Thursday, 12 April 2012

Modern manners

So what exactly is the right way to say thank you to hosts nowadays? Thomas Blaikie is here to help…

Written by Thomas Blaikie

Dear Thomas,

I wrote to thank some people for their lavish dinner party recently. All the hostess said was:  ‘I  thought we were friends.’ Was my gesture chilly? I can’t keep up with modern manners! Please help.

Suzanne Wildish, Somerset

Dear Suzanne,

I wonder if those who paid £250,000 to dine in an attic flat with kitchenette (I mean, Downing Street) wrote thank-you notes?

Of course, it isn’t wrong to say thank you by post, but many people these days will think the traditional hand-written letter or card of thanks old-fashioned and formal, especially for something like a dinner party, however magnificent it may have been.

Gratitude is worthless unless freely given and the thank-you letter has always seemed to me to be required, a hollow etiquette chore. Some hosts demand them with menace, going round their parties saying pointedly, ‘When you write your thank-you letters...’

Not for nothing have these dismaying grindings-out of gratitude acquired unflattering joke names: bread-and-butter letter or ‘Collins’ after the supremely insulting efforts of Mr Collins in Pride And Prejudice.

Some say that written, posted thanks is only necessary if you have held a fork or spent the night. So a champagne party with miraculously intricate canapés every 10 seconds – no Collins at all. Melon starter, followed by lasagne – three sides minimum please. Where’s the sense?

Don’t misunderstand me: of course thanks and appreciation should abound. Their lack is one of the great ills of our society. But what’s wrong with email or even text? If you won’t accept these means, you’ll probably have to settle for nothing at all.

But thanks by email or text should never be routine or abrupt. Don’t simply trundle through the  courses. Try to recall something curious that was said or a new person you enjoyed meeting.

If dinner parties are supposed to bring people together why not phone up to thank rather than get trapped behind the infernal barrier of the never-ending Collins? Bring people closer, if desired, by saying at the end of a social occasion, ‘Please don’t trouble to write/email/text.’ With intimates, gratitude is assumed.

Some, not so close, fail to thank adequately. Maybe they have a backlog of thank-yous they can’t face. Perhaps they’ll invite you back instead – eventually.

Thanks by post is justified and even necessary in some rare circumstances: when, for some reason, you’ve had lunch or dinner with people you’ve never met before or older people you hardly know or when you’ve stayed overnight in the home of strangers or people you know very little.

Hand-written thanks for presents are welcome and are not considered formal. Children, please note! (it’s hopeless though, will they ever thank at all?)

Please send your questions to Thomas.blaikie@lady.co.uk or write to him at The Lady, 39-40 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ER.

What to do about... Exhibition manners

The answer to rude exhibition-goers? In this glorious Jubilee year there are exhibitions around every corner so you’re bound to be going to at least one. Hilary Rossington of St Albans was plagued at the Illuminations exhibition at the British Library: ‘People clustered so closely around the cases, it was impossible to see anything. When I stepped back so more people could see, someone just stood in front of me and blocked my view.’ She also mentions that she had to polish the display cases with her cardie: sticky fi ngers. This proves that yobbery is not confi ned to the lower orders. When vulturing culture, the middle classes are at their worst.

Come along people, show some consideration! Yes, step back from exhibits to allow others a chance. Do try to notice, when fi rst homing in on an item, whether someone else is already viewing? Are you in their way?

Those audio guides are a menace, too, causing congestion at vital points and general obliviousness. Better to do without. And while we’re about it, there’s often too much talking at exhibitions.

Don’t monopolise for hours, peering at the brushwork. You won’t be thought supremely sensitive, just in the way.



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