Friday, 06 January 2017

The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 6 January

When it comes to opening doors, we Brits differ from the French, as a reader reveals. Thomas Blaikie explores la différence...

Dear Thomas,
Being a French woman living in London, I read as often as I can your pages, to become as British as possible! But every day I am confronted with ‘the door problem’. It would be lovely if you could sort out all the issues with doors. Very politely, here in Britain gentlemen open and hold the door all the time for me to enter first. The same to go out.

But in my ‘culture’, this is the case only inside private spaces. I have always seen my father enter first a restaurant, a shop, a bar, a cinema…

My big question is: in Britain how do I behave as a lady when the elegant friend, the man who dates me etc, lets me enter first? Because I feel as if I am naked, that everybody stares at me. What do I say to him?
Avec tous mes remerciements, Corinne-Alexandrine Bobin, une petite Française de Londres

Dear Corinne,
Alors! What a tangle for the new year. I see correspondence and indignation looming. The quick answer is that you are telling us something we didn’t know about French ladies – that Mesdames don’t like to go through the door first in a public place. Therefore the responsibility of the British gentleman escorting you is to find this out and adapt his behaviour. You could either give your beau a book of French etiquette as a hint, or gently explain as he is holding the door that you would rather not go first as it is not the custom in France.

But you ask about the British way with doors when a man accompanies a lady. Of course there will be those who say a liberated woman doesn’t want any door held open for her and the matter is of no consequence. But that is to ignore the fact that you think it is.

So let’s try to settle la question. In any public place where the man, upon entering, will immediately have to deal with an attendant of some kind – a booking clerk, reservations manager, ticket seller – he should go through the door first. This will most likely be a restaurant or hotel. But he cannot slam the door in the face of the lady behind him, so he must perform a complicated manoeuvre.

It makes no difference whether the door opens inwards or outwards – he passes through first, then, without turning round but perhaps glancing over his shoulder to ensure the lady is still there, keeps the door open with his arm behind him. At some point he must move forward or the lady will collide with him, so she should be prepared to catch the door so that she can complete her passage through it. You don’t need to rehearse this at home first. In practice it’s not so difficult.

WHAT TO DO ABOUT...Text messages

…when you send one to the wrong person. Before Christmas a prominent woman journalist I know thought she was texting her friend. But she wasn’t. The disparaging message got lobbed straight to the person whom it was about – luckily only an acquaintance. Lucky also that she wasn’t saying anything too dreadful. Well, there’s nothing you can do about it. All the same, she went pale with shock and locked herself in the loo. Some people, who know human nature and, better still, know themselves, will see the funny side. We’ve all got a way of talking about people when they aren’t present which isn’t quite the same as how we would speak to them in person. It’s more a question of tone and register than content. There’s no stink of betrayal – or needn’t be. Ironically it’s those who are more curious about their fellow human beings, who read a lot of novels perhaps, who are most likely to indulge. No curiosity and you’ll never offend. All the same, the situation is best avoided. In in the new year, do be careful that you’re texting the right person. Email threads are the other great trap.

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