Hello again! The return of hugging and handshakes
Since 17 May we have been given permission to hug and shake hands, and the expectation is that the weird world of Covid greeting protocols will soon be behind us. But many people will not be ready to calibrate their greetings by the government-approved calendar, and will still be feeling nervous about physical contact.
These are early post-lockdown days, and it would therefore be wise to approach the complicated world of Covid greetings with a degree of circumspection.
If you are tending to feel cautious, or a bit anxious, then you will need to prepare yourself for the onslaught. If you see someone coming in for a hug or handshake take a decisive step back, flash a rueful smile and say something deprecating like ’I’m so sorry, I’m still being super-cautious.’ In these unusual circumstances, a verbal explanation will go a long way towards mitigating any social confusion.
Alternatively you can use humour to deflect the enthusiastic greeter. Head the hugger or handshaker off at the pass by waving and blowing semi-ironic kisses from a safe distance.
If your greeter’s enthusiasm and momentum remains unchecked, brandish a defensive elbow. If necessary, an ‘It’s all about elbow bumps now, isn’t it?’ remark should stop them in their tracks. Politicians, who are inveterate handshakers, are all having recourse to this faintly comical greeting. While it lacks the sobriety and gravitas of a firm handshake, it is at least friendly and light-hearted.
If all else fails, and you’re confronted by a determined hugger, turn your face away when embracing, looking over the hugger’s shoulder.
If you have thrown caution to the winds and are keen to greet your friends, family and colleagues with hugs and handshakes, it is a good idea to look out for tell-tale signs of anxiety or unwillingness in your targets. If someone flinches and takes a step back from your proffered embrace or handshake, it’s pretty obvious they’re not ready for physical contact. Don’t be offended or take it personally; defuse a potentially embarrassing situation by shrugging and saying something along the lines of ‘Sorry I’m getting a bit carried away!’ OR ‘Oh dear, you’re obviously being a bit more cautious than me…’ It really is best to verbally comment on it, rather than let it fester.
Whatever your attitude to physical greetings, now is the time to be observant and sensitive, ready to adjust your behaviour at a moment’s notice and to be tolerant of other people’s fears and foibles.
Is it really necessary to text ahead to arrange a phone call? Nearly all of us carry around mobile phones, packing a wealth of processing power in our pockets. But the simplest function of all – making a phone call – has now become a bit of a minefield.
Members of the older generation, who perhaps grew up with a ‘telephone table’ in the hall on which a large phone squatted like a household deity, will probably find this a vexed question. They were trained to respond instantly to its insistent ringing and, in the days before answering machines, a phone call was an all or nothing affair.
But increasingly, and especially amongst younger, more habitual mobile phone users, it is considered rude and intrusive to pick up the phone and simply make a phone call. Instead, it is customary to send a text message first, asking when it would be appropriate to call. This cautious approach makes the phoning procedure highly premeditated, when once it was an impromptu gesture.
As people become more stressed and life’s pressures take their toll, it seems that they feel increasingly persecuted by the jarring ring of the phone. An unplanned phone call may be an announcement of bad news, or simply an invasion of peace and privacy, which will send anxiety levels spiking. For many people, it is a basic act of politeness to ensure that friends are forewarned of phone calls and given the chance to consent to receive them.
Some people will resist this circumspect approach; after all, most mobile phones display the caller’s details, so it is easy enough to vet incoming calls and perhaps call back at a more convenient time. But for the more sensitive amongst us, even a ‘missed call’ message may feel invasive.
It is certainly true that phone calls are much more likely to be ‘arranged’ in the current lockdown. We’re all suffering from a paucity of social contact and therefore phone calls are a real lifeline. People are increasingly scheduling calls, which allows them to dispense with potential distractions, and perhaps settle down to enjoy a long chat with a cup of tea or a glass of wine.
Even when life returns to normal, it is likely that the new, tentative phone etiquette is here to stay. We may have lost the spontaneity of the spur-of-the-moment phone call, but we have learned to respect, and value, each other’s time.
