Thursday, 03 March 2016

The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 4 March

Is it okay to talk about an event to which the listener hasn’t been invited? Thomas Blaikie invites you to consider the angles

Written by Thomas Blaikie
Dear Thomas,
A couple dropped round last week for a drink and started talking at length about a glamorous sounding gallery opening they’re going to. I thought this was quite rude. But when it turned out they’d got the invitation through a mutual acquaintance, I felt really excluded.
Penelope Godstone, Horsham

Dear Penelope,
‘Bullying is excluding from the group’. Notices of this kind are posted in schools these days. But adults are often worse than children. It is important not to mention social occasions in the presence of people who haven’t been invited. Getting this right requires vigilance. For instance, you might blithely say to a friend, ‘See you at the Carson-Poles on Saturday,’ and watch their face drop. They’ve not been asked. You should have checked with the hosts.

Other situations might be more subtle. It’s a question of judging carefully whether the person you’re talking to might have a reasonable expectation of being included, especially if the event is being organised by mutual friends. Clearly it would be ridiculous for someone living in Chipping Campden to take offence at not being invited to a pool party in New Zealand (are there pool parties in New Zealand?). If your visiting couple were aware their invitation came via someone known to you, they’d have been better off keeping their mouths shut. But maybe they didn’t know.

There’s no harm in making it clear you’re none too pleased. You could have said, ‘I’m surprised our mutual acquaintance didn’t mention this event.’ The couple might then have realised they’d blundered and offered to get you an invitation by way of recompense.

Of course, some will say this is a lot of fuss about nothing and they couldn’t care if they’re invited or not. The world divides into those who are acutely sensitive to such things and those who are spectacularly oblivious. It’s fair to say we can’t expect to be asked to everything. We’re likely to find out we’ve not been invited eventually, so is it really such a gaffe if the occasion is mentioned in advance? Also, the lack of an invitation may just be an oversight. We often tend to misjudge intention, as I’ve mentioned before.

Even so, I don’t like to think of people being hurt. I suspect more are sensitive to slights of this nature, real or imagined, than let on. We should care for the vulnerable, however unreasonable their sensitivities might appear. Which leads me to another theme on which I’ve harped much: let invitations pour forth. Include rather than exclude. So if there’s one who feels excluded, reach out to them.

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

What to do about… being offended

I’m about to take an apparently contradictory tack on the same subject as above. But please bear with. Stephen Fry shut down his Twitter account last month, after swarms of fellow tweeters claimed to be ‘offended’ when he said, while hosting the Baftas, that the costume designer Jenny Beavan was dressed like a bag lady. It was a joke. He didn’t even mean it. Even if he had, to denounce him, as some tweeters did, as a ‘misogynist pig’ – well, the head goes fuzzy trying to work out what they could mean. But they were ‘offended’, meaning hurt in some precious way that Fry had no right to inflict on them.

Fry has denounced this trend of ‘taking offence’ for what it is – ignorance, intolerance, a barrier to discussion or proper thought. In this case, it wasn’t even any of their business. I have remarked before on the mob mentality that rules online. Other words have acquired similar sinister connotations of moral superiority. ‘Abuse’ is one. Nobody now is permitted to express righteous anger. The tiniest hint of a raised voice: they are being abusive.

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