10 Golden rules for a Happy (and well mannered) marriage: Rule No1 is a husband can never say sorry too often! More witty tips from GYLES BRANDRETH to help you navigate life’s choppy waters
Yesterday, Gyles Brandreth revealed his top tips for entertaining. Here, in part three of his brilliantly witty series, he takes us through a day in the world of manners — from how to ensure domestic bliss to the perils of office etiquette…
Wherever you are, manners matter. And they matter most at home. When I got married in 1973, the romantic novelist Barbara Cartland gave me a copy of her Etiquette Handbook as a wedding present. (I knew her at the time because I was then the youngest person on the after-dinner speaking circuit and she was probably the oldest, and we shared an agent.)
All those years ago, I thought Dame Barbara’s book was full of sound advice:
‘Unless she is ill, a woman should get up and cook her husband’s breakfast before he goes to work in the morning. It is bad manners to do this in curlers, without lipstick, in a shabby dressing-gown and down-at-heel slippers.
Wherever you are, manners matter. And they matter most at home, says etiquette expert Gyles Brandreth
‘A man should say “Thank you, darling” for his breakfast and not read the newspaper if his wife is sitting opposite him.’
More than 40 years on, I can report that I am the one who makes his wife breakfast in bed most days of the year. I have discovered that it is true what they say: for a happy life, you need a happy wife.
In the modern well-mannered marriage, the two parties are truly partners, sharing domestic responsibilities and duties, taking it in turns to cook, to clear up, to clean, to choose what to watch on the box.
There is no harm in ensuring that fair really is fair by having a list of who is due to do what and when, and sticking it on the refrigerator door.
Much has changed in the past half-century but some things haven’t. Notwithstanding her curious obsession with wives always wearing lipstick, the essence of Barbara Cartland’s rules for good manners within marriage still apply:
1. Don’t take your partner for granted. Say ‘Please’, say ‘Thank you’, and if you’re a man say ‘Sorry’ as often as required. (It’s more often than you think.)
2. Do as you would be done by and set a good example to the children.
3. Do keep yourself clean. Personal freshness is part and parcel of good manners.
4. Don’t make a mess in the bathroom. (Yes, lads, you know what I’m talking about.)
5. Don’t hog the bedclothes.
6. Do remember anniversaries.
7. Don’t snore — or, if you do, drink less or lose weight until you don’t.
8. Do avoid those habits and mannerisms that you know annoy your partner.
9. Don’t let the sun go down on your wrath. Always kiss and make up before bedtime.
10. Do be affectionate. Do remember to talk. Always say good morning in the morning. Always say good night at night.
If you want to be an ideal husband, you should, according to my father, take Victorian prime minister Benjamin Disraeli as your role model. Disraeli’s wife Mary Anne said of him: ‘Dizzy has always given me love, comradeship, trust and good manners.’
OUT AND ABOUT
Manners are all about how we make other people feel, and it’s the little everyday things that mark out the courteous and civilised from the selfish and self-centred.
Bothering to put your phone away and make eye contact with the woman who is scanning your shopping at the supermarket, standing up for someone’s granny on the bus, not stealing from the office fridge — these are the everyday signs of common courtesy.
ON THE DAILY SCHOOL RUN
According to my children, who between them have seven children aged under ten, it’s the great debate at school gates all over the country: is it acceptable to drop your offspring off at school while still in your pyjamas?
Of course, it’s a free country and you can dress as you please, but, if you ask me, bothering to put on your clothes before you leave the house shows you respect the people you might meet and, most importantly, yourself.
In my book, getting dressed before going outside is probably an example you want to set your children — children who are already embarrassed enough by your mere existence, let alone your existence in a pair of M&S paisleys.
If walking to school, it is a parent’s duty to keep wayward children in check, and to stop them mowing people down as they race along the pavement on their scooters.
Ways to be well-mannered at the school gate include: being friendly to everyone, putting your mobile phone away to show you are ‘in the moment’, and not gossiping about other parents, children or teachers.
Intriguingly, the present Pope’s very first pronouncement on assuming the papacy was to advise people against gossiping.
(I know, it’s tough having to change the habits of a lifetime, and I am not a Roman Catholic, but I reckon Pope Francis is right on this. Gossip may be fun, but it is rarely harmless and it is always bad manners.)
AT THE COFFEE SHOP
Once I’ve navigated the traumatising rapids of purchasing a coffee (When do I pay? Where do I queue? Is it my turn?), I reckon I’ve earned the right to use the coffee shop as my office for an hour or so.
