our lives. And clearly eti­quette in some ar­eas of life isn’t as for­mal or strict as it used to be.

But sit­u­a­tions like buy­ing rounds, split­ting the bill af­ter a meal, smart­phone eti­quette, de­cid­ing whether or not to of­fer some­one your seat on the bus and nav­i­gat­ing the world of on­line dat­ing can be a mine­field. And it all be­comes even more com­plex when you con­sider chang­ing so­cial norms across gen­der, race and sex­u­al­ity, not to men­tion the growth of so­cial me­dia and iden­tity pol­i­tics.

“The fun­da­men­tals of man­ners and eti­quette have stayed the same for hun­dreds of years,” says eti­quette coach Wil­liam Han­son, au­thor of The Bluffer’s Guide To Eti­quette. “It’s all about con­sid­er­ing other peo­ple and avoid­ing be­ing self­ish. Good man­ners will al­ways be age­less, time­less, class­less and price­less.” Mean­while, colum­nist and so­cial me­dia ex­pert Shona Craven be­lieves that tech­nol­ogy can be un­fairly blamed for a per­ceived de­cline in man­ners.

“I agree that four peo­ple round a table look­ing at their smart­phones looks pretty anti-so­cial,” she says. “But we for­get that tech­nol­ogy can en­hance so­cial sit­u­a­tions too. Af­ter all, phones are con­nected to peo­ple.” With all this in mind, over the next two weeks we will be ask­ing Wil­liam and Shona to share their ad­vice on how to cope with a range of com­mon mod­ern eti­quette dilem­mas.


Is it ac­cept­able to get your phone out dur­ing a meal or when you’re hav­ing a drink with some­one in the pub?

Wil­liam says:

No mat­ter how im­por­tant smart­phones are in our lives, there is a time and a place for them. If you’ve ar­ranged to be out so­cially with friends or fam­ily the least they can ex­pect is that you spend the time talk­ing to them and not scrolling through so­cial me­dia or do­ing emails. We all have busy lives but if your life is so busy you need to be look­ing at your smart­phone ev­ery two min­utes, can­cel or rear­range.

Lots of what we do on our phones isn’t as im­por­tant as we think it is. Does an­swer­ing a mes­sage right now re­ally mat­ter that much? If you must look at your phone, then at least make your ex­cuses and go to the toi­let.

Shona says:

The idea of “put your phones away” is too pre­scrip­tive. You’re sup­posed to be hav­ing fun, it’s not the school class­room. For some peo­ple hav­ing their phone on the table is a com­fort blan­ket. Also, many of us use them as a watch. Whether it’s rude to look at your phone while you’re with some­one de­pends on the in­ter­ac­tion. If you’re look­ing up the name of some­thing as part of a con­ver­sa­tion, then ar­guably you’re ad­ding to the one-to-one in­ter­ac­tion rather than de­tract­ing from it.

But if you go to look at the time, spot a mes­sage from some­one else and turn your at­ten­tion to that, it be­comes rude. It can be hard to re­sist an­swer­ing mes­sages, but peo­ple need to be dis­ci­plined.


Pub­lic trans­port eti­quette. Should you al­ways thank the bus driver? Do you have to queue for the bus? When should you give up your seat?

Wil­liam says:

If you have con­tact with the driver and walk past him or her, you should ac­knowl­edge them and say hello or thank you. It’s rude to do other­wise.

You should of­fer a seat to any­one who looks like they need it more than you – usu­ally the el­derly of ei­ther gen­der, ladies who are preg­nant, or some­one that has sprinted to catch the bus (even some­one young) and looks like they could do with a seat. I live in Lon­don and I rarely get a seat but when I do I’m al­ways look­ing out for some­one who needs it more.

Peo­ple tend to be more ret­i­cent about of­fer­ing their seat these days in case they of­fend any­one. Re­gard­less of whether you are male or fe­male, young or old, if you are of­fered a seat and don’t want it, then don’t snap or be cross, just say: “Thank you, I’m fine.” We must re­mem­ber that chivalry is a two-way street.

Shona says:

Not queu­ing for the bus risks tuts, mur­murs and even el­bows. But in a busy city, how do you know who is get­ting on the same bus as you and whether they will flag yours down? It’s a mine­field. Most of the time the bus won’t be full and ev­ery­one will get on, so there’s no need to queue. And all the “you go, no you go” only holds things up.

Know­ing who to of­fer a seat to is tricky. Is that woman preg­nant or just over­weight? Older peo­ple don’t al­ways want to be treated as frail, while younger peo­ple could have an un­seen dis­abil­ity. Peo­ple shouldn’t have to ask for a seat and I’d like to see a sys­tem in­tro­duced – maybe with a lan­yard? – that in­di­cates to fel­low pas­sen­gers you would like a seat.


Do you al­ways have to tip? What’s the best way to split a bill? And are rounds in the pub the fairest way to buy drinks?

