Guide to mod­ern man­ners: Part II

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

NAV­I­GAT­ING your way through life’s so­cial in­ter­ac­tions can be a mine­field, par­tic­u­larly now that new tech­nol­ogy has changed so many as­pects of our lives. Man­ners, it seems, still mat­ter. Last week we fo­cused on smart­phone use, public trans­port, on­line dat­ing and some of the old-fash­ioned stuff (yes, you should still hold the door for a woman. But you should hold one for a man, too).

Our ex­perts, eti­quette coach Wil­liam Han­son and columnist and so­cial me­dia com­men­ta­tor Shona Craven, took us through a range of sce­nar­ios and of­fered sage – though some­times con­flict­ing – advice on how to ne­go­ti­ate them with grace and tact.

This week they talk us through the dos and don’ts of po­ten­tially tricky so­cial sit­u­a­tions, from how far you should go to ac­com­mo­date your din­ner guest’s di­etary re­quire­ments to rat­ing your Uber driver. So, get off your smart­phone and pay at­ten­tion; af­ter all, it could save you some se­ri­ous so­cial em­bar­rass­ment.

Din­ner par­ties

Should you dress up to go to a din­ner party? Wil­liam says: You don’t need a black tie un­less it’s a ter­ri­bly smart party or special oc­ca­sion with a dress code, but I think it’s al­ways good to look like you’ve made an ef­fort, rather than just crawled out of bed. I’d avoid jeans un­less it’s a pizza with your best friend. For men, I’d ad­vise a smarter trouser and col­lared shirt. But at the very least, brush your hair, shave and look pre­sentable.

Shona says: Ev­ery­one likes dress­ing up now and then, but hosts shouldn’t oblige peo­ple to do so. I wouldn’t ex­pect some­one to dress up for din­ner at mine, mainly be­cause it might sug­gest a cer­tain stan­dard of food that I prob­a­bly wouldn’t be able to meet. I pre­fer more re­laxed and in­for­mal soirees.

Is it ac­cept­able to ask your guests to take off their shoes in your house?

Wil­liam says: If you live in a Bud­dhist tem­ple then it’s fine to make such a re­quest. Most of us don’t, how­ever. Shoes are a part of a per­son’s out­fit and they won’t want to take them off. If you’re that pre­cious about the car­pet and floors, don’t have peo­ple over. If you are in­sis­tent about this, how­ever, then the least you can do is en­sure there is a chair in the hall for peo­ple to sit on so they don’t have to per­form some rit­ual one­legged dance while tak­ing off their shoes – es­pe­cially older peo­ple, who could be more likely to fall. If I was a guest I might ask my hosts if they’d like me to re­move shoes, but un­less they are caked in mud, it’s un­nec­es­sary.

Shona says: Yes. It can be an awk­ward thing to broach, but it’s fine. I’d rec­om­mend lin­ing up lots of shoes con­spic­u­ously in the hall­way so they pick up the cue as soon as they come in the door. But you have to get this out of the way at the be­gin­ning rather than watch them trail dirt around the house all evening and be un­able to say it later. Ask­ing them to take their shoes off half­way through the evening is a no-no.

How far should you ac­com­mo­date di­etary re­quire­ments?

Wil­liam says: Ev­ery­one seems to have a di­etary re­quire­ment these days. In the past, no-one had them and it was much eas­ier be­cause peo­ple ei­ther said noth­ing or just died, I sup­pose. As a guest, the point that some­one asks you to din­ner is when you tell them about your di­etary re­quire­ment, in a nice way, per­haps with a “just so you know …”. You don’t text a few days be­fore, and cer­tainly not on the day or even worse, the night. If you do tell them late, you have to be pre­pared to eat just the bread and veg­eta­bles. If you have a le­git­i­mate med­i­cal di­etary re­quire­ment, it’s ac­cept­able to say you’ll bring your own meal as that cuts out awk­ward­ness for ev­ery­one. Don’t make a veg­e­tar­ian or ve­gan meal for all to ac­com­mo­date one

guest. Per­haps make enough veg­e­tar­ian food for a few and of­fer others a choice. Like­wise, if you have an al­co­holic for din­ner, you don’t have to not serve al­co­hol to others – that’s com­pletely coun­ter­pro­duc­tive. If I’m hav­ing friends for din­ner, the food isn’t the main thing – it’s about hav­ing a nice evening. You can get a take­away or have it catered, you don’t have to slave over the stove. If some­one wants to bring their own meal, that’s fine. I’d panic if I had to cater for a gluten-free, lac­tose in­tol­er­ant or ve­gan guest. I’d worry that there would be traces of some­thing else in the food.