At a chain coffee shop, my rule of thumb is a coffee an hour and you’re paying your rent. If it’s a locally owned cafe, you can stay for 30 minutes or so with just one coffee, but if you want to stretch it up to an hour then you should order something to eat as well — or buy a second coffee to pay for the second half-hour.
ON THE BUS
The British queue is a Victorian invention which arrived with the advent of regular bus services. In the heyday of the Empire, when the British ruled the world (or felt that they did), and everyone knew their place in the pecking order of society, standing in a straight line, waiting for a bus, simply seemed the sensible thing to do.
It doesn’t work that way any more. People just gather around the bus stop and, when the bus arrives, the scrummage begins.
Rather than barging to the front, the well-mannered passenger will assess what their position would have been had there been a queue and get onto the bus when they reckon it is their rightful turn.
The British queue is a Victorian invention which arrived with the advent of regular bus services
The main rule to remember is to let anyone who is obviously older or weaker than you go first. Those in wheelchairs and those with buggies take precedence. Those burdened by obesity, backpacks or cumbersome luggage don’t.
On the bus, take a seat only if you are certain there isn’t anyone else whose need is greater than yours.
And when it comes to giving up your seat for a mother-to-be, accept that, whatever you do, you are taking a risk. Is the lady six months’ pregnant or simply overweight? Is it better to offend the fat than assist the expectant? The decision is yours.
ON THE TRAIN
Don’t use your mobile phone in the designated ‘Quiet Carriage’. And don’t use your phone at all unless you really have to. Research shows that people speaking on their mobile raise the volume of their voices by up to 50 per cent.
If you want to call home to say ‘I’m on the train’, text it instead. If you want to discuss the failure of the sales department or last night’s disappointing date or the way in which your mother still does not understand you, stand between compartments to do so. The rest of us really aren’t interested.
The essence of good manners on public transport is to avoid invading anybody else’s space. That means ensuring that your earphones don’t leak whatever it is you are listening to and keeping your knees together at all times.
The word ‘manspreading’ has recently found its way into the Oxford English Dictionary, where it is defined as: ‘The practice whereby a man, especially one travelling on public transport, adopts a sitting position with his legs wide apart, in such a way as to encroach on an adjacent seat or seats.’
The word is new, but evidently the ugly habit isn’t, as I discovered when I came across the Omnibus Laws of London, 1830: ‘Law 5: Sit with your limbs straight, and do not with your legs describe an angle of 45, thereby occupying the room of two persons.’
If you are travelling on the London Underground, the polite thing to do is to pretend that no one else exists. The crazy man muttering to himself in the seat opposite; the complete stranger wedged up against you; the lady next to you who is on an impressive level 534 of phone game Candy Crush … they are not there. On any other train it is different. If you are sitting at a table for four and a stranger makes eye contact, you can say hello. If you are not in the mood for conversation, simply nod, mutter the words ‘I’ve some thinking to do’ and close your eyes.
Courtesy requires that if you do chat — or listen to music or open your laptop or eat or drink — you keep the noise to a minimum. And if you do eat in public, please eat with your mouth closed and don’t try to rearrange your dentures with your tongue at the same time.
AT THE OFFICE
ALWAYS keep your hands to yourself. When greeting colleagues, regardless of gender, a handshake is the safe bet that never goes out of style. Apart from that, avoid all physical contact at all times — especially if you are the boss. What you construe as a friendly pat on the arm could be the start of a rather less friendly harassment suit.
NEVER compliment a female colleague on her appearance if you are a man. It can seem demeaning, even if that isn’t the intent. Would you compliment Steve from accounts on his new tie or snazzy new haircut? Then don’t compliment Sue.
I know, it seems like political correctness gone mad and the world is a slightly less sunny place when we can’t tell someone we like their new shoes, but sadly that is the (working) world we now live in.
ALWAYS wait for a female colleague to leave the office lift before you, if you are a man. The exception is when, by doing so in a crowded lift, you cause a blockage as she battles through the scrum to get out.
NEVER forget that you’re in an open-plan office. It is all too easy to get lost in your little cocoon of screen and phone and forget that you are in public.
Don’t make long personal phone calls or talk about other people. Don’t gossip. Don’t swear. Don’t have your phone on speaker and talk into it in the manner of someone about to take a bite of a slice of toast. It doesn’t make you look important, it makes you look like someone who came sixth on an early series of the Apprentice.
