MODERN MANNERS: SURVIVING THE MINEFIELD, OR HOW TO EAT YOUR Ps AND Qs
Saturday 05 September 1998
I have agreed to be interviewed by a former member of the royal family who has been given her own chat-show slot on cable TV. At first I was happy to oblige as the fee was excellent and I thought that no one would see it anyway, but now I am beginning to have doubts. How should I greet her? How should I address her? Is there an appropriate dress code? And surely there is going to be a problem with entrances: the customary manner, where the guest comes down a set of stairs to be greeted by the host, must surely fly in the face of all royal protocol?
Concerned monarchist, Maida Vale
This is a knottier problem than it may seem at first sight. The basic rule in terms of monarchy is that someone who has been stripped of her HRH and chucked into the gutter doesn't qualify for the usual tedious foot-kissing routines. Then again, this show will probably be aimed at syndication across the United States, and it's always lovely to have an opportunity to play the great British game of indulging in archaic practises nobody normally bothers with when they think an American might be in the vicinity. The sight of Texas oil matrons practising their curtseys and pronunciation of "ma'am" makes up for a great deal of indignity on your own part.
Then again, you don't want your interviewer giving herself airs, and you don't want British people thinking you don't know what's what. You are the important person in this interview, and you will have an opportunity to confuse the American audience mightily. Take your chance for entering a room after royalty and do it with relish. Wear traditional British party gear, such as miniskirt and trainers or Pringle sweater and Bermuda shorts. Whatever else you do, under no circumstances allow her to kiss you. When you make your entrance onto the set, stick your hand out a minimum two feet from your body, and keep her at that distance. Better still, wear gloves.
Our department has recently been reorganised, and we have a new boss. The problem is that he seems to be obsessed with giving people nicknames: not the usual catch-all "sweetheart" that means that he can't remember who you are, but full-on new names. Any multiple-syllable name gets shortened to its first syllable, and any single-syllable name will be lengthened. So Charles has become Charlie-boy, Hugh is Hughie-me-old-son and Eugene has become "Oi! Eu!". My own diminutive is so awful it makes me shudder. How do we put a stop to this habit?
Calm down. He's only trying to get a rise out of you. Perhaps your office stands on its dignity a bit too much, and this is his way of tackling it? Either that, or he never really got over leaving prep school. The latter option is most likely if he tends to spout the offending epithets in a fake cockney accent. Apart from the hackneyed old "ask him to call you by your real name" tack, which will do the job but probably mean you spend a few weeks being regarded as the office spoilsport, you have three options: toughen up - sorry, darling, but you're going to need a thicker skin than that if you're going to survive life in the real world; ignore him when he calls you by anything other than your full name; or develop a series of equally irritating nicknames to use in return, such as "Poops", "Titch" or "Gummy". This is my favoured option: guerrilla warfare is so much more fun than treaty talks, isn't it?
I have recently struck up a relationship with a woman who appears to have all the accoutrements of a potential wife: well-off, reasonably good-looking, unargumentative and very admiring of me. There is only one problem: she holds her knife like a pen. I am covered in embarrassment when we eat in public. What should I do?
Get some therapy, honey.
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