Thoroughly modern manners

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The Independent Online
HAVE you noticed that there seems to be a genuine renaissance of interest in etiquette these days? That people are making a real effort to learn good manners so they can avoid having to like each other? And would you like to know how well you would make out in socially demanding situations?

Well, now's your chance - see how well you score]

1. You have asked some people to dinner whom you met at a party recently and got on well with while unsober. Now, as you await their arrival, you realise you really know nothing about them. Are they, for instance, the sort who will bring a bottle, or will they think that is a bit juvenile and bring flowers? And are they the sort who will arrive early, on time, or late?

As it happens, they arrive frightfully late, having got lost on the way and not having your phone number. They appear to have set out with a full bottle of red wine, or to have bought one on the way, but they have clearly opened it meanwhile to comfort themselves, and got through the lot. As the husband, drunk but happy, hands over the empty bottle as a gift, what do you say to ease the situation?

2. You are a football fan, but have recently avoided big games because of crowd violence. However, as things seem to have got a lot better recently, you decide to go to a Premier League game and stand on the terraces.

The crowd seems a lot more placid than you remember. This is partly, it turns out, because they are no longer allowed to bring alcohol in. It is also because most of the spectators, deprived of alcohol, are smoking pot instead. This spreads a spicy, autumnal smell and gives the crowd a philosophical view of the game, and every time the opposition scores they murmur, 'That's cool', and take another drag, although the combined noise of several thousand people drawing on their joints does sound like mild disapproval.

Your neighbour, whom you have never met before, offers you his glowing joint to suck at. How can you refuse without giving offence?

3. You are sitting in an InterCity train opposite a man who is wearing personal stereo headphones. You cannot quite hear the music that he is listening to. What you can hear is the loud tapping as he accompanies the tape on his ashtray or by tapping a coin against the window. If there is one thing worse than rock music seeping out of a personal stereo, it is a long, unaccompanied drum solo on ashtray (or window). How do you get him to desist?

4. You firmly believe that children should call their parents Mum or Dad or some such family name, and not by their first names. So you are more than somewhat taken aback when the girl next door stops calling her mother Mummy, and starts calling her Shirley. What takes you aback is that for the past 10 years you have been calling the mother Sally. It is unlikely that the girl has got her own mother's name wrong. What should you do to make amends?

5. You are out for a drive in the country lanes where Somerset meets Wiltshire, and are quietly admiring the autumnal landscape, when suddenly your companion says, 'My God - wasn't that a pair of llamas in that field?'

What you have done, inadvertently, is to enter the grounds of Longleat by a private back lane. A furious man appears, waving a shotgun, and bars your way, shouting something about the mating season of large quadrupeds. Your companion says, 'My God, isn't that the man who inherited Longleat from the man who had it before, what's his name, the Marquess of something . . . ?'

At this point the man wrenches open the car door and you find yourself getting out at gunpoint. What do you do, and by what title would it be advisable to address him?

Now, here are the correct answers. See if you can sort out which answer goes with which question: 1. Disarm him with a quick karate chop, saying, 'Sorry about this, Your Grace.' 2. Say that your neighbour has started making her own wine, and that empty bottles are what she is always looking for, so what a wonderful present] 3. Start calling her Shelly. 4. Refuse, saying, 'Sorry, not allowed to smoke on duty.' 5. Wrench the headphones off his head, throw them out of the window and throw him after them, saying, 'I do regret this, believe me, but there are some things that even etiquette can't help with.'