Wil­liam says:

Only tip of you are 100 per cent happy with the service. Ad­ding on a service charge should be vol­un­tary: if you get good service, you tip. In­deed, this en­cour­ages good service. Even if a charge is au­to­mat­i­cally added and you get poor service, few Bri­tish peo­ple ever speak up. If the service is bad you are per­fectly within your rights to ask peo­ple to re­move it from the bill.

With ref­er­ence to split­ting the bill, in a group it’s best if ev­ery­one has the same num­ber of cour­ses, other­wise it’s not fair to di­vide the bill by the num­ber of peo­ple. Noth­ing ruins a meal more than the “mine was £1.50 cheaper” con­ver­sa­tion. If you are that per­son, don’t go out for a meal. If money is that tight, stay in and save up.

As for rounds, it should be like for like. If there are four peo­ple, then ev­ery­one buys four drinks. The prob­lem these days is that the younger gen­er­a­tion don’t drink as much as older peo­ple. Some peo­ple won’t want four drinks. Rounds seem a bit old-fash­ioned. It’s more ac­cept­able to or­der for just your­self and your sig­nif­i­cant other, or put money into a kitty. It can ap­pear a bit anti-so­cial to say “I’ll buy my own”, so make sure you say it nicely.

Shona says:

I al­most al­ways tip – service would have to be very bad not to. But it de­pends where you are in the world. Over­seas, many peo­ple in the service in­dus­try rely on tips for their wages. Do some re­search and ask lo­cals about the cul­ture and eti­quette of wher­ever you are.

Split­ting restau­rant bills needs some thought. There are all sorts of so­cial con­ven­tions that don’t take into con­sid­er­a­tion the in­di­vid­ual cir­cum­stances of your friends, who may have very dif­fer­ent lev­els of in­come. In a group set­ting it’s im­por­tant to point out when some­one wasn’t drink­ing or had fewer cour­ses. We all have a responsibility not to freeload. It’s bad eti­quette to say, “I didn’t have a starter”, but good eti­quette to point out that some­one else hasn’t.


Should I hold a door open for a woman?

Wil­liam says:

Hold doors open for any­one, re­gard­less of gen­der. If you’re a woman and some­one holds a door open for you, it’s not be­cause you’re a woman, it’s be­cause you’re a hu­man. It’s about po­lite­ness – don’t be­rate the per­son.

Shona says:

Hold­ing the door for some­one shows con­sid­er­a­tion and kind­ness. Of course I’d hold a door for a guy – ev­ery­one should hold them for ev­ery­one else.

It can be awk­ward when you’re walking through a cor­ri­dor with fire doors and some­one holds it for you, but you’re lit­tle bit far away and have to run, then say thanks, then do it all over again. Should we start a con­ver­sa­tion? Are we friends now? Don’t oblige some­one to run down half a cor­ri­dor just to make your­self look good.


Should you tag some­one in a Face­book pic­ture when they don’t look good? Is it OK to be Face­book friends with your boss?

Wil­liam says:

There’s a func­tion on Face­book called Tag Re­view – turn it on and it won’t tag you un­til you ac­cept. If you’re in any doubt, even if you think a pic­ture is re­ally funny, ask peo­ple be­fore you tag them. Con­sid­er­a­tion for oth­ers is al­ways go­ing to be in fash­ion, what­ever the tech­nol­ogy. Don’t just put some­thing up be­cause you think it’ll get you lots of likes.

Face­book is so passé these days any­way – the young, cool, hap­pen­ing peo­ple aren’t us­ing it. Par­ents and grand­par­ents are us­ing it in in­creas­ing num­bers, but in my ex­pe­ri­ence the older gen­er­a­tions use it like teenage girls used to use it 10 years ago – they over-share pic­tures of their grand­chil­dren and pets and give you un­nec­es­sary run­ning com­men­taries that can be very cringey.

Shona says:

Be­ing friends on Face­book be­comes a bit awk­ward when it’s a col­league and there’s an im­bal­ance of se­nior­ity. But don’t for­get that peo­ple use Face­book more spar­ingly and for dif­fer­ent rea­sons and au­di­ences, and friend re­quests are eas­ily ig­nored these days any­way. How­ever, if some­one ig­nores your re­quest, don’t men­tion it. And don’t take it per­son­ally. It’s up to them to de­cide how they use so­cial me­dia and who they want to share that with.

Tag­ging is a mine­field. Af­ter a night out, if you don’t tag some­one, are you telling them they looked re­ally bad? I tag ev­ery­one and they can un-tag them­selves if they wish.


Is it OK to call peo­ple “love”, “hen” and “doll”, and is it OK to touch peo­ple to show af­fec­tion and/or sym­pa­thy?

Wil­liam says:

In a pro­fes­sional en­vi­ron­ment us­ing such terms is not ap­pro­pri­ate – just use some­one’s name or ti­tle. With friends, if they don’t mind you call­ing them “dar­ling” or “love”, that’s fine. You’ll soon see whether they are com­fort­able with it.

