Category Archives: Communication

Etiquette do’s and don’ts

I always start a new year with a list. I am one of those who still writes resolutions. I also make a list of places I’d like to visit and activities I’d like to accomplish in the next 12 months. I even do a little mid-year review to evaluate how the first half of the year had gone. You know, just for the fun of it!
Judging by all the Buzzfeed links on my Facebook newsfeed (’31 Home Decor Hacks That Are Borderline Genius’), I may have missed the trend of giving information in itemised lists.

I hesitated for quite a while before posting this do’s and don’ts piece. I didn’t want to limit the very complex world that is etiquette and decorum into a tidy list. My aim was to present a little “rules of thumb” of social conventions. I hope I have achieved it. So, do read on, these are my “you can’t go wrong with…” etiquette tips.

Etiquette Do’s

1. Do speak softly in confined spaces. It’s called our indoor voice.

Trust him, he’s The Doctor.

2. Do knock before entering a room. Always. Make it a habit. It’s rude not to.

3. Do chew with your mouth closed. The smacking sound is just off-putting.

Ettiquette and needlepoint, two of my loves.

4. Do hold open the door for the person immediately behind you. And do say thank you if someone does the same for you.

5. Do let ladies go first. Except when going down the stairs.

Etiquette Don’ts

1. Don’t talk when your mouth is full. I’d have to agree with your mum on this one.

2. Don’t apply your lipstick at the dinner table. Under no circumstances is it acceptable. Besides, your lipstick will look more immaculate when applied in front of a mirror. I believe it’s better if we have a complete embargo on all public grooming.

 The Etiket of Etiquette: Applying Lipstick at the Dinner Table

Hardly the image of elegance. Photo from

3. Don’t answer a call at the dinner table, the theatre or the cinema. Please take it outside.

He is being rather rude to his date. Photo from

4. Don’t interrupt people when they are speaking. Let them finish what they have to say.

5. Don’t converse in lifts (elevators), especially with strangers present. It’s a 30 second journey in a metal box suspended in air. There’s no need to make it more uncomfortable than is necessary.

All the best for a wonderful new year,



Addressing knights and dames: why it’s not “Dame Angelina Jolie”

The Queen greets Angelina Jolie

Angelina Jolie was granted an audience with HM The Queen

Last week, HM The Queen made Ms Angelina Jolie an honorary dame for her services to UK foreign policy and the campaign to end sexual violence in war zones. But as a US citizen, she cannot be addressed as Dame Angelina.
The title of Sir or Dame may only be used by citizens of the UK and Commonwealth nations with The Queen as their head of state. In the past, honorary knighthoods have been conferred to U2 singer Bono, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani.

A knighthood is awarded to recognise merit in terms of achievement and service to the sovereign. It is an honour under the crown and therefore can be withdrawn. Knights prefix Sir to their forenames while wives of knights may add the title Lady to their surnames.
Thus, the celebrated actor and director Kenneth Branagh and his wife are officially addressed as Sir Kenneth and Lady Branagh.

“The Prince of Denmark” receives a knighthood. Sir Kenneth Branagh in 2012. Photo from The Observer.

A dame is the female equivalent of a knight, and the title Dame is prefixed to their foremanes. Generally, an individual cannot derive privileges from their wives or mothers. Therefore, no equivalent titles are granted to the husband of a dame.

Double Olympic gold medallist Dame Kelly Holmes photo from

Knights and Ladies of the Garter and the Thistle
The Order of the Garter and The Order of the Thistle are the two highest orders of chivalry in the United Kingdom. Knights and Ladies of the Garter and Thistle rank higher than a baronet.

There are no dames in the Orders; instead, female members of the Order are addressed as Lady. For example, if a Mrs Lorna Willis is created a Lady of the Thistle, she is addressed as Lady Lorna Willis, not Lady Willis, which would imply that she is the wife of a knight, instead of a Lady in her own right.

HM The Queen, HRH The Prince of Wales and HRH The Duke of Cambridge in the robes of The Order of the Garter. Photo from

Best wishes,

For Homer.

Query: Is it really rude to talk about money?

Dear EtiKate
It is often said that ‘It’s rude to talk about money’. Are there exceptions to this?

Photo from LinkedIn

Dear EvH and Readers

It is considered rude to talk about money, and any such conversations outside the walls of a bank are best avoided. Unless it serves a purpose, refrain from discussing money even with family, relatives and your closest circle of friends. Talking about money often leaves people feeling either short-changed or lavish.

