Thursday, 09 August 2012

The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 10 August

Is it possible to go on holiday with friends and return with the friendship intact? Thomas Blaikie is here to advise

Written by Thomas Blaikie
Dear Thomas,

This year my husband and I are renting a lovely-looking house in the Beaujolais region of France. We're going to share it with friends, which we've never done before. I'm all eager anticipation. But people keep telling me we're bound to fall out. What would you advise?

Hazel Finch, Broadstairs

Dear Hazel,

Don't listen to these witches prophesying doom. Certainly it's a depressingly standard idea that going on holiday is a test of friendship. But what people usually mean is that their friends have failed.

But why? You know perfectly well that 'Ronald' is a know-all, but two weeks of him as the selfappointed expert on your holiday destination is a treat you hadn't quite reckoned on. What I'm saying is: be prepared. Beforehand, imagine your friends' faults magnified and playing at full volume all the time. Then the real thing won't be so bad.

Scratchiness on holiday in general results from unrealistic expectations. We crave an unimaginable dream of bliss. Every year we forget, especially if going abroad, the drawbacks: too hot, insects, can't make yourself understood, likely to get ill, shops miles away and closed. Even the glorious lack of occupation can weigh heavily after a while.

So if you're grateful for small mercies rather than requiring the moon, the holiday with friends is likely to be a success. Also it is helpful to launch into the vacation with a radiantly positive determination not to fall out with anybody, not to harbour resentments. You could try this without veering to annoying conspicuous saintliness.

On the practical front, it might be an idea, if taking a holiday home, to allocate the rooms in advance (after looking at photographs online if possible) and, if some are much smaller than others, to settle who should pay what. As for running costs, some might think a kitty is just too institutional. But if you decide to be free and easy, it's no use complaining that others are not forking out sufficiently.

Accusations of bossiness often fly on holiday but perhaps unfairly. The one making lists and insisting that the washing-up is done by 3pm may be fulfilling a useful role in your group that nobody else can be bothered with. Or possibly they are just agitated and in need of soothing. Conversely, others are thought not to be pulling their weight but they may have different domestic standards or none at all. Try to be flexible.

No need to feel guilty if you don't want to be glued together as a group for the entire holiday. But separate outings can sometimes be proposed in quite an aggressive way. A more tactful approach might be along the lines of: 'Would it be all right with everyone if we went to the caves today?'

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

WHAT TO DO ABOUT... Latecomers

We've touched on this before but an interesting suggestion comes from Norman Willoughby of Thetford, who describes himself as 'one of those "creepy" people who always arrives on time. No lurking in bushes; my timing is impeccable.' He quotes Louis XVIII: 'Punctuality is the politeness of kings.'

We all can, and should be, kings, says Mr Willoughby, who continues, 'I worked for the Canadian Government in Costa Rica, where tardiness was not a fashion but a way of life. When I left after three years working with the locals, my wife and I threw a party with invitations that included a mini-schedule (arrival, greetings, introductory drinks, meal and departure, etc). Everyone arrived on time; it was a terrific party and I was asked politely at the end if they could all please stay a little longer.'

Full marks for taking on an entire nation! Lateness is one of those areas where improvements can be achieved. The timetable, as in this case, clearly works. Another approach is to say to well-known dawdlers, 'Everyone else is coming at 7.30pm but for you we'd better say 6.30pm.' I tried this with routinely 'delayed' friends and it worked.

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