Monthly Archives: December 2013

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Photo from

Photo from

The Etiquette Butterfly is taking a break, and will be back from 6th January. I hope you have enjoyed my posts as much as I have writing them.

Mince pies for Santa.

Mince pies for Santa.

Remember to leave mince pies for Father Christmas and a carrot for Rudolph.

¡Feliz Navidad y Próspero 2014!



Query: Slurping noodles in oriental restaurants

Dear EtiKate
I loved your soup etiquette post!
You mentioned that slurping is a no-no when enjoying your soup. But supposedly in other cultures (Japan, and possibly other East-Asian countries), slurping is encouraged. It expresses one’s satisfaction with the soup. Is that true?
Also, should one do the same when in a Eat-Asian restaurant here, or should I obey the “Western” rules?

Ruth via Ask Dear EtiKate

Dear EtiKate
Following on from your soup article, how does one eat noodles? To slurp or not to slurp?

Resist slurping the irresistible.

Resist slurping the irresistible ramen.

Dear Ruth and Readers

In many Far Eastern cultures, it is not only permissible to slurp, it is encouraged as it is seen as a compliment to the cook.

If you find yourself in the Orient, do slurp soup and noodles if the locals are doing so. When dining at noodle houses in the rest of the world, I would advise eating as noiselessly as possible. Other diners may not know the cross-cultural reason for slurping, and might view it awfully coarse.

As you have pointed out, etiquette varies between cultures. This is what makes it fun and interesting. I suppose this is the very case of ‘When in Rome…’


EtiKate will answer your etiquette related questions. Submit your problems, dilemmas or queries in the Dear EtiKate section.

First Christmas with the “in-laws”

Photo from f*

Photo from f***

Your first Christmas with your partner’s family is quite the milestone. It suggests some commitment from both of you.

This post might be helpful for those who will be meeting the parents for the first time. I shall write a separate post on that theme.

But mainly, this was written for individuals who have previously met the parents and are having their first Christmas with them. I have divided this post into three: before, during and after the event.

Photo from

Photo from magicalchristmaswreaths.

A. Pre-arrival:

1. Get some background information

Are they a family of early risers or will it be opening presents in pyjamas?

Are there any topics of conversation best avoided? It is a faux pas to talk about your choice of horses at the Grand National when Uncle Benny turns out to have a gambling problem.

Know the house rules, and be prepared.

2. Take a present

Failing to take a host(ess) gift is an oversight and a missed opportunity for brownie points. A potted poinsettia, champagne or a box of nice chocolates would suffice.

The family will more than likely give you a Christmas gift. So, it is best if you give them what I call a little “generic present”. These are classic and not too novel; perfect for an almost stranger.

Remember to enclose the gift receipt. As you get to know the family more, your gifts will evolve to reflect your growing acquaintance.

Good generic gifts: this year’s Man Booker prize winner, a hamper of edible goodies, or if you excel at it, something homemade.

Bad generic gifts: toiletries, watches, mirrors, clothing (this includes socks and scarves), vouchers, anything they might be obliged to wear or display.

It’s also acceptable to give one big gift ‘for the house’ or ‘for the whole family’.

If you have not been going out for long, it is perfectly alright to just sign both your names in the cards and give the gifts from both of you.

Photo from

Photo from

B. The main event:

1. Presenting yourself

It is best to dress on the conservative side. Be a fine lady or gentleman and captivate them with elegant presentation. Take one smart outfit with you to cover all eventualities.

Turn the formality up slightly, at least at the beginning. What may be normal for your partner, such as swearing or walking around in a dressing gown is not for you.

2. Conversations

Well-informed conversation with a bite of opinion is the key here. This is not the time to discuss one’s political views, the economy, global warming or religion. Avoid controversy, but debate with reason.

If you run out things to say, just remember the things you read in the Travel and Culture section of The Guardian. For instance, ‘I read that Budapest is this year’s trending winter destination.’ is a good conversation filler.

Show a united front; never gang up on your partner to get on other family members’ side.

Remember that gushing compliments often sound insincere.

3. Join in

Offer a little help with the cooking during the big day. Do not be offended if it is politely refused. They have been doing this for years, and you might just get in the way.

Take initiative in doing the household chores. So don’t offer to wash up, just do it.

4. Boudoir boundaries

If you are sharing a bedroom, be super discreet. If you are in separate rooms, let your boyfriend or girlfriend do the bed-hopping. If anyone is caught in flagrante in the hallway, it should not be you.