Shona says: You should al­ways cater for the di­etary re­quire­ments of your guests, al­though per­haps think about the guest list ac­cord­ingly and in­vite all the veg­e­tar­i­ans round on the same night. I wouldn’t make sep­a­rate meals, I’d just make the same thing for ev­ery­one and ac­com­mo­date the diet. It’s surely not a hard­ship to eat a veg­e­tar­ian, gluten­free or dairy-free meal for an evening? I sup­pose if some­one is on such a diet as a fad, it might be a bit an­noy­ing for the others, but it’s not for me to tell peo­ple how they should be eat­ing. I’ll just go look­ing for a recipe rather than rolling my eyes when some­one tells me they are a ve­gan.

Is it OK to smoke or vape at some­one’s house?

Wil­liam says: Inside is a def­i­nite no un­less your hosts smoke. And you should al­ways ask if it’s OK to smoke or vape out­side their house. If they say no, tough – go for a walk or put a patch on. I won’t have smok­ing or va­p­ing in my house, but guests can go out to the bal­cony. The onus is on the smoker to be cour­te­ous – don’t throw the stub off the bal­cony or on the ground. Put it in the bin.

Shona says: Smok­ing is pretty un­com­mon these days. I have an ash­tray in my flat and if peo­ple want to smoke out­side I’d give it to them, then they’d know not to drop the butt on the ground. You don’t want peo­ple not to come be­cause they won’t be able to have a ci­garette.

Should you talk about topics such as Brexit or in­de­pen­dence round the ta­ble?

Wil­liam says: I’d avoid such di­vi­sive issues as small talk, but it’s in­evitable that pol­i­tics will form part of the con­ver­sa­tion round the ta­ble. If it gets too heated, change the topic. If some­one has strong views on some­thing, you’re un­likely to change their mind in the space of a din­ner so don’t waste your en­ergy ar­gu­ing. Take cues from your host – if they change the topic, fol­low their lead.

Shona says: It’s fine to talk about these things over din­ner. In fact, I’d say we have an obli­ga­tion to talk about them. It de­pends how you dis­cuss things, of course. It can be a mat­ter of per­cep­tion; one per­son’s ar­gu­ment is an­other’s ro­bust de­bate. You can share and hope­fully chal­lenge views. If I went to a din­ner party full of in­ter­est­ing peo­ple and we didn’t talk about any­thing sub­stan­tive, I’d go home feel­ing dis­sat­is­fied. Some­times so­cial events with women in their 20s and 30s can be dom­i­nated by dat­ing talk. That can be en­ter­tain­ing and funny, of course. But it’s de­press­ing if a bunch of in­tel­li­gent women get to­gether and all they can talk about is bad dates or wed­ding plans.

Driv­ing and Uber eti­quette

What are the rules for mo­torists?

Wil­liam says: Good man­ners will al­ways be age­less, time­less, class­less and price­less. It’s about con­sid­er­a­tion for others. Do as you would be done by. If some­one lets you in, let some­one else in later on. Good man­ners ac­tu­ally failed me my first driv­ing test be­cause I took my hands off the wheel to thank a lorry driver who let me out and the ex­am­iner de­cided I was not in con­trol of the wheel – this was both harsh and rude on his part.

It’s also im­por­tant to think about who your pas­sen­gers are. If you’re driv­ing granny, go a bit more slowly so she feels com­fort­able.

Shona says: I think again the best ap­proach is good karma, es­pe­cially when you aren’t in any par­tic­u­lar hurry. There are lim­its, of course – some cheeky driv­ers push their luck with try­ing to skip queues, but it’s gen­er­ally best to give others the ben­e­fit of the doubt. I don’t drive a lot, so will fairly fre­quently find my­self in the wrong lane purely by ac­ci­dent and be de­pen­dent on the kind­ness of strangers to let me switch. I am a big fan of ac­knowl­edg­ing others, as an an­ti­dote to the stresses and frus­tra­tions of driv­ing. What kind of mon­ster fails to give a wee wave when some­one lets them pass, or fails to flash a thank you with their lights af­ter be­ing al­lowed to merge in front? And of course, if you ever see some­one without their lights on at night you ab­so­lutely have a duty to let them know – that’s about safety rather than mere man­ners.