Marital milestones: how to celebrate a wedding anniversary
Today the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge celebrate their tenth wedding anniversary and at Debrett’s we are pondering the significance of wedding anniversaries. These marital milestones are reassuring rites, and also offer a timely excuse for indulgent gifts and enjoyable celebrations.
Anniversaries are an excellent reminder of the solidity of a marriage, its growing longevity commemorated and celebrated on an annual basis. They offer a valuable opportunity to pause and take stock of the previous year, review the whole span of married life, and rejoice.
The tradition of celebrating wedding anniversaries is rooted in the Middle Ages, when the milestones of 25th and 50th wedding anniversaries – comparatively rare events when life expectancy was short – were celebrated with silver and gold wreaths, which the husband bestowed on his wife. For those unable to afford such precious metals, symbolic gifts had to suffice. Gradually, more significant dates were added to the anniversary calendar; Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee celebrated 60 years on the throne, and diamonds became associated with 60th wedding anniversaries. It was also during the Victorian era that wood came to represent the fifth wedding anniversary, and it was common for husbands to hand-carve mementoes for their wives.
A detailed list of wedding anniversary symbols (see below) is now recognised, but it is important to bear in mind that the list is merely a suggestion, not a prescriptive set of instructions. Many people will enjoy the challenge of taking an unpromising material, for example tin, and finding a creative way of utilising it in an anniversary gift. But it is a rare person who will eschew a diamond eternity ring or engraved watch as an anniversary gift just because, strictly speaking, their present should have been made of china or wood.
The important thing is to remember the anniversary, without hints or prompting, and to make arrangements to celebrate it – a card, a gift, a special dinner, an outing. No spouse will appreciate his or her anniversary morning being greeted with obliviousness, followed by a last-minute dash to the florist or off-licence. While some people are stalwart agnostics when it comes to ‘manufactured’ celebrations, most people will respect the tradition of marking another year of connubial bliss, and will be disappointed if it is forgotten or ignored.
British Wedding Anniversaries
- Flowers, fruit
- Wool, copper
- Bronze, pottery
- Willow, pottery
- Silk, linen
Most people, at some point in their lives, refrain from alcohol. On occasions, refusal of alcohol is for perfectly clear medical reasons (booze may clash with prescription drugs, or an operation is impending, or the person is pregnant). At other times, it is more clearly a case of self-imposed abstinence: this can range from a few weeks ‘clean-living’ to a committed campaign to kick the drink habit once and for all.
The last year of intermittent lockdowns has been hard going for many of us, and the myriad variety of coping strategies have ranged from super-healthy exercise mania at one end of the spectrum to slumped couch potato at the other. It is certainly true that a lot of people found themselves eating or drinking to excess.
Now, as lockdown eases, we find ourselves back in the real world and for many people it has become imperative to lose the extra pounds and banish the drinking habit.
Whatever the reason, a decision has been made, and must be respected. Now that we’re all hosting again (albeit in a limited way), we may find ourselves confronted with a refusal of drink from a guest. Never question why this is happening; never cajole, or plead, or tease. You may be understandably disappointed that they’re not joining in the party fun, especially after the long months of social abstinence, but you must never let this show – meet their refusal with good grace and offer a tempting range of alcohol-free drinks.
If you are the teetotaller, however temporary, you must also mind your manners. Refuse a drink politely; give an explanation if you think that helps. Never act the martyr, miserably cradling your mineral water as the party takes off around you. Never lecture your fellow guests about the benefits of an alcohol-free existence.
If you are sober, intoxicated company can be baffling; conversations meander, arguments break out for no reason, non-jokes are met with general hilarity. If you are unable to cope with this alcohol-induced anarchy, don’t socialise with heavy drinkers. If you can endure these antics without a censorious air, you will be worth your weight in gold – the one sober guest at the end of the evening who is able to sort out the increasingly unruly guests, locate scattered belongings, confiscate car keys, and post them home in a taxi.
Just remember the next morning, when you’re enjoying a virtuous, hangover-free breakfast, that pointing out the benefits of alcohol-free living to bleary family and friends is a transgression that will not be easily forgotten.
