The best of Debrett’s A to Z etiquette tips & the history behind them

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Every so often the World presents us with a social situation we don’t know how to handle. I began thinking about this around 6.30 one Saturday morning when my partner and I were discussing a work induction he took part in years ago. In the middle of touring a busy ward, one of the participants announced that she once had bacterial vaginosis.

Absolute overshare, right?

It’s sometimes difficult knowing how to handle these situations. Working in the air, I would often encounter scenarios where people would share highly personal information. Most of the time, I don’t mind acting as a shoulder to cry on. I remember placating one lady whose husband repeatedly cheated on her. She’d ‘accepted it’ (those were her words), but was worried his latest liaison would amount to something more.

Then, there was the girl who spent half a shift crying (that’s really not what you want when you’re somewhere between Cairo and Capetown), because she was sleeping with one of the pilots. Why the big girl tears? Well, said pilot had a wife and two kids at home. In that situation, I really didn’t want to be privy to her private life.

Over at the wonderful world of Debrett’s, there’s an etiquette-friendly way to handle (almost) everything. The iconic finishing school provider has compiled a truly modern A to Z guide on etiquette. From ignoring know it alls to handling phubbing, here are some of my favourites from each letter:

A is for arrogance

Debrett’s A to Z
Less peacocking, thank you. CC: Andre Mouton at Unsplash

As the authors at Debrett’s charmingly declare, those who are arrogant are lucky, because they’re thick-skinned and able to dish out their knowledge “without looking left or right.” However, their confidence is also incredibly rude. In a nutshell, if what you’re saying is filled with bombast and pomp rather than accuracy and kindness, you may want to consider holding back. That’s always worth remembering in the online world, especially for us freelance writers.

To those who venture here from other countries, we’re a bit arrogant as a nation. Okay, a lot according to one New York Times author. Where does said arrogance come from? Once upon a time, we peacocked on the international stage. Alongside our European brothers and sisters (I’m looking at you, Portugal and France) we spearheaded colonialism. Our stoicism was exquisitely refined by Churchill. Sadly, it seems to have since descended into a plethora of Facebook-driven Britain First memes.

B is for Bills, bills, bills

Debrett’s A to Z
Offering to go halves? It’s rude not to. CC: Jakub Kapusnak at Unsplash

Or, paying the bill when you go out for lunch, dinner, or join someone on a date. According to Debrett’s, the person who dishes out the invite is the person who pays. However, they do nod to the truly modern way in which us ladies should now (most likely) at least offer to pay. I’ve had many a conversation with male friends where they say this a deal breaker if their date doesn’t at least offer. Make the casual wallet reach, but be sincere and absolutely have enough money to cover the bill (and the tip) if they take you up on it. Don’t snub someone who accepts your request to go Dutch. And, adhere to the rules of if you invite you pay, especially when it comes to friends. Most, if not all, will offer to go halves despite your insistence, or they’ll pick up the tab for the next one.

C is for cancelling

Debrett’s A to Z
Make sure you let your friends know that their time is precious to you. Don’t cancel at short notice (if you can help it). CC: Kelsey Chance at Unsplash

Honestly, Debrett’s description of how to approach cancelling is spot on with a useful everyday comparison. It also details what to expect in return. Again, using said comparison. As they state, treat cancelling an engagement a little like cancelling a hotel. The shorter the notice, the worse the penalties. Aside from when there’s a genuine emergency, don’t expect friends, partners, or beaus to remain gracious if you halt plans at short notice.

More often than not, people dislike last-minute cancellations because it’s an indicator that their time isn’t precious. Time is an unstable and non-infinite commodity that most of us wish to guard. When you cancel at the last minute, without sound reason, you are telling someone that their time doesn’t mean much to you. Wherever possible, cancel well in advance. Just like when you back out of a hotel booking, you shouldn’t face too many social repercussions.

D is for Drunkenness

Debrett’s A to Z

“Drink is the ally of social confidence; at the end of the night, it is the enemy of social manners.”