As far as touch­ing goes, in a pro­fes­sional en­vi­ron­ment I’d avoid it com­pletely, es­pe­cially in this day and age. In a so­cial en­vi­ron­ment, al­ways make sure touch­ing is from the waist up – never be­low the waist – on the arm or el­bow, or be­low the shoul­der, and only for a se­cond or two.

Shona says:

Terms like “hen” seem to have died out a bit and of­ten you’ll only hear it used in an ironic way these

days. Does this make us a less friendly so­ci­ety? I think there are prob­a­bly bet­ter ways to show hu­man­ity than names that might of­fend peo­ple. Some older women es­pe­cially still use “hen”, and surely no-one is go­ing to take offence at some­one say­ing “can you tell me the way to Buchanan Street bus sta­tion, hen?” or some­thing like that. But it de­pends on the con­text. A man us­ing “hen” can sound pa­tro­n­is­ing.

As a so­ci­ety we are be­com­ing much more aware of the fact that some peo­ple are very un­com­fort­able with be­ing touched. It very much de­pends on the so­cial cues. There’s also a per­cep­tion that dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy is mak­ing it harder for us to pick up on so­cial cues. But I think women in friend­ships are much more touchy-feely these days. Some­times it can be awk­ward when you’ve met some­one as a friend a cou­ple of times and you’re say­ing good­bye – should we hug? It de­pends. It should be a nice thing. If in doubt, just ask.


If you want to find a part­ner, find a phone. But what are the rules be­hind this new world of love? Swipe left if you dis­agree ...

Wil­liam says: I have done on­line dat­ing in the past but af­ter meet­ing my part­ner (not on the in­ter­net) I’m glad I no longer have to. I think the stigma is mostly gone, ex­cept maybe in the gen­er­a­tions that never had it.

There are a few golden rules. Present your­self truth­fully in pic­tures. Don’t have pho­to­graphs with sun­glasses cov­er­ing your eyes, al­ways use re­cent pho­to­graphs and if you’re larger, be hon­est about it – don’t only use head shots. Be fair. If you’re a lady and you now have short cropped hair, don’t use pic­tures where you have long flow­ing locks.

If you turn up for a date and think “ab­so­lutely no way”, give the per­son a shot. Noth­ing makes you feel worse than when some­one cuts a date ob­vi­ously short. I ac­tu­ally made some good friends through on­line dat­ing.

On­line dat­ing by its very na­ture is daunt­ing and there’s al­ways go­ing to be a worry over whether some­one is hid­ing some­thing. Man­ag­ing ex­pec­ta­tions is also im­por­tant. If a date goes well and you’re go­ing to be on a plane and un­able to con­tact them to­mor­row, tell them that.

Shona says: The most im­por­tant thing is to try to treat oth­ers as you would wish to be treated. The prob­lem comes when peo­ple have dif­fer­ent ex­pec­ta­tions. The key thing is to try not to take things to heart. Don’t be­have reck­lessly to­wards some­one you don’t know be­cause you’ve had bad ex­pe­ri­ences in the past. It’s easy for women in par­tic­u­lar to get very cyn­i­cal about things. I’ve heard friends say “all the men on this site are hor­ri­ble” – that’s not fair. You can’t gen­er­alise. On­line dat­ing opens up a world of pos­si­bil­i­ties and although you have three bad ex­pe­ri­ences in a row, the next per­son could be a breath of fresh air. Peo­ple get neg­a­tive and frus­trated. Take a break rather than be­com­ing bit­ter and be­hav­ing badly to some­one who doesn’t de­serve it.

The Tin­der gen­er­a­tion can be very clin­i­cal – it can feel like an ex­change of CVs and re­moves a cer­tain amount of the magic, seem­ing cold and func­tional.

Swip­ing left and right is very su­per­fi­cial, ob­vi­ously, but if you go on a date with some­one, that’s dif­fer­ent. If you don’t want to see them again then you have the po­ten­tial to hurt their feel­ings. Lead by ex­am­ple and don’t stoop to the level of the worst treat­ment you’ve had.

It only takes a few min­utes to com­pose a nice text to let some­one down gen­tly rather than just ghost­ing them [pre­tend­ing they don’t ex­ist]. At least they will know how they stand and maybe have a lit­tle more op­ti­mism about mov­ing on to the next date. But if you don’t hear from some­one, try not to take it to heart and don’t over-an­a­lyse the rea­sons. Re­mem­ber the old adage: maybe he’s just not that into you.

Wil­liam Han­son’s new pod­cast Help! I Sexted My Boss, pre­sented with Ra­dio 1’s Jor­dan North, launches on Septem­ber 4.

Next week: Driv­ing and din­ner parties: the new rules.

From sur­viv­ing the daily com­mute to know­ing how and when to act at work and in a so­cial sit­u­a­tion, man­ners are as much of a mine­field as they have ever been

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