Thursday, 14 June 2012

Modern Manners: 15 June

It’s not easy knowing how to be polite in the modern world. This week: wedding etiquette – the outfit, the speeches, the presents. Thomas Blaikie advises...

Written by Thomas Blaikie
Dear Thomas

I can't believe it – I've got three weddings this summer. As a guest I want to do my bit to make sure it's a special occasion. What do you advise? Oh – and I'm rather dreading the speeches!

Rachel Simmons, Hebden Bridge

Dear Rachel,

Lucky you! I'm sure you'll have a marvellous time. First of all, you'll be wondering what to wear. Even men nowadays break the rules, even if a dress code is stated on the invitation; not all will wear a tie. Some will possibly be in jacket and trousers, not a suit, but surely not jeans. As for morning dress, I do think it's a bit much to insist on it for all men guests, even small boys, because they'll likely have to hire it.

For women, there's more choice – and more pits to fall into. A useful rule of thumb: dignity. Some ladies totter off to weddings as if going night-clubbing. Your outfi t might be too everyday: can you be sure? A good jacket will always lift any ensemble out of the ordinary.

Hats seem to be entirely voluntary these days and are taken off sooner or later. You might want to check in advance that you won't be the only one wearing a hat.

At the ceremony, there should be some order of precedence as to seating. At a well-organised wedding this will have been worked out beforehand, but often there's chaos. The best-loved granny has to sit at the back because some acquaintances have occupied the front row. I wouldn't hesitate to pitch them out myself.

Mobile phones must absolutely not be used at weddings, either at the ceremony or reception, unless for the taking of photographs. If you must call or text, do so out of sight. Obey this rule and you will be making a great contribution to the glory of the day.

Do try to mix, even if you think the bride/groom has married beneath them and the opportunities for looking down on the other side are too delicious. If there's a sit-down meal, you might find yourself in close confab for hours with the stranger sitting next to you. Remember: don't ask direct questions: worst of all, 'What do you do?' Try to find out by indirect means. It's more fun and they'll be more forthcoming if not quizzed.

Now we come to the speeches: why are they always so awful? Firstly, too long. If you're giving a speech, whatever you have prepared, slash it in half. Secondly, the Best Man – awful nudgenudge, wink-wink carry-on, usually resulting in the bride never speaking to him again. Thirdly, fear of emotion – what's wrong with a few heartfelt words? More women should make speeches at weddings. Fourthly, behaviour of the guests: don't join in with the whooping and leering.

Finally presents: all wedding guests must give a present, but not necessarily from their list.

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



WHAT TO DO ABOUT... Hot weather manners

What is to be done about flapping fans? My words may fall on stony ground if there's no more good weather this summer. People who fan themselves – in meetings at work, on buses, in the cinema or theatre, at parties – are just a weeny bit annoying. It's so distracting. Also anyone remotely clued up knows they're just making themselves hotter. Even worse are those rubbishy little electric contraptions.

The best advice on heat management is given by Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby: Don't think about it. Don't move. If you're near enough to a 'fanista', try lunging at them, pretending to get the benefit of their churned air. Might put them off.

As for passers-by making comments on your delicious picnic in the sun, assuming you can't hear? It's a sign of how we all live in our own little bubbles. Often they're practically treading on your rug. 'Oh look, they're having lobster,' I once heard. Or, 'I wonder where they got that cool box?'

Respond as if they'd addressed you – reach out, offer some of your lobster, answer their queries. They might stop and make friends for life.

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