After living a few years of the cabin crew lifestyle (and being a self-declared Sancerre and Pinot Grigio lover) I am more than familiar with the above statement. One or two glasses of anything white is an excellent social lubricant. Similarly, one or two shots of tequila is an excellent way to emulate the social graces of a Geordie Shore cast member.

Debrett’s seem to have stolen a note from my Nan’s advice book with this one: eat well and alternate with glasses of water. Another of her phrases involves a saying that seems to suggest that drinking beer before wine won’t result in a hangover, but doing it the other way around will. I may test that one day.

Quaffing wine stems from the Ancient periods. After writing for a client who produces Grappa, I’ve recently discovered that boozy avenues have long been available to people of all classes. In fact, gin was once a working-class tipple but has since blossomed into many enviable forms. Some of which scatter themselves around my kitchen.

Regardless of whether you prefer wine, beer, or gin, getting smashed in public becomes extra-embarrassing once you hit a slightly more responsible age than your teen years.  If you’re a wailing Morganna or angry Dave while hammered, consider putting the Hendrick’s to one side at your next work event. Your spouse will probably thank you for it.

E is for Eating in Public (NB: this doesn’t include restaurants)

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Maybe fewer street-side binges would be a good thing? CC: Demetrius Washington at Unsplash.

I once worked with a GP who was adamant that eating in public is at least partially behind the rise in obesity. As a pastime that was once seen as “hypnotically revolting”, it’s often unnecessary and encourages consuming more than your body needs.

I’m sure this is a social faux pas that many will excuse. However, eating at a table rather than as you walk down the street is far more polite. Also, nobody really relishes the smell of a McDonald’s while they’re sat on the train, do they?

Eating in public isn’t the only way our attitudes towards food have changed here in Great Britain. Aside from a decline in tea consumption, we’re adopting more Italian foods and consuming less liver.

F is for Fashion

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Yes to comfort, practicality, and style. No to brand snobbery. Always be appropriate. CC: Lauren Fleischmann at Unsplash

Debrett’s approach to fashion is refreshing. They acknowledge that today’s rules are a lot less strict than those of a few decades ago. Providing we wear something that’s suitable for the occasion, we’re not doing anything wrong. I.e. no wearing wedding dresses to work, and perhaps no bikinis at funerals. I wrote that just in case ‘appropriate’ wasn’t clear. We do live in a Kardashian era, after all.

They also state that we shouldn’t fall victim to brand snobbery. While my 11-year-old daughter is a brand snob in many ways, she also isn’t against H&M or Zara. That’s a relief, as my bank account possible couldn’t bear the strain of ongoing brand snobbery. I was once on the receiving end of a Net-a-Porter back to school Gucci range notification that made my heart sink. Fortunately, the miniature version of myself hasn’t discovered high-end fashion. Yet. Besides, as Debrett’s state, brand worship in the style world often results in looking like a fashion victim.

Want a real insight into the history of fashion in the UK? The Victoria & Albert Museum usually features an ongoing display. While there, you can learn all about how women’s fashion grew to celebrate practicality rather than large hoops and breasts pressed to the ceiling with corsets.

G is for Gossip

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Keep those everyday conversations both friendly and factual. CC: Kawtar Cherakoui at Unsplash

Like it or not, gossip plays a role in our everyday lives. From the stories about celebrities that grace our tabloid papers to the conversations we accidentally stumble into, it’s difficult to avoid. If you find yourself gossiping, make an attempt to stop. It’s true that there’s no denying the certain level of fun behind it, but you’ll appear unfriendly and unprofessional if somebody catches you doing it in the workplace.

Interestingly, although history tells us that gossip in the form of tabloid newspapers has shaped society, their influence is waning. Over the last 15 years, we’ve seen a significant decline in tabloid newspaper influence, with some people choosing to shun the news altogether.

H is for Hotels

Debrett's A to Z
Don’t go screaming to the manager at the drop of a hat CC: RunnyRem at Unsplash

Who doesn’t love a good hotel stay? Although I once took them for granted, I do miss the quiet evenings I spent in one hotel in Johanessburg. The steak in South Africa is cheap enough to enjoy on every trip and I was often in need of some room service and peace. In my early twenties, I would occasionally catch a train to London just to enjoy two nights of hotel sleeping and historic tourism.

