Thursday, 12 July 2012

The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 13 July

It’s not easy knowing how to be polite in the modern world. This week: How does one deal with a holiday hangeron? Thomas Blaikie advises

Written by Thomas Blaikie
Dear Thomas,

I go on holiday about twice a year with a long-standing friend who lives at the other end of the country. We are both widows, and this is precious time for us to spend together. Our last holiday, which was my first cruise (a holiday option never to be repeated), on a small boat with just 20 cabins, was ruined by a woman travelling on her own, who assumed she could go around with us all the time. Whenever we got off the boat, there she was, waiting for us; she would even have an itinerary planned. We tried dropping hints, but we just couldn't get rid of her. Judith Hall, Great Missenden

Dear Judith,

Yes, the holiday season comes round again. At least you were spared a big bustup with your longstanding friend. That's the usual scenario: people go on holiday with their best friends and slowly discover they can't stand them. They never speak again afterwards. Tragic and perfectly avoidable in my view. But we'lldeal with that another time.

The most brutal solution to the problem you had on your holiday, as you rather imply yourself, is don't go on a cruise in the first place – and certainly not one on the miniature side, unless intense intimacy with strangers is what you crave. Cruises of all kinds attract people for whom the main object is to make new friends or at least get into a temporary gang for comfort and convenience. On a cruise, you've just got to join in.

As a teenager, I cruised round the coast of Norway with my parents. Crossing the Arctic Circle, we all had to have ice poured ceremonially down our necks to mark the event. I was having none of it and scored a black mark from all the other cruisers.

All the same, you could hardly have anticipated such a pernicious stalker. Try to take a firm line with these types from the start. You're not being rude. Say, 'We're going to be having dinner together. We can meet up with you for coffee afterwards.' (Some concession might be charitable, as well as diplomatic.) If they try, as in this case, to dominate your entire day, be very clear that you've made other plans but offer a cafe rendezvous (brief drink) at a certain time. I wouldn't normally say this, but you might even not turn up. If their offer of companionship is genuine, they'll take the hint, and a rewarding relationship might follow. If all they seek is power, they'll try someone else.

However, don't let such unfortunate experiences lead you into the assumption that strangers are to be avoided at all costs forever after, or that anyone who speaks to you in an hotel or such place is a maniac. You never know what you might be missing.

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


WHAT TO DO ABOUT... Lack of courtesy

What to do if you're a grumpy older person always complaining about the rudeness of young people? Once again, happy news on the manners front, this time from Mrs Grace Horn, 82, of Bury St Edmunds.

She writes to The Lady: 'It is always so sad to hear the older generation complaining about the younger people and their socalled bad manners. Where did these younger people get their examples and role models from? Yes, from the older people.

'I have dealt with many oldies throughout my life, who seem never to have heard the words please and thank you. I am now 82, not very mobile and constantly overwhelmed by the consideration and kindness of the young – in the shops, in the street and elsewhere. They do not push their trolley in your back to hurry you up at the supermarket checkout, nor do they fail to hold the door open for you.

'I like to make sure that I express my gratitude in a sincere manner when this happens, and I hope they feel good about themselves. Maybe the day will come when your column is no longer needed – but I'm not so sure about that!'

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