Monthly Archives: August 2014

How to ask someone on a date

Ladies who lunch. Photo from

Over lunch, my friend Rica shared her distress because she had been indecorously asked out on a date four times in as many weeks. Now, this does not surprise me as she is one of those girls who was blessed with not only beauty and brains, but charm as well.

Rica is a sweet, genuine person, and take my word for it, this is not a case of a “humblebrag”. From the anecdotes, I realised, what we had before us was a breach of social convention that must be addressed. I cannot divulge the details of our conversation. But I can tell you that the ordeal was so awkward that (and I find this funny) my friend won’t be able to show her face at her local greengrocer’s for a while yet.

For those of you out there who need a little help asking someone out on a date, here is The Etiquette Butterfly’s Guide on How to Ask Someone Out. This is written for everyone: whether you are sixteen or sixty, a guy asking a girl he fancies, a guy asking another guy, or a girl asking a guy.

Photo from

Get to know the person first
My friend was asked out by a guy who didn’t bother asking for her name first. The saying ‘only after “one thing” comes to mind’.

Find out a little bit about the person you want to ask out. Talk to them first, whether the other person is a work colleague, a casual acquaintance, or if they just happen to catch the same commuter train every day. Learn a little bit about the person, what they like and what they like doing. But don’t go about it as if you are a detective interrogating a suspect; delicacy is what’s required here.

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It’s very rarely the case that a person will go out on a date with a complete stranger. (Speed dating is a case in point. You find out a little bit about someone then you agree to go on a real date or not.) Knowing a little bit about the “object of your desire” serves a purpose: you discover whether you should pursue them further. Value your time and energy as well as theirs by finding out from the start if you share anything in common or if they have character traits you absolutely abhor.
Here is a lighthearted example. Let’s say you are someone who is very optimistic and cheerful. If the other person happens to be extremely sardonic, chances are, the relationship will be short lived, and you won’t remain friends. It’s important to uncover these things before you start dating.

Suave French Guy finds out that he and Taylor Swift share a love for the music of James Taylor before he asked her out. (Clip from Taylor Swift’s Begin Again)

Another reason for getting to know someone before asking them out: you show that you intend to have a meaningful relationship. Generally, people want to feel that they are admired for their substance, abilities, intelligence or personality. Yes, physical attraction plays a very big part in wanting to date someone, but there must be another dimension beyond beauty.

Below is a very short clip from Swan Princess, an animated movie loosely based on Swan Lake. The clip shows Prince Derek declaring that Princess Odette is “beautiful, and all he ever wanted”. When the Princess asks, ‘Is beauty all the matters to you?’ The Prince’s reply leaves a lot to be desired.

Avoid ambiguity
It is better to be exact and unambiguous when asking someone out. Try not to say “hang out”. This can be construed as a group activity or something that might relegate you to the “friend zone” category. Eliminate the loaded description “We’re just hanging out,” later on. If the word “date” is too strong and dated [pun intended] for your modern tastes, opt for “go out” instead.

Be specific
Specify a time or activity that you would like to do together. For example, you can say ‘Would you like to go out with me on Saturday?’ or ‘Are you interested in going wall climbing with me sometime soon?’ This way, the person can subtly indicate whether they reciprocate your interest or not without putting themselves in an awkward position of rejecting you outright.
As well as the coveted ‘Yes, I would,’ they might answer, ‘I’m busy on Saturday, but I’m free on Monday if you want to go out then.’ The same goes for a reply of ‘I’m too scared to go wall climbing, would you like to go ice skating instead?’ Both answers show that they want to go out with you.

Photo from

But an answer along the lines of ‘Sorry, I’m busy on Saturday.’ or ‘I don’t like wall climbing,’ without any offer of an alternative indicates they might not return your interest. This puts you in a better position to gauge if they do not want to go out with you.

Saying, ‘Would you like to go out sometime?’ without a specific time or activity leaves the other person but two choices. They will either:
a. Just say ‘Yes’ only to spare your feelings or
b. Say ‘No, thank you,’ thus openly wounding your ego in the process. 

This might create an embarrassing situation from which it is difficult to recover.

Final words
Take courage that in following this guide, asking someone out will not leave either of you feeling uncomfortable or embarrassed. Your chance of success increases when you actually ask.

I am a romantic. I love the whole ritual of dating and courtship. At the risk of sounding overly sentimental, I leave you with the words of the poet John Greenleaf Whittier,

Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been’.

All the best,

Did you find success by following our guide? We would love to hear your feedback. Please leave a comment below.

Aeroplane (airplane!) etiquette

This week, a plane had to be diverted because a fight broke out between two passengers. While on his laptop, a man used a Knee Defender, a device that stopped the woman in front of him from reclining her seat. He refused to remove the device when asked by a flight attendant. ‘The woman then stood up, turned around and threw a cup of water at him’, the enforcement official said.