According to Debrett’s, you should ensure all is well with your hotel not long after checking in. Raise all issues with reception before throwing your fists in the air and proclaiming that you must see a manager. Only call for said manager when you truly cannot find a resolution with the reception staff. Don’t make use of the daily towel change unless you truly need to, and always remember to tip.

In Britain, hotels are a fairly modern invention. By modern, I mean that they have gathered popularity over the last couple of centuries. Until the late industrial era, those who needed to travel outside of their locale would stay with friends. When they couldn’t, they would rent a room in an alehouse. Rest assured, the accommodation in alehouses didn’t quite scratch the surface of what we can purchase via Booking.com today.

I is for Internet dating

Debrett's A to Z
When engaging in a spot of Internet dating, act with honesty. CC: Charles Deluvio at Unsplash

With apps such as Tinder showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon, Internet dating is still the norm; not the exception. While it’s advisable to use the best photo you have, avoid the art of catfishing. Portraying a life that isn’t what it seems will only result in you being caught out. Humans can only sustain lying for so long.

As Debrett’s states, Internet dating was once the playground of ‘oddballs’ and those who struggled to meet others in day-to-day life. Thanks to our increasingly busy lifestyles, it’s now a convenient and not at all unusual way to meet a potential life partner. The first Internet dating site to grace our dial-up connections was Match.com, which launched in 1995.

J is for jargon

Debrett's A to Z
Leave the jargon in your books CC: Freestock.org

If you’re a copywriter too, you’ll already understand how jargon can become a tetchy issue. As a freelance copywriter who specialises in medical marketing, I have to remain mindful of my audience. While fellow medics will understand acronyms and disease processes galore, standard patient audiences won’t. Debrett’s agrees that overusing jargon occludes conversation in day-to-day life. If you’re aware that the person sat opposite you doesn’t understand it, avoid its use. Take a similar approach to writing.

While at medical school, I learned more Latin than I could have wished for. Although my first high school was also a languages centre of excellence, I never learned any of the classics. Historically, we’ve long used Latin in the medical field. When it comes to addressing patients, however, it’s best to avoid it for the sake of clarity.

K is for Know it all

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Rest assured that your mind probably isn’t a library. CC: Clay Banks at Unsplash

The two years I spent working on my MSc occasionally featured moments where they felt like the longest. Why? Because my class was privy to the ongoing pontificating of a know it all.

From informing our (incredibly well-educated) lesbian class member as to how she should raise her child to incredibly bizarre views on menstruation, he had a well-intended thought to share on most subjects. He was always far from malevolent, which made his attitude slightly less challenging to manage.

According to Debrett’s, we should grant such know it alls our attention. Listen, intently (no matter how faux you feel) and don’t labour your opposing views. If you do, you provide them with the platform they’re grasping for. That platform will allow them to pontificate further.

L is for luxury

Debrett's A to Z
Henry VIII was a monarch who spearheaded luxury in Great Britain

As something I have chosen to blog about on a weekly basis, luxury is a topic that’s true to my heart. When you’re offering a luxury service, either as a freelance copywriter or someone else, make sure you deliver the goods described. To me, in the copywriting industry, that means delivering on time, producing original work, surpassing your competitors, and substantiating claims with research.

One Huffington Post article alludes to the idea that luxury in the UK stemmed from Henry VIII. It’s difficult to argue with that, especially given his penchant for a non-frugal lifestyle following his father’s ability to scrimp and save. One classic example is Nonsuch Palace, which sadly became dilapidated and was sold off to generate cash in the 17th century.

M is for money (discussing it)

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Taking a crass approach to money is a bit of a faux pas (CC: Carl Raw)

Damn, the Debrett’s A to Z returns a 404 error for this particular topic. However, I’ve been assured that it’s largely crass to discuss money. It’s a little like name dropping; it makes the conversation awkward for others. I once had a colleague who would somehow bring her kids’ classmates into every conversation. They included the Duchess of York’s children. While it was an interesting anecdote the first time, the allusion to her royal links became tedious and a little cringe-inducing after a short while.

