Category Archives: At Home

Etiquette: The Card Game

First, an apology. It has been too long since my last post. A tragedy has befallen the House of EtiKate, and I’m afraid every other thing has been left neglected. I have had etiquette post topics in my mind throughout my absence, and I hope to be able to share it all with you in the weeks and months to come.

Since the start of the year, I have been going on more than my usual amount of weekend trips. On the Thursday before, I would already be thinking of an activity I’d like to do, or a place to visit. Then on the Saturday, I’d hop on the train and embark on my little adventure.

The City of Dreaming Spires

One of my favourite places to visit is the city of dreaming spires, Oxford. The city is easy enough to navigate on foot. The architecture, the history, the very atmosphere just commands an expression of greatness.  And in Oxford, one of my favourite haunts (of these there are many), is The Ashmolean Museum, Britain’s oldest university museum. I don’t wish to offend fellow pilgrims, but I would describe it as a cross between The National Gallery and the British Museum. I like to while away the hours staring at the Pre-Raphaelite paintings. I also love the corridor I like to call the “plate room”, where the fine porcelain are kept in large glass cases. Oh, the scandalous conversations those china plates must have overheard in their day!

The Ashmolean Museum

Previously, I wrote of the many books from which I take etiquette inspiration. I also mentioned several films that have added to my interest. I am happy to report, that this time, I have found a new fount of inspiration, and I discovered it in no other place than The Ashmolean gift shop!

This new inspiration, would you believe, is an etiquette card game. It’s called RSVP: Etiquette through the Ages. Think Trivial Pursuit where the sole category being etiquette and decorum. So, perhaps it’s more akin to Cards for Humanity?

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The latest addition to my library, Etiquette the Card Game

The deck is composed of quiz cards with questions on one side and the answers are on the reverse. There are topics on dining, communication and even “petiquette”. The cards were written and designed in the US and published with the approval of The Library of Congress. I think that lends more credibility to the card game.

I have picked a random card from the deck, and it reads:

True or False:
When attending a dinner party, it is perfectly acceptable to use the salt and pepper provided on the table to season one’s food.

I will let you mull that over before I give the answer.


I now have these cards in my sitting room in place of a coffee table book. It entertains as well as educates, with its bite-sized etiquette facts. For instance, did you know that, according to the celebrated socialite Gloria Guinness, the best way to prepare for a houseguest is to “sleep in your guest room before any guest who might be too polite to tell you what is wrong”. This would allow you to identify things you may have overlooked, an extra blanket, for example.

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Pick a card, any card.

I find these etiquette cards are a great conversation starter at house parties. They serve a similar purpose as the little jokes inside the Christmas crackers. I think my friends would be cautious when I invite them over for a “card game”. I just need to devise a scoring system for the game. On second thought, where etiquette is concerned, (do forgive me) everybody’s a winner!


In answer to the earlier question, it is acceptable to use the condiments and spices provided to season one’s food. The salt and pepper are there for a reason, so guests should feel free to season their food, discreetly, and only after you have tasted the food. And if someone asks for the salt, it is proper to send along the pepper as well, for the two travel together at the table.

Until we meet again,
EtiKate

How and who to tip

I woke up this Christmas Eve morning to the sound of clinking glasses. The milkman has come to deliver my holiday milk order. I forgot to leave out his Christmas card yet again. This is rapidly becoming a tradition in my house. Whereas last Christmas, I spent the holidays with my beloved’s family; we’ll be having Christmas in our house this year. That means I can give Stuart the Milkman his card, homemade chili jam and his tip the day after Boxing Day. Another fortuitous outcome of this oversight is I get to share my thoughts on tipping in this impromptu post. One gives a tip to show appreciation for a good service. It is acceptable, and in most cases expected, to tip our hairdressers and waiters. I was a waitress in a former life. So now, I never eat out unless I can afford to leave a good tip. I also always tip the bartender after I order my first cocktail. Happy bartenders make better drinks. With that said, one must not feel any obligations to leave a tip if you have received bad service. 