As we all take our first steps, somewhat shell-shocked, out of lockdown, the great British barbecue has moved centre stage, enabling us to eat and entertain outdoors, without fear of breaching regulations. But it would be foolish to ignore the vagaries of the British weather, and as balmy spring days alternate with freezing wintry relapses, keep your eye on the forecasts, stock up with warm blankets, or better still provide some form of outdoor heating.
- Remember that comfortable informality requires forethought, and you should plan carefully to ensure that your guests are able to relax, eat well and enjoy each other’s company.
- Ensure that the barbecue is lit and ready before guests arrive. Panic-stricken recourse to paraffin can be discouraging, especially when guests are hungry.
- Make sure that everything is prepared before the start of the event: you should arrange the seating, serving table, cutlery and crockery well in advance.
- Provide enough comfortable seats for your guests; juggling food and drink while standing or perching on a rickety chair will diminish your guests’ enjoyment. If possible, provide a table, so that guests don’t have to balance plates on their laps. Make sure there is plenty of shade; if you are fortunate enough to have good weather, the sun may be hazardous.
- Provide plentiful supplies of ice-cold water; it will keep your guests hydrated, and may prolong the supply of beer and wine. If the weather is inauspicious, prepare thermos flasks of hot tea and coffee.
- Be aware of your neighbours; barbecues are highly aromatic and, depending on wind direction and cooking ability, neighbours may find themselves suffocated by acrid black smoke or tantalising smells. Try and site your barbecue as far away from the house as possible or at least ensure that the barbecue is upwind of near neighbours.
- A barbecue is an informal gathering, so encourage your guests to help themselves to bread, salads and drinks. Accept offers of help from your guests – either with cooking, serving drinks or handing food round.
- Above all, don’t make an exhibition of the cooking. Comedy aprons, chef’s hats and swaggering machismo as the meat hits the grill are obtrusive and self-centred. Your guests have come to eat and socialise, and should not feel coerced into applauding a one-man show.
The Etiquette of a Successful Easter Egg Hunt
We have now passed the first milestone on the route out of lockdown and will be able to enjoy sharing Easter with groups of six in our gardens or in the local park. This is an ideal opportunity to honour the historic tradition of the Easter egg hunt, which can be conducted outside, and is a sociable way of containing children’s pent-up energy and chocolate lust.
Children will enjoy their Easter eggs all the more if they have to hunt for them. All you’ll need is plenty of small, wrapped Easter eggs and a basket or bowl for each child so that they can store their booty. Alternatively, you can go all out for authentic hand-painted hard-boiled eggs, rewarding children at the end with a compensatory chocolate egg exchange.
If your children are small, it’s probably best just to hide the eggs and let them roam free and hunt. Tell the children to return to base when they have achieved a target number of eggs (eg six) so that you can check that eggs are being fairly distributed, and that the balance is redressed for any children who are really lagging behind.
Older children will love responding to written clues. You can use brightly coloured craft card, which you tape to trees or walls. Children will enjoy rhyming clues and terrible puns. Alternatively, you can give each child a written sheet of clues that will direct him/her to various points around the garden.
Before the hunt starts, agree with the children that they can eat a limited number of eggs at the end of the hunt, but that the rest must be taken home and saved for later. That way you may at least mitigate the hyperactive consequences of a chocolate overload…
Egg Hunt Etiquette
- Pair up older and younger children to ensure that everyone has a chance.
- Alternatively pair up young children with grandparents, or aunts and uncles – they may not have seen them for several weeks, and this mutual endeavour is a fun way of re-establishing a bond.
- Keep an eye open for children who are struggling with clues and come to their assistance.
- Keep a few eggs back to redress imbalances, and to avoid tantrums and recriminations.
- Chocolate rationing is essential if you want to avoid hyperactive children.
Countryside Walks: The Rules to Follow
We’ve all been feeling the lack of distractions in the lockdown –non-essential shops, cinemas, theatres, bars, cafés and restaurants… the list goes on. For many of us, walking in the countryside has been a lifesaver over the last few weeks, but we should spare a thought for farmers and country-dwellers, who may have been less than thrilled by an invasion of heedless day-trippers.