In the UK, the constantly fluctuating GBP stems back to Ancient Rome. We developed our currency throughout the Anglo-Saxon era, right through to the modern day. More recently, we’ve tweaked the shape of our £1 coins, invested in £2 coins, and we don’t adopt the same note-heavy system as our American cousins. In all likelihood, discussing money became more common around WWII, when the pound saw a significant decline in value. The need for austerity and frugality potentially made finances a necessary hot topic of the time, although it remained a tense subject amongst the rich. After reading one of Chanel’s biographies, I’ve come to realise just what lengths they went to appear working class and, therefore, attract less scorn from those who gave weight to popular opinion.

N is for Name Dropping

Debrett's A to Z
CC: Rosie Kerr at Unsplash

There were so many categories under N, it really took a lot of reflection for me to arrive at name dropping. Fortunately, very few of my friends will do this. But when they do, I try to zone out in a loving and kind manner.

According to Debrett’s, name dropping is a way of trying to gain kudos through someone else’s fame. I, personally, feel as though we see name dropping on a daily basis in a few other forms. For example, I’ll meet new friends who’ll mention their high-flying spouse’s career before paying homage to their own not-so-awe-inspiring one. It’s almost as though there’s a sense of shame behind their choices (which is totally unnecessary) and they’re trying to make up for it by their association with someone else.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve spent a bit more time engaging in mindfulness and meditation ritually. I also re-read Jen Sincero’s book: You Are a BadassIn her book, she sort of reminds us why we might look at someone and think ‘ugh’. A part of it is, we’re seeing something that we don’t like in ourselves.

That got me thinking, why do I dislike name dropping so much? Is it because I’m not that much of a braggy person but I wish I was? Or maybe I do too much bragging? Anyway, this one is a good point of reflection. For all of us.

Historically, it sort of feels as though name dropping stems from the times when who you knew truly mattered. For example, those who were given the gift of surrounding Henry VIII at court usually gained more respect than those who had been shunned. Take Charles Brandon versus Thomas Wolsey, for example. Both from less-than-desirable backgrounds on the nobility front and both would fluctuate in the amount of favour they gained from others depending on how hacked off Henry was with them at any given time. Later on, when Queen Caroline (I’m dedicating an entire chapter of a new book to this lady) made salons popular again, being able to brag you were in attendance was everything.

So, name-dropping has been a big part of our society. It helped people get places once upon a time. It’s just that now it’s a little bit more toe-curling.

O is for Over-Reaction

Debrett's A to Z of etiquette
CC: RawPixel at Unsplash

I chose this one because I am prone to an over-reaction myself. Just ask my partner, who has had to sit in a restaurant trying not to look other diners in the eye as I cry about something weird.

But, Debrett’s exploration of over-reaction is very different to the emotional outbursts I’m describing above. Instead, it visits the way in which we’ve now chosen to really congratulate someone for every effort. You know, the trophies we give to every child playing at a football match, even if they performed poorly.

And, the declarations of awe and wonder when someone makes a meal that’s sub-par. Or, the virtual cheerleading that unfolds when a man (shock horror) washes the dishes.

Many will claim that there’s very little wrong with this. But, as Debrett very aptly describes, it really does de-value real emotions. If we’re going to continuously hand out trophies for practically achieving nothing, where does that rush of pride come from when a person does score an amazing goal? Or, will our partners really feel praised and admired when they give us an amazing gift at Christmas?

Hazarding a guess, the introduction of over-reactions to modern society arrived right when we began taking positive parenting a step too far. I hate to join the legions of Internet trolls who use this word, but somewhere along the line, it became all too easy for us to feel ‘triggered’ by criticism. Maybe if it stops, we can return to normal emotional responses. Myself included.

P is for public transport

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Until April this year, public transport was the cornerstone of my existence. I would spend hours on a bus, followed by another half-an-hour on a train, just to reach university. Before my partner and I lived together, I would take a similar journey. My attempts to numb it involved reading, revising, and music. When I finally got my license in April, I vowed to never return to the monotony of public transport in South Wales.

Much of what Debrett’s lists with regards to public transport would make everyone’s life a joy. For example, be mindful of others when eating. Yes, that includes you, the person who is eating chips and curry sauce at 3pm. Could you not pick something less stinky?

