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( HomeEngland → Etiquette )

Many years ago in England, social interactions were governed by very strict rules of etiquette.  If you breached those rules, then it could affect your social standing.  The rules of social interaction in England are much more relaxed these days.  However, here are some rules of etiquette that date from that time, along with my views on how they apply today.



(All of the items in this article are taken from a book called "The Book of Etiquette", written  by Lady Laura Troubridge in 1926.)


Thirty Pieces of conduct that were considered incorrect:

1.  To be noisy and assertive, sullen, or bored

I suspect that this piece of advice is responsible for the reputation that the English sometimes have for being rather shy and reserved, though I think it's a bit harsh to tell people that they can't be bored from time to time!

These days, England is not short of noisy and sullen people.  The majority of people here do not see this as a good attribute though, especially in children and young adults.

2.  To be too pressing for attention

This one's probably aimed at kids, and some of them today would do well to take this piece of advice.  There's nothing worse than having a nice meal or quiet drink spoiled by loud-mouthed pushy kids.

In England today, loud and pushy children in pubs and restaurants are frowned upon, and may well result in a complaint to the parents.

3.  To bang doors and talk noisily on the stairs

I think that this one is funny, as we all know that slamming doors is a great stress breaker and gives particular satisfaction when done to someone you don't like or who's upset you!

In spite of being satisfying to the one who does it, most people in England respect the quiet and dignified personality, rather than those who make their feelings clear to others.

4.  To give orders to other people's servants or employees

The first aspect is not applicable to most people, as not too many families over here have servants any more.  However, my experience of working for many years in England is that most bosses are very reluctant to give orders or requests to subordinate folk who work for someone else.

5.  To borrow other people's possessions

Very wise, but I think today this is good advice rather than something you need to actively avoid doing.

These days in England, no-one fears borrowing things from others, provided that there is a good chance that the borrowed item will be returned.

6.  To borrow even the smallest sum of money

As for number 5, this is probably good advice in general unless absolutely necessary, but hardly a rule that should be considered "incorrect" any more.

However, in England, it is still considered to be bad form to borrow from someone who works for you or is subordinate to you in some way.

7.  To use a pocket handkerchief in public, unless absolutely necessary

This one seems a bit harsh -  what are you supposed to do if you have a streaming nose?  To many folk, excessive sniffing is worse than nose blowing.

This is a rule that doesn't apply any more in England.  Very noisy blowing of the nose might gain a few stares, though.

8.  To question people about their private affairs

Obeying this one would take all the fun out of life, and all of us who are nosy would be totally miserable knowing that we can't ask personal questions!

On a serious note, most people in England would be very reluctant to question another person (especially a stranger) about their private affairs, no matter how curious they are.  Leading questions might be asked, though, if the curiosity gets unbearable.

9.  To be unpunctual

Still holds today as far as I'm concerned, there's nothing worse than being kept waiting by someone who is late.

In England, most people expect others to be punctual for formal business or other meetings, unless there is a good reason for being late.  A call to explain that you might be late for a meeting is appreciated.

10.  To be careless about neglecting other social conventions

In other words, make sure you obey the "rules of society".  Modern-day Britain is much more relaxed and informal than it used to be, with far fewer rules.

The basic rules today are very simple.  Be polite and considerate to others is perhaps the major social rule these days.

11.  To lounge about, or put feet on chairs in public

Try telling this to the British youth of today!  I don't think some of the youth of today are going to stop doing this because it's a breach of etiquette.

In England, putting feet up on chairs (for example on public transport) is frowned upon, but will not necessarily elicit a response from people sitting nearby.  Most people will remove their feet if you wish to sit on that seat.

12.  To wear a dinner coat and black tie at any gathering where ladies are present

One can only imagine the indignation of ladies 50 years ago who were presented with a man not wearing a black tie!  These days it is hard to imagine why this was such an important rule.

Most English folk prefer to dress casually when going out for the evening with friends or a partner, unless the rules of the establishment being visited require otherwise.

13.  To indulge in unpleasant personal "tricks"

I guess the modern equivalent of number 13 would be "don't play games" with other people, and still counts as an excellent rule.  Too bad many folk don't heed this.

As with any other society, England has its fair share of folk who will try to manipulate others for their own gain.  I guess there always will be, too.

14.  To smoke in a drawing room without permission

In this world where smoking seems to be banned everywhere indoors (even though I smoke I think it's rightly so), it looks like someone had the same idea 50 years ago.