Certain rules of behaviour should be observed when in the country, and will go a long way towards mitigating any negative impact. There’s an age-old way of doing things in rural Britain, so go prepared, and be aware that:
- It’s still the norm to greet people you encounter with a friendly “Hello”, and maybe even pause to exchange a few words on some favourite British topics: the weather, the view, your dog.
- Stick to designated paths, especially in crop fields, and when walking on a rural road, walk on the side of the road facing oncoming traffic. When rounding a bend or blind corner, move to the other side of the road to avoid head-on collisions, then move back to the other side on a straight stretch.
- If you are driving in the countryside be patient. Accept that country driving is slow, so sit back and enjoy the scenery. Keep to your side of the road, and don’t let reduced visibility tempt you into wandering into the oncoming lane. If you are stuck behind slow-moving tractors or agricultural machinery, resign yourself to moving slowly, and resist the temptation to flash your headlights or swing out from behind.
- Drivers should be aware of mud and puddles and avoid splashing pedestrians or forcing them into a ditch.
- On narrow country lanes, give way to vehicles coming uphill where possible, and be prepared to back up, especially if you are closer to a passing space (never park in gateways or passing places). Always acknowledge a motorist who has pulled over, or a pedestrian who has stood to one side to let you pass.
- If you are driving down a country lane and see a horse and rider ahead, slow down to a crawl and creep behind. When it is completely safe to overtake, pull out, giving the horse a wide berth, and drive very slowly. It is essential that you do not startle the horse, which may endanger the rider.
- Leave gates as you find them – generally they will be open or closed for a reason and some farmers may leave gates open to allow animals to pass through. If you are stricken by doubt, play safe and close the gate.
- It is imperative that you take litter home with you if you can’t find a bin.
- Wild or farmland animals shouldn’t be approached, no matter how docile they appear.
- Keep dogs on leads on lanes and under control on agricultural land (especially if there are sheep in fields
- Ask permission before crossing any private land that is not a right of way and be aware of sporting seasons, such as shooting, and the farming calendar, especially lambing and harvest.
- Always remember that the countryside is a workplace for its many residents, not a leisure park.
Why do we love discussing the weather?
British people are notorious for their endless fascination with the weather, and as the current lockdown enters its third month, and our restricted lives seem devoid of anything notable to discuss, this reliable standby is being deployed more than ever.
The weather has always been a topic that is utilised nationwide as an ice-breaker. When two strangers meet, in a train or a queue for example, it is virtually de rigueur to enjoy a short conversation about the weather. The primary function of this fascination with the weather is, of course, to break down the English person’s natural reserve; it offers a universal, and neutral, topic, which everyone, from a small child to an elderly grandmother, enjoys discussing.
This fascination with the weather is part of a long tradition, and ancient folklore is full of mantras for second-guessing the moods of the elements. Snow on St Dorothea’s Day (6 February) means no heavier snowfall that year, while rain on St Swithin’s Day (15 July) means it’ll continue for the next 40 days. The slightest tinge of a pink cloud can cause locals to chant ‘red sky at night, shepherd’s delight’ and many a bored child has been reassured by the phrase ‘rain before seven, fine by eleven’. This year, we all enjoyed a ‘fools’ spring’, when exceptionally warm weather in February preceded a further ‘cold snap’.
Despite this obsession, the weather still keeps the English on their toes. A few weeks without rain and garden-hose bans are enacted; too much rain and rivers burst their banks, flooding low-lying towns. Similarly, a fall of snow (the amount that in Germany or Switzerland would be brushed off without a second thought) often brings English motorways to a standstill. The rail network is particularly susceptible to weather delay – trains have been cancelled for everything from leaves on the track to the wrong kind of snow.
Other countries endure far more noteworthy weather events – droughts, hurricanes, tornadoes – but the English weather is, above all, unpredictable. Sunshine, showers, wind and rain sweep across the country with extraordinary rapidity, providing an ever-changing outlook. And in these days of global warming, English people can now enjoy discussing ever more capricious weather – blizzards in April, floods in July, and so on. With the weather as a topic, conversation is never going to falter.