‘Don’t vape in my face’ - A guide to modern manners

From internet trolls to vaping - an etiquette guide for the 21st Century. Picture: Yui Mok/PA Wire

From internet trolls to vaping - an etiquette guide for the 21st Century. Picture: Yui Mok/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Manners are a thorny issue – we all think we possess them, but none of us are exempt from the odd social faux pas.

Behaviour has been a hotly-debated subject for centuries: in the 12th century, King David I of Scotland promised tax rebates to any of his subjects who could learn to eat their food more elegantly having grown up in the court of Henry I where 'native barbarism' was the order of the day when tea was on the table.

One of the Duke of Gloucester's consort, John Russell, added his two-penneth to the debate in the 15th century when he declared that it wasn't the done thing to manically claw at your back if you felt a flea doing the fandango between your shoulder-blades.

Dutch scholar Erasmus suggested a hearty cough to mask flatulence and not laughing at private jokes while by 1608 everyone was taking the mickey out of traveller Thomas Coryat for his airs and graces because he insisted on having his own fork at dinner rather than using the communal forks.

The Victorians took politeness to hitherto unchartered heights – children's behaviour was under the spotlight, people were expected to keep a stiff upper lip, silence was golden and everyone had to illustrate just how upset they were at the death of a loved one by wearing black (I would be considered SO respectful).


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It's easy to see that in real terms, things haven't changed a great deal. In fact they've arguable got worse, because technology has kindly offered us a whole host of new ways in which we can nark our neighbours. For that reason, I offer an updated etiquette guide. If you're going to thank me, send a card (fine parchment, black ink).

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• A guide to modern manners

1. Don't hide on the internet: The internet is awash with lunatics and stalkers, an army of keyboard warriors poised over the 'send' button waiting to unleash their ill-judged, ill-researched nonsense on the world – it needs no more recruits, ESPECIALLY ONES. That. Use. Lots of CAPITAL leTters randomly. And. Full stops all over. The place!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I forgot to mention. The exclamation marks!!!!! Stand by your opinions and voice them under your own name rather than your internet name and stop loitering on the web with your online clan having petty arguments about things that didn't matter in the first place.

2. Don't 'just pop round': I work all week. My husband works all week and all weekend. If we do happen to be in, we are catatonic in front of Versailles or asleep. If you want to come round, text/call me or send a carrier pigeon with your request, your reason for visiting and what's in it for me (cake? Gifts? Wine? High-octane gossip?). I will require at least 48 hours' notice for an impromptu visit, more if you don't have cake/wine/gossip/gifts. I will be pleased to see you at a time convenient to me, like a pompous monarch with a rampant ego. Although in my defence, if I knew you were coming I'd have baked a cake/asked my husband to bring me some home from his restaurant.

3. Don't be the kind of person that 'says it how it is': White lies and avoidance of tricky subject matters are the glue that holds society together and inevitably, those who hand out their unwanted and unwarranted advice on matters they know little about are the ones who find it most difficult to take the same treatment themselves. Being kind never hurt anyone. Try it.

4. Spitting in the street: They may have constructed an Olympic stadium which looked like a three-year-old's scribble, but when it came to spitting in the street, I was right behind the Chinese (wearing goggles and my patented 'spittle shield' I developed for Gentleman's Walk) in 2008 when it launched the brilliant Bejing Better Manners Campaign ahead of the games. In addition to encouraging people to offer Olympic visitors directions – regardless of whether they wanted them – the authorities also begged its nationals to stop spitting in the street.

'Our target is for 80 per cent of citizens not to spit in public by the Olympics,' said Wang Tao, a better-manners campaigner. Even at the time, this seemed like far too small a figure: one nearer to 99.9 per cent (allowing for the 0.1 per cent who've just accidentally swallowed one of those slimy gherkins that lurks in McDonalds' burgers) would be much more acceptable. No one needs to spit in the street. Prison is too good for these monsters.

5. Talking when the film is playing in the cinema: When you buy a ticket to watch a film, there's only one thing you're expected to do: watch the film. There are several reasons when it is acceptable to speak while a film is playing on the big screen. These include (a) your cinema seat is on fire (b) someone else's cinema seat is on fire and you need to alert them to this fact.

6. Read receipt: I use a certain brand of mobile phone which allows you to enable a deeply annoying feature, namely the read receipt. It means that if I send someone a message and they haven't done the decent thing, in other words disabling this ridiculous piece of Big Brother policing, it means I see exactly when they read my message which then gives me the chance to calculate how long it's been since they read it...and ignored it. We all know that the socially acceptable response time after picking up and reading a message is RIGHT NOW which is why you need to turn this feature off. Reading our messages and then ignoring them is rude. You probably have a great excuse. I don't care. If you've got enough time to read the message, you've got enough time to answer, even if that answer is 'busy, more later x'. If it's a partner or new love, the problem is exacerbated to whole new levels. I read a perfect example of what read receipt means: 'I've seen your message, but for whatever reason, I don't feel the need to respond to you. Now go ahead and wonder what that reason is.' Turn it off.

7. Don't vape in my face: I walked to work the other day and had the misfortune of being in the slipstream of a vaper who let loose a huge cloud of sickly-smelling fog which hit me straight in the face before 8am – there are a few things I can deal with before 8am, but these generally involve tea, toast and perhaps a fragranced bath run for me by Ross Poldark. On the same note, don't vape over children, on public transport, in shops or restaurants or outside hospitals. I'm really happy that you've given up smoking, I know that you feel as if you're embracing a wonderful new world where you don't have to brave the rain to inhale something other than oxygen but the world isn't your private vaping room. Keep your vaping flatulence to yourself.

8. And on that note, please don't eat something pungent in a confined environment: The other day, I shared a lift with someone who was eating their tuna baguette from the wrapper. I almost offered them my very own brand of salsa.

Honourable mentions to: oversharing on Facebook, paying more attention to your phone than the person talking to you, making a fuss about splitting a restaurant bill, trying to avoid paying for a round, reclining your seat during a short flight and talking about yourself continually.

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