Received an invitation to attend a royal banquet at Buckingham Palace? Uncertain of how to respond? Fret not, Debrett's guide on Etiquette & Modern Manners has you covered. Gone are the days when a book of etiquette is only deemed for the rich, the Royal, the business-oriented, or those planning a wedding. I think all of us could benefit from a little polish in our everyday behavior. A predecessor of and English counterpart to Emily Post, Debrett's has all one needs to know from addressing the Queen of England to approaching the delicate matter of breaking off an engagement. By the way, if you do meet the Queen, it's "Your Royal Highness" when addressing her directly and "Her Majesty" when addressing her in the company of others. Gentlemen, do bow your heads and ladies, a courtesy is required. And if you're beset by specific worries, there's always the Queen's Lady-in-Waiting to help with Q&As. Duh!
First published in 1769, Debrett's has so many wonderful sections with parts of it rather dated yet still applicable.
On asking your pesky neighbors who show up unexpectedly to leave your home: offer them something to drink when they enter your home, but do not be afraid to "allow the conversation to flag and not refill cups or glasses."
What to bring for your aging uncle who's staying at the hospital a while? Debrett's notes that "a small and robust pot plant is a good idea, but check with the florist that it will thrive in a hot hospital ward--a plant that drops its leaves or dies is not a tactful addition to a bedside."
Text too much? Chat too long? On the virtues of the telephone, "brevity and clarity are the two most essential qualities."
When going on a first date, did you know there is always a host and a guest? The host should arrive on time and the guest arrive only a little late. "There are two forms of invitation to a first date that are incorrect and unfair (although perfectly acceptable when people know each other better). It is wrong to ask if the other person is free at a specified time without giving further details about the evening. The girl might like the opportunity to say she will be busy on that particular day, if she chooses to accept she will need a rough idea of what to wear, and whether or not to eat first." I can definitely attest to the latter half of that sentence; a hungry girl will not be a good date.
"It is also unacceptable to arrange to meet or collect her and then to greet her by saying 'What would you like to do?' What is she to say? Apart from the fact that the responsibility should be taken by whoever issued the invitation, it is very unlikely that she will know what he is prepared to spend or how far he is prepared to travel." I wonder what Debrett's might say about modern dating on Tinder? Or unwanted photographs of the male anatomy via text. Oh my.
And if you are coupled, what about those dreaded parties you get dragged to by your spouse or for your child's playdate? How does one start a conversation with a stranger? "The first art of a good conversationalist is to put people at their ease. Conversation can hardly flourish in a stilted atmosphere."
Or here's a clumsy one that often happens. On the virtues of small talk, "Avoid asking people questions that might be on a government form or an application for a visa. One's heart often sinks when asked: "What do you do?' and 'Have you any children?'"
But my favorite part comes from a more serious section in "Invitations, Letters and Talk." Here on the difficult task of writing a letter of sympathy when someone has passed away, Debrett's cites the beautiful work of Henry James. In a letter to his close friend Sir Leslie Stephen (father of Virginia Woolf) on the death of his wife, James writes:
My dear Stephen,
I feel unable to approach such a sorrow as yours--and yet I can't forbear to hold out my hand to you. I think of you with inexpressible participation, and only take refuge from this sharp pain of sympathy in trying to call up the image of all the perfect happiness that you drew, and that you gave. I pray for you that there are moments when the sense of that rushes over you like a possession that you still hold. There is no happiness in this horrible world but the happiness we have had--the very present is ever in the jaws of fate. I think in the admirable picture of her perfect union with you, and that for her, at any rate, with all its fatigues and sacrifices, life didn't pass without the deep and clear felicity--the best it can give. She leaves no image but that of the high enjoyment of affection and devotions--the beauty and the good she wrought and the tenderness that came back to her. Unquenchable seems to me such a presence. But why do I presume to say these things to you, my dear Stephen? Only because I want you to hear them in the sound of the voice and feel the pressure of the hand of your affectionate old friend.
Bits & Pieces
A place for experimentation, a place for pieces unpolished and unpublished, a place to work out thoughts and ideas for larger collections. Typos aplenty. Enjoy (or not).