Manners are still a minefield as modern technology confuses
Debrett's, an authority on British manners, has published for the first time the questions they are most frequently asked by the public. But are manners something people still take seriously and how have they changed, asks Luke Jones.
Far from which fork to use for asparagus or how to address an Earl, the most popular questions asked of Debrett's have a modern flavour. E-cigarettes, mobile phones and aeroplane seats are troubling the polite most of all.
A lot of technology is still relatively new, says Jo Bryant, an etiquette tutor at Debrett's. "We've learned how to use them from the mistakes we've made, from when we have been rude or upset people."
The polite use of mobile phones was the most queried. But new developments in communication technology have always thrown up questions of manners. An article in the Surrey Mirror in 1932 called for a phone code of conduct to be introduced, to stop the wasting of "valuable minutes".
"Don't mumble. Don't shout. Speak slowly and naturally. Don't exasperate your friends by leaving a maid who behaves like a nervous ninny to take phone messages. Teach the girl to answer properly." The article even suggested regularly ringing your own number to check whether those in your own home "answer calls in the right way".
Top questions on manners
- When is it rude to use your mobile phone?
- Can you smoke e-cigarettes at work?
- How do you kiss someone socially?
- Can you eat and do your make-up on public transport?
- Can you recline your seat on aeroplanes?
- When should you give your seat up on public transport?
- Is it okay to blind copy (bcc) someone into an email?
- Can you eat before everyone has been served?
E-cigarettes also feature highly on Debrett's list. When and where to "vape" was the second most asked question asked. The advice given is to never use e-cigarettes in the workplace, as it shows you are not "focused".
Although smoking socially is generally accepted, in a book of manners and conduct from 1881, John H Young advised that a "well bred man never smokes in the street" and certainly not in a "room which ladies are in the habit of frequenting".
Written advice on manners seems archaic, but guidance is still in high demand. Jo Bryant suggests this is because of the far more relaxed age we live in. "Not having that set framework makes it difficult to navigate many areas of society."
It is about giving people "confidence and minimising awkwardness and anxiety", she says.
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