Friday, 03 March 2017

The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 3 March

If you want to reach out to a lonely person, Thomas Blaikie reviews the right approach

Dear Thomas,
I could have sworn I heard about a government initiative to get us all talking to lonely people. But when I went into John Lewis’s café and started up a conversation with a person on their own nearby, it didn’t go down too well. Perhaps I’ve got it wrong about the government initiative. What do you think?
Genevieve Randall, Broadstairs

Dear Genevieve,
I don’t think you’re wrong. I’m sure I heard the same thing but I couldn’t put my finger on it. As with a lot of these dreamy schemes, advice is lacking as to how to proceed. But there’s surely no glaring reason why John Lewis should not be a good place to start.

In 2014, the Office for National Statistics found Britain to be the loneliest country in Europe, and in 2010, the Mental Health Foundation said that the problem was more prevalent among young people aged between 18 and 35.

Of course nobody wants to be targeted as a lonely person and gushed all over by a do-gooder. Also, with all the emphasis on loneliness, some people refuse to believe that a person might actually enjoy being on their own – for some of the time at least. Even so, this ridiculous taboo of minding your own business and not talking to strangers ought to be resisted. Just be sure to back off if your overtures are plainly falling on stony ground.

Someone who is lonely through circumstances – perhaps relocation or bereavment – but fundamentally of robust temperament, might have the energy to build on random encounters. Any contact is beneficial. You don’t have to be bosom buddies, although you might become so. It’s important not to expect too much. A bit of jolly banter, then maybe you can draw your new acquaintance into neighbourhood activities – a curry supper, community gardening, organising a Bring and Buy.

The trouble is there are other kinds of loneliness that are much harder to alleviate. The frail and housebound must be visited regularly and require dedication. Get in touch with Age UK to find out how you can help. Others are depressed; they’re lonely but company makes them feel worse. Often victims of depression don’t know they’re depressed. Sometimes mild depression can be short- circuited by what might be called occupational therapy in the community: try to cajole the person into activity, it doesn’t matter what – baking, flower arranging – try to get them to join in. They might feel better. Or try to get them to talk. Whatever you do, be gentle.

So, all in all, yes, by all means talk to strangers: but remember it’s natural for people to be wary of intrusion or judgement. If you ask questions, stick to ones requiring only a yes or no answer. Don’t ask anything that might be personal or upsetting. Don’t ask what they do for a living.

Please send your questions to or write to him at The Lady, 39-40 Bedford Street, Lodon WC2E 9ER


Stories are emerging on TV and in the newspapers: cruise lines are now adding a £10 a day service charge. Cruisers are no longer at liberty to tip as they see fit on disembarking, as has always been the cruising tradition. Privately, a senior figure in one of the cruise companies has said that the British head the queue on board for those who don’t want to pay the charge (it’s still nominally voluntary in some cases).

Surprisingly, Americans are not too keen either, but more because they’d rather decide for themselves what to give. I don’t know how many times I have to say it but I remain a lone voice: for goodness’ sake, let’s get rid of tipping. Let’s be like Iceland, where it’s simply not required. Bliss. Just imagine, all that confusion (especially when abroad), embarrassment and guilt swept away for good. The practice is patronising and outmoded. You don’t tip your solicitor or the supermarket staff who help you find the frozen peas. Hospitality employees shouldbe paid properly – too bad if that means it will cost more to eat out etc. But most of us are giving the tips anyway. What a farce!

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