Miles Kington Remembered: A few handy tips for the minefield of modern manners

7 May 1989
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The Independent Online

Judging from the letters which come to this office, an interest in good manners and social etiquette is on the way back. Today I propose to deal with some of the knotty problems most frequently raised by correspondents.

Should I tip my bank manager?

It all depends. Tipping is in return for a service (one never tips someone after a mere buying and selling transaction), which is why one tips a waiter but not a stockbroker. Now, if you feel that the service from your bank manager has been exceptionally good, it is quite all right to slip him a few quid, but do make sure to inspect your bank statement first. If service charges are mentioned anywhere, this means that service is already included.

When you are trying to pay a bill by cheque these days, and ask to whom you should make it payable, people more and more often say: "Don't worry – I've got a stamp here." Is that really good form?

If they insist on stamping the cheque, here's what you do. You hand over the cheque unsigned. When they point this out, you say: "Don't worry, I've got a stamp here" and you get out of your pocket a stamp of your signature, and print it on the cheque.

Should I tip a clergyman after church?

Certainly not. It is noticeable that the professions which are supposed to think about money least are chronically obsessed with it, which is why there are more appeals for money from church people and amateur athletes than from anyone else. It is virtually impossible to enter a cathedral these days without paying, and you should chance to take a photograph inside, you will be leapt upon by vergers demanding copyright fees. A clergyman should be content with what he has levied during the collection, and from the sale of the recycled confetti.

If a man is introduced to me as John Hastings, I am old fashioned enough to want to call him Mr Hastings, but nowadays people laugh at me and say, "God, don't be so stuffy and pompous. John's the name!" It seems to me that if you go on first name terms immediately, you lose the option of sliding from formality to informality.

I know what you mean, but this shift does still occur, when you go from first names to nicknames. Sooner or later John will ask you to call him Johnny, as a sign that he really likes you, which is probably as good a time as any to start dropping him dead.

Should one tip a surgeon?

Difficult one, this. It's often hard to say if the operation has gone well enough to deserve a tip until days afterwards, by which time it is too late to hand it over gracefully. In any case, you will still be unconscious when the surgeon goes off duty. It is best to go into the operating theatre with a little envelope pinned to the pillow, containing a small donation. The surgeon can then remove this tactfully when you are asleep.

I find the spread of kissing a bit puzzling as I was brought up to shake hands. What should I do the next time a lady pushes her cheek at me, if I don't want to kiss it?

If you are after purely physical contact I would try rubbing her cheek with your cheek, which is surprisingly warm and personal, and may lead on to other things. If you prefer something more formal, why not take out the rubber stamp I recommend for cheque-signing (see before) and lightly implant your signature on her cheekbone?

I am in favour of the return of formal evening wear, but I find I am unable to tie a bow-tie. Is it bad form to wear a pre-made bow-tie?

Not any more. The best arrangement of all these days for the inexperienced socialite is a new all-in-one dinner jacket, shirt front and bow-tie garment, which you simply pull on like a wet suit.

Should I tip the bailiffs after I have been evicted or had my possessions seized?

Only if they've done a really satisfactory job. And if they have, of course, you won't be able to.

In the old days, when dancing was cheek to cheek, you asked a girl to dance before you took the floor. What happens these days? Do you still ask them for the pleasure of the next dance?

No. After a dance is finished, you say to the nearest person: "Excuse me, but was I dancing with you?"

Should I tip a tax inspector?

No. He should tip you.