Caro Stow-Crat here. People are always saying that there's no such thing as etiquette these days, but we need modern manners for the modern world. I couldn't agree more. Personally, I won’t have people looking at their phones during meals. If you have to take an urgent call, excuse yourself and leave the room. And correcting your family’s Facebook posts is hardly good manners. It’s like interrupting them mid-anecdote to say: “It was 1985 – and we were in Boulogne.” Both are off-limits.
Oh, and never, ever tell a writer what to write about.
According to the owner of Ragley Hall, the height of rudeness is to send a postcard written in pencil. These days the equivalent is breaking off a relationship via fax. Or is that terribly old-fashioned? It would be text these days, or WhatsApp. You could even Instagram a picture of yourself and your new partner. Unless your wife does it first. Now there's an idea...
I loved Howard's End, didn't you? But did Tracey Ullman really commit a gaffe by spooning jam directly onto her toast? I'm afraid so. She should have used the jam spoon to transfer some confiture to her plate. She should then apply the jam to her toast with her knife. And she should not have applied jam to toast in mid-air – butter and jam are spread while the toast is on your plate. The fact that the plate is small, and not flat, makes this awkward, but that’s middle-class manners for you. Everything is more difficult than it needs to be. (My friends the Teales would say “than it need be”. They love the subjunctive.)
Napkins may all be paper these days ("serviette" if you must), but the rules haven't changed. Unfold it and put it on your knee immediately you sit down. Arrange it carelessly rather than folding it neatly.
Puddings should be eaten with a fork if possible.
If you still smoke (we send guests out on the terrace), put the cigarette in the corner of your mouth, not the centre, and hold it between two fingers, not your finger and thumb. But do take it out of your mouth when you're talking. I still don't know quite what to do when somebody smokes one of those "vape" things. And they smell like boiled sweets.
British people sometimes say, “You must drop by if you’re passing,” or “We must meet for coffee”, or “We must have lunch some time”. Ignore them. British people never just “drop in”. They like to be prepared for guests by tidying the rooms they will welcome you into and hiding all the clutter. And they have to be mentally prepared. They need time to put on their clean clothes and their social persona. Unfortunately Britain lacks places where people can meet spontaneously. Of course, they may be giving you a hint that they want you to do all the hard work and make the social arrangements. It can all degenerate into a game of "After you, Claude".
If your date takes you to his favourite restaurant and flirts with his favourite waitress in front of you, break it off. Actually, just get up and walk out.
Well-bred people never intrude where they are not wanted. (Marie Corelli)
Once upon a time it was considered the height of indelicacy and low breeding to mention the ‘liver’ or any other portion of one’s internal machinery. (Marie Corelli)
An ambassador explains: “There is really only one downside to having been an ambassador. Every person who comes to my house for dinner or a party brings me Ferrero Rocher chocolates. Each one thinks they have been incredibly funny and original.” He added that he doesn’t even like Ferrero Rocher. (Times, 2017)
You can't go far wrong with Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behaviour.
More here, and links to the rest.