Photo from tippingresearch.com

How much to tip Deciding how much to tip can be tricky. When it’s been decided for you with a service charge, you can just leave it at that. Leaving a tip should appear considerate. Don’t just thoughtlessly leave £1 (or 1 or a crown) on the plate; the waitress is not a homeless person. Nor should you just empty the entire contents of your purse. Ten to fifteen percent of the bill is generally acceptable, any more and it might seem as though you are expecting oh shall we say, “other” favours.

Tipping on holiday In the United States, the restaurant serving staff supplement their wages with tips. This makes it  practically criminal not to leave a tip. If you do the same in Japan, your server will chase you down the street because you “forgot your money”. But as hotels and holiday resorts adapt more and more to Western customs, tipping is becoming the norm.

Photo from The Standard

Debretts advises to think of tipping in units. So for instance, for the porter who helped carry your luggage to your room, that’s one unit per case. For the doorman who got you a cab, that’s one unit. You are not expected to tip the doorman if he simply opens the door of an awaiting taxi for you. Now, I advocate deciding for yourself how much one unit is, within your own budget. For me, one unit is the price of a decent cup of coffee in that city. In Rome, that may be €2, in Manila it’s the price of a latte in Starbucks. Finally, I would like to mention that it is not customary to tip the proprietor of the business.

With that, I will leave you all with my warmest wishes for the festive period. Don’t forget to leave a little something for Father Christmas. Traditionally, it’s mince pies and a carrot for his reindeer. Although in our house, Father Christmas enjoys whisky. Merry Christmas and have a happy New Year! EtiKate

lovefood.com

The proper way to eat fish when served whole

One of the most popular posts in this blog is the piece on how to eat messy food. This current  post focuses on fish and was inspired by Robert Galbraith’s (J. K. Rowling) latest crime fiction novel, The Silkworm. One of the characters, Jerry Waldegrave ordered Dover sole, which the chef served whole. He immediately regretted ordering the fish, as he could not manage to get past the bone.

The Silkworm. The inspiration for this post

The Silkworm. The inspiration for this post

It is easy enough to eat fish when it is served in delicious morsels such as these:

People find it daunting to have fish when it is served whole like Nigella’s Red Mullet or a classic French Sole Meunière. It is great to serve whole fish at dinner parties; it is abundant, the very opposite of meagre. For this reason, it is one of the dishes commonly served during Chinese New Year.

Red Mullet with Sweet and Sour Shredded Salad from Nigella Summer

Red Mullet with Sweet and Sour Shredded Salad from Nigella Summer

The fish knife
You may be provided with a fish knife, depending on how formal the setting. Fish knives are specially shaped with a dull edge and a notched point. It is so designed to easily lift the bone and separate the meat.
Incidentally, I was informed that one can tell if a family is nouveau riche if their silverware contains a fish knife. This is because a fish knife is one of the newer inventions, and so would not be found in an heirloom silverware set. In any case, I am here to explain the proper way to eat fish served whole, with or without a fish knife.

Fish knife from Maxwell Williams

Fish knife from Maxwell Williams

Eating fish
Eat the top fillet was you normally would, starting from the head and working down. Only a small mouthful of a piece must be taken at a time. Fish must never be flipped. To get to the underside, the bone should be lifted up and  the meat eased out. Unless you are in your own home, leave the head and tail intact. Rebel at your own discretion.

Bon appétit,
EtiKate

Tea etiquette or “eteaket”

I love the whole ritual of tea drinking.

Photo credit: Tuscany diet

Photo credit: Tuscany diet

In my house, ‘How do you take it?’ and ‘I’ll put the kettle on’ is often said. As a child, I drank invisible tea poured from tiny plastic teapots with Panda and Barbie.
Years later, when I add milk to very strong jasmine tea, my horrified great uncle would ask in his Hokkien dialect, ‘What are you doing to the tea?’ Lately, lovers’ quarrels would be diffused (infused?) with a mug of tea, always punctuated with a ‘Let’s never fight again.’

In honour of afternoon tea and cream tea season, as promised, here is the first of many posts on Tea etiquette or “eteaket”. Let us start with what I like to call “different ways to have tea”.