C. On departure:

1. Thank you letter

Send your hosts a thank you note within the first week of the new year. Read my previous post on how to write a thank you letter. Traditionally, one only writes to the lady of the house, but augment as you see fit.

2. Debriefing

Inevitably, you will be discussing how the visit went. Resist the urge to criticise any member of the family. Only your partner may do so.

Final words:

Don’t be overly nervous; you are bound to have fun. Be yourself, but just a tiny bit polished. Take this as your opportunity to do secret reconnaissance of the family you may be part of in the future.

All the best,

Cinema courtesy

Not two months ago, it was reported that Madonna was banned from Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas in the US for annoying fellow filmgoers by texting during the premiere of 12 Years a Slave.

IMG-20131208-WA0003Most people know how to behave in the theatres and cinemas. For the rest of us who are not Madonna, here is a gentle reminder of what is conventional cinema courtesy.

1. Turn your phone off or put it into silent mode before the show starts. Putting it on vibrate would still create an annoying noise and, well, vibration.

2. As we learned from the above incident, do NOT send or read texts. Although texting is not as disrupting taking a call, the light the screen emits is distracting and annoying

3. Cinema food should be quiet, odourless and not messy. Avoid apples, crisps, and drippy food that could stain the seat or food with noisy packaging.

During a Mahler concerto, an elderly lady took two minutes, with great difficulty, to unwrap a cough drop. I found the juxtaposition of absurdity against a formal setting memorable, but I doubt the London Philharmonic Orchestra found it as funny as I did.

4. Try to avoid talking to your friends during the film. Wait until the end to say, ‘What else has he been in?’ or ‘I knew she’d be killed next.’ It’s distracting to your fellow filmgoers and your friend.

It also distracts you from the film. Chances are, the next thing you’ll say is ‘What just happened?’

5. When leaving, take your empty food packaging with you, and put it in the bin or give it an attendant. It is polite to do so.

Obama selfie at Mandela memorial

During Nelson Mandela’s memorial service yesterday, US President Barack Obama along with British Prime Minister David Cameron and his Danish counterpart were seen leaning their heads together for a selfie. The incident elicited much indignation.

David Cameron, Helle Thorning Schmidt and Barack Obama at Nelson Mandela's memorial service yesterday. Photograph: Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images

David Cameron, Helle Thorning Schmidt and Barack Obama at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service yesterday. Photo from The Guardian

Typing ‘selfie’ and ‘funeral’ on Google, one will  be greeted a host of faces, mostly teens, photographing themselves at an occasion of mourning and remembrance.

Is this a reflection of the casual, modern times in which we live?

Granted, Messrs Obama and Cameron and Ms Thorning-Schmidt were in a memorial service, not a funeral. Additionally, it was unlikely that they were taking the selfie during the ceremony. Their smiles may be reflecting the celebration of Mr Mandela’s life and achievements.

However, the celebration has been somewhat overshadowed by the international incident the world leaders have caused.

A panorama shot of the incident shows Mrs Obama, lips pursed, looking positively annoyed next to the three. Make of that what you will.

Mrs Obama looking somewhat annoyed with the three next to her

Mrs Obama looking somewhat annoyed with the three next to her. Photo from The New York Times

The righteous indignation of the public indicates that funeral selfies are still frowned upon. One would be reluctant to take a call or text openly at a funeral.

Memorials and funerals are a solemn affairs. Please put your mobiles away.

Placing a card in an envelope

I find it difficult to do the right thing in life most of the time, so I am rarely apologetic when I find a proper way to do the little things.

I discovered the correct way to place cards into envelopes about ten years ago. With the Christmas season truly upon us, it seems fitting to share this with my readers now.

If the spine of the card is facing out, there is a risk of slicing the card with your letter opener. See photo below.

Risk of slicing the the card with a letter opener.

Risk of slicing the the card with a letter opener.

If the front of the card is facing the opening, there’s a chance of gluing the envelope flap onto the card, thus damaging the design of the card.

Inadvertently damaging this beautiful card would be ghastly.

Inadvertently damaging this beautiful card would be ghastly.

The best way to place a card in an envelope: spine down, back showing.

The best way to place a card in an envelope: spine down, back showing.

With this in mind, the best way to place cards in their envelopes is with the spine down and the back showing.

The recipient will also get the added surprise of turning the card over to reveal the beautiful design.