These days in England, smoking is banned in virtually all public places.  You will have to go outside to smoke, unless you are in a private home or car of someone who will let you smoke inside.

15.  To smoke a pipe in the company of ladies without permission

To people of my generation, it is hard to believe that such rules were in force in times gone by.  As with the previous advice, smoking is banned in  virtually all public places in England these days - irrespective of whether women are present or not.

16.  To walk out of a door or into a lift before a woman

In other words, the lady goes first.  This is still expected by some English women, especially among the older generation.  For example, my mother can get very indignant if she's not allowed to go first through a door.

17.  Not to leave the inner side of a pavement to a woman

The idea being that a man should go on the outside edge of the pavement so that he protects her from passing cars and splashes from puddles, etc.

Again, the older generation in England still expect this rule to apply, with many older men allowing their wives to take the inside line.

18.  To fill the mouth over full, to sneeze, cough or choke noisily, while eating

Very good advice, and something that some of my so-called "sophisticated" colleagues at work should take heed of!

Many people in England expect others to enjoy their meals discretely, and to eat with their mouths closed and without talking and chewing at the same time.

19.  To lounge over the table while eating

Eating meals at the table, with family, is rapidly becoming a thing of the past here in England, with many people sitting in front of the TV with their dinner on a tray.  I have to plead guilty to this.

These days, this rule probably means "sit up straight" and be dignified at the table.  Most English folk of reasonable breeding would expect others to do this.  

20.  To brag, be overbearing, or to be servile

Good advice, everybody hates a smarty pants.  It's not so bad if those who do it have something to brag about, but most don't.  It's like the old saying, empty vessels make the most noise!

Only a few areas of English society would find such people acceptable.  As a general rule, most English folk are quiet and keep their thoughts to themselves.

21.  Not to make way for a lady when meeting her on the stairs

In other words, the lady has right-of-way.  Just like number 17, the older generation here still expect this to be applied.  Most men in England would observe this rule today.

22.  To stare at people

I think that in England, just as virtually anywhere else in the world, we enjoy looking at the other people around us, and if those people then catch our eye, we immediately look away!

Nobody in England likes to be stared at, as though we are some peculiar object of interest.  If a man stares at another man, the result will nearly always be to risk confrontation.

23.  To pay personal compliments, unless very delicately conveyed

This one hints at a most refined and delicate society many years ago.  I think most English folk these days are very happy to be paid a personal compliment, unless it could be construed as unduly sexual or suggestive, and from a complete stranger.  The exception could be the older generation, so care might be required with that age group.

24.  To contradict or show intolerance of other people's opinions

A piece of advice that still holds good today.  It's a shame that the advice ever came to be relaxed, and today you could add don't be intolerant of people's race, gender or sexuality.  Sadly, among some people, I don't think that advice will ever become mainstream.

For the most part, English people are very tolerant of other people's opinions, and accept that everyone has a right to be heard.  Obviously there are exceptions, but the same could be said of any society.

25.  To interrupt the conversation of others

Another piece of advice that still holds good today, and in general English people will listen patiently to what others have to say, unless what is being said is sufficiently objectionable that they feel the need to interrupt.

26.  To repeat anything unpleasant said by one person about another person, to that other

I agree with this one too.  As with Number 24, if more people practiced this, society would be a nicer and less violent place.  Gossiping goes on in all walks of life, and the English are just as guilty as any other nationality. 

27.  To gossip ill-naturedly

As with Number 26, this is prevalent in England.  I myself have been guilty of gossiping about other people, but accept in return that people will talk about me behind my back.  

28.  To talk of domestic or personal affairs in general society

I presume this means don't talk about personal problems, or problems afflicting the family, to those who have no business to know such information.  In other words, "keep it in the family".

I think most English would adhere to that today.  We don't want other people knowing about our private business.

29.  To speak discourteously to servants or others in an inferior social position

Probably not relevant today in that form, though today's interpretation would be not to talk down to people who are in a less fortunate position than us.

It's worth noting that my brother loved the 12 months he spent in Australia because of their lack of a class system over there - managing directors and dustmen happily sit and drink a beer together and share a laugh in Australia.

30.  To repeat unnecessarily often the name of the person with whom conversation is being carried on.

I once heard a colleague of mine talk to the (former) chairman of AEA Technology on the following terms:  "Oh yes Sir Anthony, it's a pleasure to meet you Sir Anthony ... Would you come this way please Sir Anthony ..."

To most folk in England, such talk sounds rather false and as though the person doing the talking is trying to gain some sort of favour with the other person.