It provides information on how to address Ambassadors and what to serve at dinner parties, but the questions being asked to Debrett’s have moved on since it started almost 250 years ago.
In a new book, the Holy Grail of socially acceptable behaviour, Debrett’s, has lifted the lid on modern day manners; and they have more to do with commuting than the Royal Court.
The number one subject for concerned questioners is about mobile phone use, according to the Daily Telegraph.
It is always rude to pay more attention to a phone than a person in the flesh, it says, and they should be put away when transacting other business. For many people, this may go without saying but for those of us who have experienced the trauma of tinny music on the bus blaring from a fifteen year old’s smart phone, clearly the message is not clear enough.
A new subject for debate is about e-cigarettes at work. Debrett’s say the most pressing question they have about the increasingly popular devices is whether they are acceptable in the work place. After all, they are not actual tobacco. Even so, ‘vaping’ shows that you’re not focused on your work and may also be a distraction to your colleagues. You have been warned.
The perilous subject of social kissing has also been dealt with to help with those awkward situations when you meet new people, or are introduced to a partner’s friends and family. Do you go in for a kiss on the cheek? Is is just one or both sides? And who knew the Dutch often went in for three?
Debrett’s have cleared up one area: kissing is not appropriate in many professional situations. We won’t ask which situations they are appropriate in.
The next subject is a reflection on modern times and the increasing time constraints we all face. I’m sure most of us have done it: In order to have an extra fifteen minutes in bed the mascara and lipstick get applied on the tube and late evening snacks are consumed on the packed night bus. But the social leaders say that eating smelly food on a bus is inconsiderate (although an apple or a drink of water should be fine) and ladies, if you apply make up in public you could appear to look disorganised. Or wonky, if your journey takes you over a large number of speed bumps.
Transport is a mine field for the socially concerned, with two key subject matters dealt with.
Firstly, should you recline your seat on an aircraft and secondly, when should you give up your seat on public transport?
It’s selfish to recline your seat back during short daytime flights, we are told, and don’t hog the armrest! But on long haul flights or ‘red eyes’ the view is to just notify the person behind politely that you need 40 winks and don’t kick the back of the seat in front of you.
In a recent university experiment only 20 per cent of London tube passengers offered to give up their seat to a visibly pregnant woman. The dilemma some face here is ‘is she pregnant, or is she fat’? London Underground have tried to alleviate that by providing the ‘Baby on Board’ badges as worn by HRH The Duchess of Cambridge.
Even more rude than not offering a seat is refusing to give up a seat, particularly the reserved ones, for someone who needs it more than you. This doesn’t tend to include women wearing high heeled shoes, but gentlemen do consider, beauty is pain and sometimes we are just desperate to rest our feet!
Jo Bryant, editor of the 480-page Debrett’s Handbook, said: “The sheer number of enquiries we receive demonstrates that manners are still hugely important to people.
“It can be a minefield knowing how to behave in social situations, but the key is to always consider those around you.
“The Debrett’s Handbook provides guidelines that will make everyday life easier, removing anxiety and minimising social awkwardness.”
For those concerned that the book is not sufficient, training courses are also available.