How should you rate your Uber driver?

Wil­liam says: I think you should rate ev­ery ride. Af­ter all, they rate you as a pas­sen­ger. I give most driv­ers four stars rather than five – you’d have to be re­ally spec­tac­u­lar to get top marks. If some­one gets it wrong, keeps you wait­ing or if their car is dirty, give them a lower rat­ing. If the car smells of mar­i­juana, or they make you feel in­tim­i­dated, con­tact Uber sup­port. Rat­ings can be a very use­ful way of im­prov­ing ser­vice.

Shona says: I’ve never ranked an Uber driver. Does ev­ery in­ter­ac­tion in mod­ern life re­ally have to be rated? Rat­ings can be ma­nip­u­lated and I don’t gen­er­ally trust them any­way. I’d maybe be mo­ti­vated if they crashed, or took me to en­tirely the wrong place, or were a ter­ri­ble driver or very of­fen­sive. But in that in­stance I’d re­port them to Uber. Gen­er­ally they shouldn’t have to earn five stars – as long as they do the job they’re paid to do, I’m happy.

Cul­tural mat­ters

Should you call out work col­leagues who say racist, sex­ist and/or of­fen­sive things?

Wil­liam says: I’d say tol­er­ance lev­els have dropped these days and peo­ple are more eas­ily of­fended, so it can be a mine­field. If some­one says some­thing racist or sex­ist and it’s out of char­ac­ter, you don’t need to con­done it but you might want to let it go. But if they are con­stantly racist or sex­ist then take them to one side and tell them how in­ap­pro­pri­ate it is, and how up­set­ting it is. Ask them not to say such things. If it goes on, re­port it to your line man­ager and let them sort it out.

Shona says: I think it de­pends what is said. Is it am­bigu­ous? Ask for clar­i­fi­ca­tion and if you’re not sure, give the per­son the ben­e­fit of the doubt and let it go. Or ask them if they can see how some­thing they’ve said would be up­set­ting or of­fen­sive to a spe­cific group. It might make them think. It may be that they didn’t mean any harm, but that doesn’t mean it should go un­chal­lenged. If it’s truly bad you should prob­a­bly re­port it to your line man­ager or HR. Be­ing at work doesn’t give some­one a pass to be racist or sex­ist – quite the op­po­site.

How mind­ful do you have to be about cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion? Is it OK to have your hair braided or wear a ki­mono or a sari?

Wil­liam says: We all ap­pro­pri­ate things from other cul­tures. The cum­mer­bund, for ex­am­ple [the waist sash worn at black tie events] came from In­dia and no-one calls that cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion. If you want to wear some­thing from an­other cul­ture, as long as you are do­ing it cor­rectly and not do­ing it in a way that could be con­sid­ered of­fen­sive, or mak­ing fun of it, then ul­ti­mately it’s a com­pli­ment. But do your home­work and do it prop­erly.

Shona says: This can be a tricky area, as we saw a few months ago when a young Amer­i­can woman wore a Chi­nese dress to her prom. I have a sim­i­lar dress and have worn it many times. In some ways po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness has gone too far and I think the word “ap­pro­pri­a­tion” de­mands a bit more in­ter­ro­ga­tion. See­ing an English­man or French­man wear­ing a kilt at a wed­ding is a com­pli­ment to Scot­tish cul­ture, rather than ap­pro­pri­a­tion. For me one of the good things about glob­al­i­sa­tion is the abil­ity to fuse cul­tures and en­joy dif­fer­ent cuisines, fash­ions, hair and make-up trends. How­ever, things change and it’s im­por­tant to keep up with what is ac­cept­able. If I had no­tion for a hair­style or out­fit from an­other cul­ture, I might ask others on Twit­ter whether they think it’s OK. But then I’m oblig­ing others to do all the hard work.

Din­ner party rules may be more re­laxed these days but the po­lite guest doesn’t leave it to the last minute to in­form their host they’re a lac­tose-in­tol­er­ant, gluten-free ve­gan

Con­tin­ued from page 9

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