The same goes for music. Yes, I love a bit of music while using public transport. No, I don’t blast it so loudly that others can hear my secret Britney Spears addiction.

And, yes, it absolutely is possible to offer your seat to someone who is pregnant or potentially a tad too old to stand for hours on end without causing offence if you’re wrong. Just get up off your backside, move discreetly, and hope that the intended recipient of your seat will take it.

Although we might be slipping on the manners front a little as far as public transport goes, it seems we have still come a long way. The rise of public transport occurred in the early 19th century when railway tracks flourished throughout the UK. Connections between major cities were forged, and even Queen Victoria was taking trains (although she demanded that they slow down to 40mph).

While Queen Victoria enjoyed first-class conditions, third-class (yes, it used to exist) really was packed to the rafters in cattle-like conditions. However, as an era where women and children first was very much still a thing, I’d like to think a pregnant woman was offered a seat; regardless of her class.

Q is for quiet zones

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CC: RawPixel at Unsplash

Is it okay to follow one public transport post with another? I think so. Occasionally, when I travel with GWR and I haven’t booked a first class ticket, I sit in the quiet zone. The aim is to be somewhere that’s quiet so that I can work.

Does everyone adhere to the Quiet Zone rules? Nope. The other day I heard the same gentleman start three phone calls in a row with “Listen Dave, I can’t be long because I am sat in the quiet zone of a train and I don’t want to piss everyone off.” Before proceeding to have a very long, dull, and loud conversation about statistics.

If you sit in quiet zones and treat your fellow passengers as an audience to your phone call, hold business meetings at a table with your colleagues, or get smashed and revel in boring tales with the lads or your girlies, please stop. The rest of us are there for some peace.

R is for restaurants

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CC: PetrSevcovic at Unplash

After years of working as cabin crew, I witnessed many a ridiculous dining out faux pas. Some came from a spot of innocent ignorance. For example, the 18-year-old newbie I took out for food in Chicago who didn’t realise she must tip.

Others came from being plain rude. For example, the outlandish drunk who wouldn’t tip our waiters in South Africa, despite having enjoyed amazing food complete with stupendous service.

Then, there are the people who I love who shuffle uncomfortably when they feel as though they’re being rude, but actually they’re not. My wonderful partner spends five minutes deciding whether to ask someone to cook his burger a little better, apologised profusely to the waiter who had to deliver the message, and then spent a little longer musing over whether he had done the right thing. But, as the Debrett’s guide suggests you do, he was discreet throughout.

In the past, I have ummed and ahhed about seat choices. I’ve veered away from steaks when someone else is paying. I’ve probably forgotten to close my menu after deciding what I want to order so that the waiter or waitress knows to make their way over, but then I am always nice once they do arrive. When they’re flustered because they’re new, I try to draw on my recent penchant for positivity and promote self-love.

But, I do witness a lot of what Debrett’s states are just downright unnecessary. For example, making a very loud song and dance when something isn’t to your liking. Or, trying to get a little too friendly with your servers. Taking the mick on the ordering front also happens regularly. One girl I flew with regularly would aim for the most expensive meals just for the sake of it when the captain was footing the bill.

In essence, the first British restaurants cropped up in the form of communal kitchens during the 1940s. There was a war going on, people needed feeding on the cheap, and so they went there to exchange their ration coupons for a hot meal. Back then, meals were made on the basis that you were going to get a good dose of the right vitamins and enough energy to make it through the day. Today, almost anything goes. After the cheeseboard I ate the other day featuring popcorn, I’m very grateful for that.

S is for Social Networking

Debrett's A to Z
CC: FancyCrave at Unsplash

As a freelance copywriter, I definitely rely on social networking to a degree. Part of working from home means that you don’t get much face-to-face interaction with others. And, after years of working in the skies, I have acquired friends from around the globe.

Social networking allows me to streamline staying in touch. I may have mentioned this in my post on maintaining your wellbeing. I also mentioned (as does Debrett’s guide) that the interactions you have via social media shouldn’t substitute those that you can have in person.

