Friday, 18 September 2015

The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 18 September

A gathering at a milestone birthday leaves one reader at a social impasse. Thomas Blaikie advises

Written by Thomas Blaikie
Dear Thomas,
We have several times been guests of some wealthy acquaintances at various holiday villas abroad. In an admittedly feeble attempt to repay their kindness (but all we can afford) we invited them to my husband’s 60th birthday, which is taking place in a characterful but basic village house in Romania. They agreed to come months ago but at the last minute announced that they have found a grandersounding place to stay some distance away. Now they ask if someone else, whom we know slightly, could be in the village house. We don’t know what to do. Lydia Nonsuch, Eastbourne

Dear Lydia,
You’re stunned, I expect. I’m not surprised you don’t know what to do. Just reading this makes me very angry. It’s the worst rudeness I’ve heard of for a long time. Or indeed beyond rudeness. It’s hard to believe these people know what they’re doing. Re-run the scenario but, instead of a holiday villa, it’s a dinner party: ‘By the way, we don’t want your dinner, we’re going to a Michelin-starred place near you instead, but we can send a substitute to take our place.’ Blatantly they’ve found somewhere better as they would see it. It’s a crass rejection of your hospitality.

I notice that you refer to these people as ‘acquaintances’ despite the fact that they’ve invited you to their holiday villas a few times. So there’s no bond of friendship: they only invite you because they can. They’ve got a villa to fill and they want to impress. That’s the extent of it and you know this at some level. So why feel any obligation to return their hospitality? They’ve made it clear that spending time with you and joining in with what you’re doing on your terms is of no interest. It’s your husband’s 60th birthday, for goodness sake! I would not hesitate to exclude them from the occasion.

You could send a note saying, ‘I’m so sorry to hear that you are unable to join us for the birthday celebration.’ If they don’t get the message, you may have to get more direct, but surely the priority is that they don’t come anywhere near your husband’s birthday party?

As for the suggestion of putting a substitute into the village house… words fail me! Sad to say, there may be tragedy lurking here. My private theory, yet to be tested by science, is that people are driven by fatal inadequacies to acquire huge fortunes. They think that everyone will love them for their money and all the lavishness that it brings but really the more elevated they become the further they drift from normal life, and the worse everything gets for them.

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… popping round

Or, rather, not popping round. The National Travel Survey carried out by the Department For Transport shows that whereas the average number of trips to visit friends in their homes was 145 in 1995, in 2014, it was 90. The decline is attributed to increased use of social media. However, journeys to meet up with friends at venues other than the home, such as restaurants, have not reduced, which is surprising.

In my experience using social media generates more ‘meets’ with a broader range of people. Overall trips of any nature are down because of online shopping and working from home. Should we be throwing up our hands in despair at the decline in popping round? The serious worry is the increasing reliance on hastily written communication (texting, Facebook messenger, etc). People aren’t even using the phone. Hence misunderstandings, ironically, over arrangements to pop out for coffee, lunch or visit the cinema with friends are more likely to occur. The other day I misread an ambiguously worded Facebook message and thought the people weren’t coming to Glyndebourne. Disaster.


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