A United Airlines plane on the tarmac.

A United Airlines plane on the tarmac. Photo from The Guardian.

I have written posts on bus etiquette, commuter train etiquette and also what to do when you have a private chauffeur. I have been requested to write about aeroplane etiquette previously, which I have declined. In light of recent events, I now feel it is my duty to share basic aeroplane etiquette.

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I’d like to believe that those in the middle seats should get armrest priority. After all, the ones in the window and aisle seats have one for their exclusive use. But I realise, I might be the only one who thinks this way. Be willing to share the armrest. If your fellow passenger is taking up all the space, slip your elbow behind theirs. If they are polite, this will likely force them to make some space for you. If not, discreetly take up an inch more of the space at a time.

Be prepared to share the armrest. Photo from

Reclining the seat
It is only fair to mention the incident that is the inspiration for this post. It’s very easy to avoid unwanted beverages thrown at you: do not use a Knee Defender. You must expect that the person in front of you will recline their seats. You can try to avoid reclining seats by requesting the first row seats or the emergency exit row, the both usually has more leg room.

The Knee Defender, a device designed to keep the seat in front from reclining. Photo from

It is perfectly acceptable to recline your seat during long haul flights. The cabin lights are dimmed creating an atmosphere conducive for naps. It should go without saying, do not rest your head on the stranger’s shoulder when you sleep. If you find yourself unwittingly made into a headrest, feel free to wake the sleeping person a violent shake.

Do try to avoid reclining your seat in short flights. The United Airlines flight which experienced the fracas was flying from Newark to Denver, a 4 hour journey. Arguably, a 4 hour flight is neither long nor short. Avoid the aggravation and simply keep your seat upright if you are sat in front of a whiny person. I was informed that the seats in most budget airlines do not recline because there is no need for it during short flights.

Flight attendants
The cabin crew are trained to deal with difficult and irritating passengers.
Do speak to them if the child behind you keeps kicking or someone’s music is blasting through their headphones. Let the cabin crew handle the situation and you will be spared awkward discussions and nasty stares for the duration of your flight. I suppose if if the woman who threw water had let the flight attendants sort the incident out, it would have been very likely that she or the Knee Defender man would be moved to a different seats.

I hope that this post will help make your flights more pleasant and agreeable. At the very least, I hope it will prevent future altercations with fellow passengers. When in doubt, be aware of other people’s discomfort; be considerate and do not to be the annoying passenger.

Bon voyage,

Update: Only days later, a second plane had to be diverted due to a similar incident involving a passenger row over reclining seats . Read the full report dated 29 August 2014 here. We are grateful to our reader Ruth for bringing this to our attention.

Do leave a comment below if you would like me to write a piece on airport etiquette or if you’d like me to share etiquette tips that will help you get flight and hotel upgrades.

Expressing sympathy: how to write a condolence letter

At this moment, I feel death surrounds us more so than ever before. Perhaps it’s because I now visit the BBC News page every morning. The state of the world is getting us down. I am writing this post with the hope that it would help people at a time when delicacy is paramount.

A letter of condolence should be written and sent promptly, preferably within two weeks of hearing the news. Where possible, use stationery rather than a store-bought card. And a handwritten letter is more personal and sincere compared with a typed one.

Almost without exception, one writes to the next of kin who you are closest friends with. For instance, if you are friends with both the wife and daughter of the deceased, usually the letter would be addressed to the wife. However, if the daughter no longer lives in the family home, it is best to write to both individually. This is the case where you should be concerned for every individual.

Refer to the deceased by name in your letter. Do mention personal anecdotes and memories of the deceased. It will be a source of comfort to the grieving person to know that their loved one was treasured. Only offer future help or assistance if it is sincere, and you are in a position to do so.

It is acceptable to write to the family even if you have never met them before, for example, the family of a colleague. I once saw a sympathy letter with ‘this letter does not require a response’ in the postscript. I’m not quite sure I’d word it that way, but saying something to this effect can be helpful as it is often very difficult to reply to someone who is unknown to us.

As an example, let’s say you are writing a letter of sympathy to you family friend Tess on the death of her husband, Philip. Write your letter thus:

Photo from

Dear Tante Tess,

I am saddened to hear that Philip has passed away. I will always remember how much he loved going to The Proms, and he even took my brother and me with him the last two years.

I know Philip drove you to gospel choir practice. I would be glad to take you if you like.

Thinking of you,

I hope this post was helpful in some small way. Do leave a comment below if you’d like me to write about how to respond to a letter of condolence.

Yours faithfully,