Debrett’s also highlights some of my other pet peeves and grievances:

  • Accepting every friend request that comes your way
  • Deleting people as though it means something
  • Oversharing personal information
  • Tagging people in horrendous photos because you think it’s funny

Now, when I say that I don’t want to accept every friend request that comes my way, I’m not behaving as though I am exclusive. I just don’t see why the guy who sat next to me on a plane but didn’t say a word needs to friend me on Facebook.

I know people who regularly ‘cull’ their Facebook with a big announcement before and after. Said culls usually feature congratulations to those who remain on their list.

As for the oversharing, surely that’s what we have Jeremy Kyle for? I don’t need to know if your boyfriend kissed another girl at a nightclub with a sticky floor (read my book on how to improve in the relationship arena.)

Now, for the horrendous photo tags. My mother LOVES to do this. Hence why she is a friend of mine online, but largely restricted from my Facebook. Unless you would ROFL if that person did the same to you in return, consider holding back. (Note, my mother loses her shit if I do the same in return).

According to The Telegraph, 99% of people aged 16 to 24 have a social networking account and they have used it in the last week. Over the last few years in Britain (and likely worldwide) it’s grown to promote the cultish following of Instagram mummies, fitness experts, and prank-loving YouTubers. Sure, it serves its purpose in terms of staying in contact with people. But let’s all remain a little more mindful of the fact that your online behaviour shouldn’t differ too much from the way you act in real life.

T is for Tolerance

Debrett's A to Z
CC: Matt Collamer at Unsplash

As someone who is a couple of weeks into practising loving-kindness meditation, tolerance is a big one for me. It’s big because I feel as though I need to broaden my capacity to remain tolerant of others. And, the more I delve into this meditation practice, the more I realise we are all a lot less tolerant of each other as we can be.

In a nutshell, tolerance means you respect the beliefs of others and their personal capacity to endure hardship and pain. Being tolerant (or more compassionate) doesn’t mean you’re allowing yourself to live a murky life as a doormat. When you’re tolerant of the differences in others rather than trying to make them behave and believe as you do, you spend time feeling less angry.

But, what if someone is less tolerant of you? What if you’re trying to explain something to them and they want to take you to their opinion buffet with great force? Start by looking at them as one of the most intolerant creatures in our society: your average toddler. The person you’re facing possibly hasn’t thought through their reaction or their action. Also, there’s a chance that they don’t have a great understanding of you or who you are.

Then you have two options. You can start with gently explaining why you do what you do, what your beliefs are, and how it benefits your life while not having a detrimental effect on theirs. Do so calmly, while compassionately remaining mindful that someone is being intolerant because they don’t understand you. You can then follow that with a smile and calmly allowing them to carry on, in the hopes that your message sinks in.

Or, you can turn the other cheek and set boundaries with that person. Neither option is weak. By engaging in the game of intolerance, you’re wasting energy that you could deploy elsewhere.

Historically, we’ve always been an intolerant bunch in Britain. But, life is changing, as is our perception of others and their beliefs. As different approaches to religion, parenting, and working have filtered through to our society since the 1960s, our ability to tolerate and act with compassion has grown.

U is for Underdressed

Debrett's A to Z
CC: Lauren Fleischmann at Unsplash

This one is very easy to dissect. Have you ever turned up to a party or function, only to feel horribly underdressed? Sure, the world won’t stop turning on its axis. But unless you have the confidence of Cara Delevigne, you’re probably not going to put your lacklustre outfit to the back of your mind for the evening either.

The best way to avoid rocking up to anything underdressed is to ask about the dress code. Don’t worry, in most cases, you won’t find yourself in a Bridget Jones situation where the code changes at the last minute and nobody bothers to tell you.

Or, aim for a dress or outfit that can easily do the whole day to night thing depending on the accessories you throw with it. Go for statement jewellery and a bag large enough to hide it in if you’re turning up looking as though you’ve just tumbled through Barbara Windsor’s wardrobe. And, remember that jackets can have a significant impact, especially when they’re tailored correctly.

