Friday, 28 August 2015

The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 28 August

Is it mean-spirited of someone to be tetchy about watching your bag, or is it wrong to ask? Thomas Blaikie advises

Written by Thomas Blaikie
Dear Thomas,
On a cross-Channel ferry last week, I asked a woman sitting near me if she’d mind my bag while I went to look for my husband who didn’t know where I was sitting. She said, ‘I don’t know you and I don’t know what’s in your bag,’ and refused to help. I couldn’t believe it – but perhaps I was wrong to ask?
Morvan Montgomery, Aberystwyth

Dear Morvan,
It may be merely anecdotal (how else do we all experience the world?) but I’ve noticed an increase in tetchiness and impatience amongst the general population recently. Several times when out on my bicycle, motorists or pedestrians who’ve had to wait while I pass have rudely tutted and gestured as if I were doing something wrong, which I wasn’t. Last week, a car stuck its nose out at a junction, blocking the cycle path along which I was slogging. A mild protest from me produced unpleasantness. I wouldn’t have minded so much but it was a BMW. Then at the next junction I got the same from a Mercedes.

But I must resist poisoning myself against the world, as must we all – enjoyable as it is to moan and groan. Back to this business of the bag: the woman was certainly rude in her manner, abrupt and dismissive. It is perfectly well-established in our culture that we can ask strangers to look after our possessions in public places for short periods of time. So your request was in no way bizarre or unexpected. However, there may be complications in gauging just how mean-spirited and unnecessarily suspicious this person’s reaction was. Presumably she was imagining that you were a terrorist planting a bomb, in which case, you might think, you’d have left it there without asking her. To me it is important for our general wellbeing that we trust each other and this is really a matter of instinct, otherwise we’d never talk to anyone nor indeed leave the house. We can’t live on the basis that everybody we come across is an axe murderer, con-person or terrorist. This is why breaches of trust, when they occur, are so terrible.

On the other hand, perhaps, someone can’t entirely be blamed for a heightened state of anxiety, especially in a transport situation. I just wish she hadn’t been so rude. If she’d said, ‘I know it sounds silly, but I don’t feel comfortable doing that. Sorry…’ it would have been different. Or made a sensible suggestion, such as, if you were wanting to reserve the places: ‘Why don’t you take something of no value out of your bag and leave it on the seats? I’ll make sure no one takes it.’ That would have been nice, wouldn’t it?

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

WHAT TO DO ABOUT… Flip-flops

Staff at Barclaycard in Canary Wharf, London have been told to buck up regarding dress. The Chairman, John McFarlane, has had enough: flip-flops are his number one hate, apparently, along with T-shirts, jeans and trainers. From 1 September, employees are to adopt a ‘business casual’ standard of dress, except on ‘dress-down’ Fridays. But if employees were hoping for flip-flop heaven on Fridays, then hopes are dashed. They are banned then too.

Many of you will be appalled that flip-flops ever got near an office of any description, let alone one in a premier district such as Canary Wharf. It’s bad enough seeing them in queues at airports. I can’t abide those men, or indeed women, who fly out already dressed for the beach and fly back the same. A travelling outfit should have a certain durability, like the riding habit from which it is descended. Non-footwear, such as the flip-flop, has no part. As you know, I do try not to be stuffy about dress, but those in flip-flops can’t be taken seriously. They can’t be said, even if apparently travelling, to be actually going anywhere, and if in the office, not even to the basement car park.

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