Afternoon tea at Bettys in York, dare I say it, my spiritual home. Photo: lavenderandlovage.com

Afternoon tea at Bettys in York, my, dare I say it, spiritual home. Photo: lavenderandlovage.com

1. Afternoon tea– The most decadent way to have tea. This is the tea one has in a London hotel or Bettys in York or if you are Mary Berry, in your magnificent garden. It is always served with scones, crustless sandwiches and the most delectable cakes. If you are thinking of having afternoon tea alone, well, perish the thought. This is a treat to be shared with the people you love the most.

Do not call it “high tea”
During the Edwardian Era, the name “high tea” referred to an evening snack which the staff ate, because it consisted of a substantial meal of meat followed by cake, and was eaten on a high wooden table. Our friends from the other side of the Atlantic misinterpreted it as a name for glamour and richness.

Downton Abbey staff having high tea. Credit: stylist.co.uk

Downton Abbey staff having high tea. Credit: stylist.co.uk

Variations:
Champagne afternoon tea– as above but with a glass or two of bubbly. I prefer pink champagne for a touch of An Affair to Remember.

Afternoon tea at the Goring Hotel in London

Afternoon tea at the Goring Hotel in London

Gentleman’s afternoon tea– for the most discerning of gents. It’s afternoon tea with meat pies served with whiskey, and a cigar for afters. My friend Laurie, connoisseur of all fine things in life, recommends the Gents Afternoon Tea at the rooftop of the Sanctum Soho Hotel.

2. Cream tea– a less sophisticated afternoon tea, but no less special. It’s always taken with scones and clotted cream. (Jam or treacle is served as well, see variations below.) It is sometimes called ‘Devonshire cream tea’ or ‘Cornish cream tea’ in some Commonwealth countries. I tend to have cream tea when I have house guests, at country estates or a tea room.

Cream tea perfection Photo from www.europe-autos.com

Cream tea perfection. Photo from http://www.europe-autos.com

No alternatives
If clotted cream is not available, do not be tempted to use whipped cream or God forbid, squirty cream.
Avoid further disappointment and bake yourself some madeleines or cupcakes to go with your tea. I am grateful that good quality long-life clotted cream is now available. We can now have cream teas at a moment’s notice.

Variations:
Devon cream tea
– the freshly baked scone is sliced in half, covered in clotted cream then topped with jam.

Thunder and lightning– as with the Devon Cream Tea but with treacle or golden syrup instead of jam.

Cornish cream tea– Jam is spread first, then topped with the clotted cream (see photo below). To help you remember which is which, think, “Cornish Cream Top”, if the cream is on top of the jam, it’s Cornish.

Cornish cream tea- cream on top. Photo: hungryhinny.com

Cornish cream tea- cream on top. Photo: hungryhinny.com

3. Teapot tea– A self-respecting household keeps a tea set of bone china, as extravagant as you dare, for times of pure luxury. (Compare an inexpensive tea set with a Wedgwood, both are beautiful). I myself have inherited mother’s kitsch floral tea set.

Beautiful daisy print tea set

Beautiful daisy print tea set

Beautiful Josiah Wedgwood tea set.

Beautiful Josiah Wedgwood tea set.

 

 

 

 

 

 


There are moments for tea in mugs and there are other moments when you can want a proper tea in dainty cups.
This is the tea set that comes out when one wants to feel indulged or when a favourite aunt comes for a visit. Loose leaf tea and a strainer is called for on this occasion. Have a some all-butter shortbread or petit fours with your tea. The joy of these days is, that they are rare.

Eteaket, the tea etiquette

Eteaket, the tea etiquette

4. Cup of tea– There is always something deeply satisfying about hugging a mug of tea in your hands. This is the type of tea with which you start your days and your weekends. One of life’s great pleasures is when, on a lazy Saturday morning, you reach over to the other side of the bed, only to find your boy (or girl) is not there. Because this means he is in the kitchen, making you a cup of tea.
This is the tea you serve to console a friend or to unwind after a long day. For a special treat, have a biscuit with your cup of tea or do the TimTam slam.

Hug Mug Photo credit www.telegraph.co.uk

Hug mug Photo from telegraph.co.uk

Which goes first, the milk or the tea?
In the olden days of yore, bone china teacups were delicate and made very thinly. Thus, milk was traditionally poured first so as to not “shock” the cup and cause cracks. Nowadays, bone china is much thicker and can withstand the 90 °C or so of recently boiled water. To answer this age-old debate, pour the tea first, followed by the milk. This way, you can adjust to how strong you take your tea.