The 21st century saw some of the most significant changes as far as fashion in Britain goes. While costume and formal dressing was all the rage until both world war periods, it slowly ebbed away in favour of more austere outfits. Coco Chanel pioneered blending austerity with fashion, for which a lot of Paris’s elite were (silently) thankful for.

Somewhere around the nineties, we lost the desire to leave the house meeting a minimum standard on the appearance front. I was a big fan of Louise Mensch when she suggested at least sticking on some mascara and moisturiser. Many (especially on Twitter) weren’t.

Now, we’re at a stage where dropping your kids off at school in pyjamas is the done thing. Fashion isn’t everything, but meeting the basics on the decorum front is a good self-respect booster.

V is for Visitors of the unexpected variety

Debrett's A to Z
CC: Travel-Cents at Unsplash

How people react to unexpected visitors fascinates me because of one person: my mother (again, I know). She approaches all ringing phones as though they are coiled snakes waiting to bite her. If someone bangs at the door, it’s as though you’re observing a guilty person awaiting a visit from the police.

As Debrett’s states, it’s rude to just rock up at someone’s house. As a freelance copywriter, even as one who’s exploring mindfulness and impermanence, this can irk me at times. There’s the part of me who wants to welcome more people into my life, then there’s the part of me that needs the solace my work commands.

That brings me to the next part of Debrett’s thoughts on this matter, it’s rude to just shoo the guests away. Despite my desire for solace, I don’t have it in me to push someone away at the door. If they turn up at my house and want to spend time with me, they’re coming right on in.

Not those promoting religion, though. They have a doorstep discussion instead.

Looking at this take on the British history of manners, it’s easy to see why we’re so squeamish about unexpected visitors. First, we prize our personal space. How close someone can get to us will increase with how well we know them. Second, we love punctuality. The same part of our minds that loves punctuality on a cultural level probably admires forewarning when it comes to pre-arranged visits.

Beautifully, over the last century, the British approach to etiquette has been forced to merge with other cultures. Our sense of community has allowed unannounced visitors to become more common. Is this a bad thing? The more I think about it on a well-being level, it isn’t. As freelancers, we’ll often moan about social isolation, which means we can’t subsequently moan about someone popping into our home working environments to say hello.

W is for weather (as in talking about it)

Debrett's A to Z
CC: Jeremy Bishop at Unsplash

Okay, so Debrett’s did have a few more interesting options than talking about the weather, but they were all returning a 404 error.

It’s neither polite nor impolite to discuss the weather. However, it is a habit that’s unique to us Brits. We use it as a means of small talk, as an icebreaker with strangers, and when we need a neutral and non-controversial topic to rest on.

Do we feel awkward as we discuss the weather? It seems to be a habit that I haven’t yet dropped with relatives or other people that I love. For some people, there’s an acute sense that they’re visiting a topic that’s a little bland and they worry that they’re presenting themselves as being so. As a result, they try to avoid it.

Personally, I don’t mind a small weather discussion. Sometimes it’ll crop up with my other half, mainly because his dad was a weatherman and he’s always looking out for prime surfing conditions.

According to Oscar Wilde, a chat about the weather becomes a refuge when we’ve run out of other things to talk about. Travel author Bill Bryson is a tad puzzled as to why we love it so much, primarily because our weather is so bland. Maybe the answer to our fascination lies with Bill Bryson’s musings. We live in such a temperate climate, that when things do change, it’s a comfortable way to express astonishment and strike a conversation with someone else (that means Oscar Wilde was right too).

X is for Xenophobia

Debrett's A to Z
CC: Bruce Mars at Unsplash

Could a topic be more pertinent? (I imagined myself as Ross from F.R.I.E.N.D.S while writing that sentence). In short, Xenophobia in Britain means to rant about those foreigners coming over and taking our jobs, living off our benefits system, and sending money back to their own country. Some will label it as national pride. Others are happy to call it out as racism.

Having a good old xenophobic rant, whether it’s down the pub or at a cocktail party, is both boring and rude. It’s rude because you’re making generalisations about a group of others people. Which, yes, merges into racism’s boundaries depending on the nature of the conversation. It’s also rude because you’re forcing others to discuss something which may make them feel uncomfortable. If you’re speaking to a stranger, is there a chance that their mother is Eastern European? South African? Syrian?

