Friday, 15 January 2016

The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 15 January

Must ladies order first when dining out with a male companion? Thomas Blaikie advises on how not to make a meal of it

Written by Thomas Blaikie
Dear Thomas,
Dining recently with a lady companion, I naturally suggested that she order first, whereupon she got quite cross and said she didn’t want to be put on the spot. So now I’m not at all sure what the proper etiquette for this situation is. Could you help?
Colin Bannerman, Pontypool

Dear Colin,
This is ‘Does a man give up his seat for a lady on public transport?’ in another guise and with variations. We have established (see previous columns) the persistence of apparently charming chivalrous customs, despite feminism. Many a man feels a cad if he remains seated while a woman is standing; the woman, only if somehow brutally extreme, will make no objection and enjoy the gesture as well as the chance to sit down. By the same token, it is still usual for women to be asked to order first in restaurants, although it might be awkward if there is more than one as to who should go first (the eldest, perhaps? But would you know, are you even supposed to know, who the eldest is?).

The reason for women going first in restaurants is that, originally, the man would have been paying and therefore was the host. Even today if a man or woman is hosting a repast (great substitute for ‘meal’, which we mustn’t say) in a restaurant, he or she will invite their guests to order first. So from a strictly feminist point of view this ‘speedy ordering facility’ is much more of an anathema than ‘please have my seat’. The other drawback is that nobody wants to go first, whether man or woman – it’s like being picked to go first in the publicspeaking contest at school. It’s such an awful pressure, with reduced time to practice (or decide what to eat) and so conspicuous somehow.

Nevertheless, the notion of ‘Ladies first’ is hard to ignore. So what to do? A simple solution, perhaps, is to ask the lady if she would like to order first, so she’ll either say, ‘You bet’ or ‘No’. Or we could revert to the not-so-long-defunct custom of women not speaking directly to waiters but ordering through the lead man at the table. But that would not be welcome, I think.

It’s curious that these chivalrous practices have in fact been modified in the face of feminism. Women now speak for themselves in restaurants although they order first. On public transport, the seat-surrendering type of man would almost certainly not give way to a younger woman. Whether we cling to these remnants of an old order because it is how we were brought up and it all seems somehow charming and harmless, I’m not entirely sure. But one day these quaint practices will vanish – sooner rather than later, I suspect. Such is modern manners.

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… Anonymity

Picking up on what I was saying last week about internet trolls and online abuse, I was interested in what the owner of a travel company told me. As is now routine and somewhat groanmaking for those in receipt, clients are asked to fill in feedback forms. Invariably the vast majority are appreciative and positive but now and again there is a furious negative response. These forms are not anonymous and the travel company contacts dissatisfied customers for further confab. Whereupon developments are intriguing. ‘No,’ they say, ‘we had a lovely time. I don’t know why I wrote that.’ ‘Oh, it was just a little thing…’

Person to person, the story is different. Of course, these people have supplied a name and address on the form, but they might not remember that as they scrawl furiously. However, when a social connection is established, they immediately become more amenable. Perhaps there is a lesson here for how to clean up the internet, where much of the worst carry-on is from anonymous contributors. Get rid of them. Don’t allow people to be anonymous on reputable websites.


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