Pour the tea, then the milk. Photo from telegraph.co.uk

Pour the tea, then the milk. Photo from telegraph.co.uk

I do hope you found this tea etiquette post useful and fun. Do leave a reply below, your comments and questions are most welcome.

Enjoy your tea,
EtiKate (Yorkshire, milky, no sugar)

Arriving late: comedian Jason Manford buys audience drinks to apologise

Jason Manford bought audience drinks as an apology. Photo credit: bbc.co.uk

Jason Manford bought audience drinks as an apology. Photo credit: bbc.co.uk

Last week, Jason Manford bought a round of drinks for his 835-strong audience as an apology for keeping them waiting. The comedian was stuck in traffic for two hours and eventually made it to the stage 40 minutes late. I imagine the audience were very appreciative of his generosity as he took to the stage, and ultimately did not mind the late hour.

Is it the casual, modern way to be relaxed about punctuality? I certainly believe it’s impolite to be more than half an hour late for no good reason. Text messages saying, “So sorry, I’m running a little late. Be with you soon.” hardly makes up for it.

Waiting patiently. Photo credit: ace0fredspades.deviantart.com

Waiting patiently. Photo credit: ace0fredspades.deviantart.com

I’m not talking about Mr Manford here. He had a genuine reason for being late and made up for it. I’m talking about habitual offenders who constantly make their friends wait. I myself favour being on time, and feel positively embarrassed if I have kept someone waiting.

Photo credit: thebookpeople.co.uk

Photo credit: thebookpeople.co.uk

On this matter, I defer to the more expert hand of Thomas Blaikie, etiquette writer for The Lady magazine. He advocates being ruthless with friends who keep us waiting in public places. “If they are more than 15 minutes late for the third time, don’t wait another minute… Go off and amuse yourself elsewhere. With some people, lateness is a symptom of deep-seated unreliability and selfishness…But sometimes they reform. Always give them a chance if they promise to do better.”

However, Mr Blaikie advises arriving a little late for parties and dinners at other people’s houses. I do agree that it seems rather curious about guests who arrive on the dot. It gives the impression that they have been lurking just beyond your house, waiting for the exact moment to ring the bell. Often, hosts are grateful for the extra ten minutes after the stated time in which the guests don’t arrive. But do not be more than 15 minutes late without giving prior notice.

As a host, I sometimes have a quiet word with the notorious latecomers beforehand. I would give them an earlier start time than the rest of my guests. That way, I know the event will not overrun as a consequence of needless waiting. If they still arrive late, try starting without them. This happened to me in my early teens, and I’ve remembered the lesson ever since. I know it’s extreme, but it obliges us to respect other people’s time.

There may be an unspoken understanding in society that “if you are important, people will wait.” To some extent, this is practiced. However, do keep in mind that waiting for one person is discourteous to everyone else who made the effort to arrive on time.

Late for a date. Photo credit: huffingtonpost.com

Late for a date. Photo credit: huffingtonpost.com

Have you spotted an etiquette-related article in the news? Do tell us about it on Facebook, via Twitter, or on the comments section below.

Films featuring etiquette

Aside from my modest collection of etiquette books, I get etiquette inspiration from films. Here I present my top 5 films that feature etiquette lessons.

I am not in the least surprised that many in the list feature makeovers. I’ve always believed that beauty is reflected not only in appearance, but also through genteel behaviour and charm.  

Photo credit gohemiantravellers.com

Photo credit gohemiantravellers.com

Pretty Woman
Many might argue this film romanticises prostitution. It is simply a romantic film where a strong female lead and an unfeeling male lead fall in love with one another. She just happened to be an attractive, kindhearted cocotte. Julia Roberts’ character even charms the hotel manager, who coaches her on dinner etiquette (see picture). During the important dinner, she struggles with escargot, and accidentally pings the little snail across the room. She says, ever so coolly, ‘Slippery little suckers.’