ALWAYS heed headphones. This is a tip handed to me by the younger generation. People don’t just wear headphones to listen to music: they use them as a ‘DO NOT DISTURB’ sign. Heed the message.
NEVER steal other people’s sandwiches from the fridge or eat all the cake Mabel from accounts brought in for her birthday. This is good for neither your waistline nor your social standing.
ALWAYS give the meeting your full attention. Or at least make sure you appear to be doing so. It is not acceptable to use your mobile phone. Likewise, talking to your neighbour or doodling on your notebook should be avoided. Remember: you are at work, not at school.
NEVER talk business on the golf course before the fourth hole.
ALWAYS contribute to the birthday/retirement/baby gift card even if it is your first week or you hate the person involved.
NEVER remind anyone of what they got up to at the office party.
Depressingly, lunch al desko is what’s expected these days. Given the desks in question tend to be in open-plan offices, pay heed to the usual rules about eating in public. Essentially, the less pungent the better. Say yes to that chicken avocado salad, no to lamb balti.
If we lived in France or the Fifties, we would still be enjoying those wine-filled weekday working lunches of old, rather than a sandwich, crisps and a bottle of water designed so you have to imbibe it upside down like a hamster in a cage in front of your computer.
If you are lucky enough still to get the odd working lunch, here are the basic rules. When you arrive, confidently shake hands with everyone at the table and introduce yourself to anyone you don’t know.
Within certain professions, it used to be practically obligatory to have an alcoholic drink at lunch. Nowadays, it’s different. But if you are wining and dining a client, you want them to enjoy themselves. If you are the host, let the client order first so they feel welcome to a drink. If they do order one, keep them company — but stick to one.
Let whoever organised the business lunch pay for it. If you are paying, the suave thing to do is to deal with the bill with only the most cursory of glances at it, not breaking conversation with your guest.
ON THE STREET
Don’t text and walk at the same time. It is bad manners and it’s dangerous. It is bad manners because you are liable to bump into people, and it is dangerous because you are liable to bump into things.
The internet is crowded with CCTV footage of people walking into lampposts, falling into fountains and disappearing down manholes — clutching their iPhones as they go. Amusing to watch; painful to participate in.
If you are in a group, don’t walk more than three abreast. An important paragraph in the unwritten pavement code states that pedestrians should always leave room for others to overtake.
On the pavement, don’t be the maddening meanderer: pay attention to what is happening behind you. Don’t move too slowly, but don’t move too fast.
No barging, please. Is it more important that you get where you’re going or that the little old lady in front of you stays upright?
In the modern well-mannered marriage, the two parties are truly partners, sharing domestic responsibilities and duties
IN THE CAR
The Duke of Edinburgh once said: ‘If ever you see a man opening the car door for his wife, it’s either a new car or a new wife.’
Opening the door for a lady is a nice touch in my view but, let’s face it, long gone are the days when women waited patiently for men to come round to their side of the car and let them in.
If the car is parked on a busy street and a man and a woman are due to sit in the back, it is good manners for the man to get in from the street side, letting the lady get in on the pavement side, so she neither has to do battle with the traffic nor slide over. It used to be that the front passenger seat was the preserve of the most important person in the party or the lady in the group, but nowadays men seem to think it acceptable to commandeer the front spot because of the length of their legs.
If someone has to sit upfront in a taxi, it should be the gentleman or leader of the group who offers.
AT YOGA CLASS
Dress appropriately. It is never a good idea for a man to wear loose fitting shorts with nothing underneath to yoga class. Trust me.
At the theatre /opera /ballet
Be on time, turn off your phone, take off your hat, don’t talk during the performance — unless you want a tongue-lashing from Mr Cumberbatch. These are the basics.
The real challenge of theatre-going etiquette is this: which way to face when squeezing past those already in their seats to get to yours. I favour a side-shuffle accompanied by a liberal sprinkling of ‘so sorry’s’ and ‘excuse me’s’.
If you are already seated, moving your knees to one side to let others get past will also be appreciated.
AT THE CINEMA
Don’t talk through the ads and trailers, please. I really like them. Don’t smack your lips while eating your popcorn and don’t spill half the contents of your giant tub all over the floor and then tread it into the carpet on your way out.
Don’t slurp, burp or belch. If you want to snog, sit in the back row. Don’t block my view. And if you want more than a snog, get a room.
Which is the moment to tell you that in tomorrow’s Daily Mail, I’ll be tackling the brave new world of dating in the age of the internet. As you’ll find out, it’s a subject that requires a whole new set of manners.