Those who dish out advice on etiquette at Debrett’s feel it’s better to nod and smile when a xenophobic rant arises. Doing otherwise means you’ll delve into a debate that could suck the life out of your moment of enjoyment. Eventually, you’ll land on colonialism.

While those at Debrett’s feel as though discussing or promoting xenophobic views is rude, it’s difficult to say whether society at large agrees. You’ll find such views in tabloid newspapers, between the glossy covers of magazines, and on at least one person’s Facebook feed.

Your best option? Just step away from it. It’s a toxic conversation that sucks away at your joy, which means you become less productive and more hateful.

Y is for Yawning

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CC: Adam King at Unsplash

Of course, Debrett’s offers a guide to yawning.  Few of us enjoy seeing someone sat in front of us with a gaping open mouth.  But, yawning is a natural response.  Most of us will yawn when we’re tired.  Although the science world doesn’t fully understand why we yawn, one of the more popular theories is that we do so to make sure the brain gets more oxygen.  That seems to make sense because we yawn when we’re tired and we yawned when we’re bored.  In both instances, getting more oxygen to the brain results in feeling more awake.

According to Debrett’s, yawning is rude in general.  However, they do know that it is a physiological response we can’t always control.  Therefore, the rudeness lies in how we yawn and possibly the situations in which we’re yawning.  For example, if you execute a big yawn with no attempt to cover your mouth, is unlikely that you’re going come across as being polite.  Or, if the yawns only arise when you’re in a particularly boring situation you’re likely to cause offence to the person who is making you feel bored.

Seeing as we can’t prevent yawns entirely, it’s possibly worth accepting that they’re going to happen but that we can approach them in a nice way.  If you are aware that you’re feeling tired in the middle of the meeting, drink some coffee, take a walk outside, and return feeling a little bit more refreshed.  That way, you’re less likely to annoy your boss and colleagues.  Or, if you can’t control the yawn just mask it using your hand.  On that note, when I was going through my cabin crew training one of the trainers said that she hated watching people try to swallow their yawns.  I can sort of see what she means because some of the facial expressions people pull when they attempt to do so make them look as though they’re being tortured.

I guess the history of yawning isn’t really all that interesting.  I can remember reading a lot about Anne Boleyn and to how at her coronation, she would be with her mouth concealed by a cloth but then would subsequently spit into a bucket next to her. It, therefore, seems that the rudeness in yawning lies in seeing inside someone’s mouth. Or, if you’ve ever been on the receiving end of someone saying, “am I boring you?” it’s also the perception that you’re not really interested in what another person has to say.

Z is for Zips

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CC: Norwood Themes at Unsplash

Not seeing your zip come undone on your trousers is an embarrassing situation we all dread.  When we see that it’s happened to someone else we tend to take a tentative approach, at least in Britain where we all like to be dreadfully polite.  According to Debrett’s, there are several ways to approach this scenario.  First, their guide doesn’t suggest loudly declaring that someone is flying low.  While a few people will appreciate this humourous approach, some won’t.  Instead, how you inform someone that their zip is undone can depend on how well you know them and the situation at hand.

If this is someone that you don’t know very well and they’re likely to become a business associate, it might be better to ignore the situation altogether.  Sure, this might seem a little cruel.  However, it may be better to leave the task to someone who knows them well enough to correct their faux pas with minimal embarrassment.  If you do know them, apparently, you’re not meant to smile in advance of informing them that their zip is undone.  Instead, just look them straight in the eye and discreetly inform them that they may want to pull it back up again.

I guess the history of this one stems from our desire to remain polite.  At the same time, we are conscientious beings who wouldn’t want to walk around in the same situation.  Another piece of Tudor history but I feel relates to this situation involves Henry VIII.  Rumour has it that when he became particularly rotund, everyone else at court was made to walk around with their waistcoats featuring one button undone at the bottom.  The aim of this was to make sure he didn’t feel embarrassed by the fact that he was now so fat he couldn’t fit into his original clothing.  Hopefully the monarchy of today is a little less sensitive.

 

 

 

 

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