Photo credit en.wikipedia.org

Photo credit en.wikipedia.org

The King’s Speech
This film teaches royal subjects how to address and converse with royalty. Helena Bonham Carter as Queen Elizabeth explains to a startled Mrs Logue, upon finding The Queen in her home, ‘It’s “Your Majesty” the first time. After that, it’sma’am.” As in “ham,” not “mum” as in “palm.”

Photo credit commentaramafilms.blogspot.co.uk

Photo credit commentaramafilms.blogspot.co.uk

Anastasia
Two con artists try to pass off an amnesiac orphan, Anya as the eponymous long lost Grand Duchess in order to collect a generous reward from the Dowager Empress. As chance only found in fairy tales would have it, Anya is actually the real deal. Etiquette lessons in dining, dancing and comportment is set to catchy songs as can be expected from a 90’s animated film. They sing, ‘Never slurp the stroganoff.’ ‘I never cared for stroganoff!’ ‘She said that like a Romanov.’

movies.film-cine.com

Photo credit: movies.film-cine.com

The Princess Diaries
An awkward and timid teen is taught how to be the princess she secretly is by her grandmother, The Queen. Her princess lessons included public speaking, giving the “royal wave” and ballroom dancing. My favourite etiquette scene is when Princess Mia, played by Anne Hathaway, in the middle of a lesson, asks her grandmother if it was ‘customary in Genovia to imprison your dinner guests using Hermés scarves.’

Princess Mia during princes lessons. Photo: veredthepennyjar

Princess Mia during princes lessons. Photo: veredthepennyjar

janeaustenfilmclub.blogspot.com

Photo credit janeaustenfilmclub.blogspot.com

My Fair Lady
Audrey Hepburn stars as a cockney flower seller who comes to live with the pompous Professor Higgins. His etiquette and elocution lessons were so effective, she passes off as a duchess at Ascot, and even dances with a foreign prince at a ball.
The most memorable line from the film was delivered by Professor Higgins, and has left me still wondering if there is a deeper truth in it: ‘You see, the great secret, Eliza, is not a question of good manners or bad manners, or any particular sort of manners, but having the same manner for all human souls. The question is not whether I treat you rudely, but whether you’ve ever heard me treat anyone else better.

Do you know of other films that feature etiquette tips? Please do leave a comment below.

EtiKate

On living with flatmates

Photo from glamourmagazine.co.uk

Happy flatmates. Photo from glamourmagazine.co.uk

I have been a good flatmate, and I’ve been a very bad flatmate. I’d like to think I have finally achieved a happy “just off the middle” ground. My flatmate Gigi calls me “Kate-monster”. I would have taken exception to this moniker, had it not contained a modicum of truth. So, from my wealth of experience, here is The Etiquette Butterfly’s guide to harmonious house sharing.

1. Be considerate

Always ask before helping yourself to other people’s food or borrowing their things. Wash what you use as soon as possible. Leaving the one plate that you did not use unwashed is petty.

If they are in a rush, let them use the communal facilities first—bathroom, washing machine, etc. If you find the housework is not getting done, make a rota and stick to it.

2. Prepare to share

Your room is your own personal space to do as you wish, but communal areas are not. Do not let your clutter to become part of the furniture. Try to be generous when buying communal supplies such as cleaning products.

Keep your partner's clutter out of communal areas. Photo from poundstopocket.co.uk

Keep your partner’s clutter out of communal areas. Photo from poundstopocket.co.uk

3. Guests

Nobody wants to find a stranger in their house, so let your flatmates know if you have guests staying. You are responsible for providing for your guests. Guests should not bring their own friends to your place. Read my previous post on how to be the perfect host. If your partner all but moves in, your responsibility is doubled.

4.

 Socialising

Inform and invite your flatmates to parties or gatherings you may have in the house. By the same token, also attend their parties. Find the balance so that you are neither festering in the house nor always be out.

5. Living with the landlord

I’ve done this on two occasions. The first, a very happy experience; the less said about the other, the better. If you are renting, then all flatmates should have equal responsibilities and rights. When you live with the owner of the house, you must accept that they have the last word on any decisions.

Sharing a space is a minefield. Try not to let the little things get to you, and don’t blow things out of proportion. The key is to communicate any concerns as soon as it arises. If tasks are not done to your standards, do it yourself without complaint. Should the living situation get really bad, move out.