Never ask people how much they earn or what their house is worth or how much they paid for something. If for instance,  you like your friend’s crystal vase and would like to get one yourself, the most you should ask them is, ‘Is it expensive?’. But as Nanny would say, ‘If you have to ask, you probably couldn’t afford it’.

money minimum wages

Photo from The Guardian

Some occasions when financial discussions are permitted:
1. In a new relationship and it’s time to book your first mini-break. Money can be an obstruction to romance, but it’s important to know what the other can afford.

2. If you hold on to the vestige of tradition and would like to know your future son-in-law’s net worth and prospects.

3. Talking to the executor of your own will, in case some things have been made unnecessarily complicated.

4. If you are The Wolf of Wall Street, achingly rich and successful, and do not care at all what other people think.

Since I am none of the above exceptions, until next time,

We would be delighted to answer all your etiquette-related questions. Send your queries, worries and dilemmas to our Ask Dear EtiKate section. Alternatively, you can get in touch via Facebook or Twitter.

File:Time Saving Truth from Falsehood and Envy.jpg

Time Saving Truth from Falsehood and Envy by François Lemoyne (1737) from The Wallace Collection

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.

Photo from

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.

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,

Spain’s two kings: how to address a former monarch

A commentary on the forms of address for former monarchs.

A week and a half ago, the Crown Prince of Spain formally acceded to the throne following the abdication of his father, thus becoming King Felipe VI. Although no longer “The King of Spain”, King Juan Carlos, never stops being a king, of course. What he has done is resign from his job; he is no longer the reigning monarch.

From left: Queen Letizia, King Felipe VI, Queen Sofia and King Juan Carlos. Photo from The Telegraph

From left: Queen Letizia, King Felipe VI, Queen Sofía and King Juan Carlos. Photo from The Telegraph

In the last year, three monarchs and a pope have abdicated in favour of the next generation. The Dutch and The Belgians have new Kings, and Qatar has a new Emir.

Former monarchs are often afforded the same title and style they had during their reign. Thus, King Juan Carlos is referred to as His Majesty King Juan Carlos of Spain, and his wife remains Her Majesty Queen Sofía of Spain.

For many reasons, including political, Britain’s Edward VIII was made a royal duke, HRH The Duke of Windsor when he abdicated in 1936. Do keep an eye out for my future post on the forms of address of the British royal family.

At your service,

Query: wedding invitations for reception only

Dear EtiKate
I would like to invite a number of guests to my wedding reception only, and not the ceremony itself. Is this okay, and what is the most polite way to write the invitation?


Clip from Beyoncé’s ‘Best Thing I Never Had’

Dear BeATrix and Readers

It’s becoming more popular to invite selected guests to the reception but not to the ceremony. It’s your big day, and you can do whatever pleases you, within reason.

You do not need to give a reason for not including guests at the ceremony. However, if your reason is to keep the ceremony private, (close friends and family only), it’s best to let guests know. You can write the invitation thus (posit that the bride and groom sending the invitation, and not the parents):

Mr Santos and Miss Dawlish are delighted to announce that they will be married at a private ceremony at Duneagle Court. We request the pleasure of your company at the wedding breakfast followed by dancing at The Grand Ballroom on 15th October 2014 at 3 o’clock.

Clip from Beyoncé's Best Thing I Never Had

Clip from Beyoncé’s ‘Best Thing I Never Had’

If there is limited space at the ceremony or at the wedding breakfast, you may wish to invite people to the after party only. You can word your invitation this way:

Mr See and Miss Webb invite you to a cocktail reception in celebration of their marriage
Shell Cottage
7th November 2014, 8 PM

A very formal invitation.

A very formal invitation.

The more formal the occasion, the more formal the invitation and wording should be. Printers have scores of sample invitations to choose from. Do mention what you expect guests to wear to the reception. I have previously written a piece about what to include in an invitation. Remember though, you cannot strictly stop people from going into a church and attending a wedding ceremony, but polite individuals will respect your wishes.

My very best wishes,

Do read my previous post on the Rules of Engagement which is a guide for all things engagement related.

We will be delighted to answer all your etiquette-related questions. Send your queries, worries and dilemmas on our Ask Dear EtiKate section. Alternatively, you can get in touch via Facebook or Twitter.