Category Archives: Relationships

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.

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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.

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,

#EndTheAwkward videos for disability charity Scope

I was waiting for the Disney film Maleficent to start when I came across the #EndTheAwkward advert for the disability services charity Scope. ‘What a brilliant idea,’ I thought, from an etiquette point of view.

The videos show potentially awkward situations between a person with a physical disability and another person who doesn’t know how to act. There’s a pause, where Alex Brooker, the narrator explains the best course of action.

Below is the advert I saw in the cinema. In it is a woman about to have a meeting with a man whose right hand was amputated. She hesitates for a moment, then decides to offer her left hand instead of giving him an “awkward wave”. Do watch the short video before reading on.

It is my favourite of the Scope videos, for personal reasons. When I was very young, my grandfather suffered several cerebral aneurysms that left him without memory or language and the right side of his body paralysed. After the unending months of therapy, Papi, as he was to me, was able to walk unassisted, his right leg dragging. Eventually he regained his ability to talk. He taught himself to do everything with his left hand, including write.

When it was time to introduce a gentleman suitor to the family, I remember saying, ‘Maybe you shouldn’t tell my brothers we went on holiday together. Also, remember to offer your left hand to Papi, alright?‘ My grandfather’s left-handed handshakes were so normal to me, it was almost secondary to the illicit couple’s holiday I was trying to keep secret.

My boyfriend did well, managed a ‘lovely to meet you,’ with their handshake. Papi had a wicked sense of humour, and was never one to sugarcoat his words. He asked my guest two questions, the first was ‘Do you smoke?’ And, well, the memory of the second question still conjures feelings of horrified disbelief for me. I’m glad I gave my gentleman friend prior warning. Soon he forgot about Papi’s encumbered walk and enfeebled right hand, instead he was simply scared of my protective grandfather and older brothers.

Meet the Parents. Photo from The Telegraph

Meet the Papi. Photo from The Telegraph

Living with a grandfather with impaired speech has taught me to be a better communicator. To this day, I am more sensitive than most, always the first to anticipate people’s needs. When I’m abroad, I find I have no trouble deciphering people’s gestures as they speak an intelligible foreign language.

Making friends in Seoul, South Korea

Making friends in Seoul, South Korea

I am not an authority on disability matters. I am an etiquette enthusiast speaking from experience. With that in mind, I suppose my own advice on how to #EndTheAwkward is, if you do tell friends how to act beforehand, they will be more at ease. This way, when a similar situation arises without warning, they will know what to do.

People will learn from their encounters and experiences, and they will act accordingly. I’m still learning. Not long ago, I told a lady in a wheelchair to ‘Have a seat; I’ll be with you shortly.’ I heard it as soon as I said it. We looked at each other, then we giggled together, hers a ‘heard this all before’ laugh; mine was more ‘oh I hope the ground opens up and swallows me whole’ chuckle.

Young love. Photo from

Photo from

I remember my grandfather saying that all he wants, is to be treated  as if he can run a marathon. Talk and interact with people with disability just like you would anyone else. A person’s inability to walk, move their hands or their limited vision does not affected how they think or feel. Unless they ask for help, avoid affectionate over familiarity that may come across as condescending.

As Naoki Higashida so poetically writes in The Reason I Jump, ‘True compassion is about not bruising the other person’s self-respect.’  


This post is not authorised by the charity Scope. I am however, promoting their #EndTheAwkward videos, as ever, with the aim to help everyone be at ease in every social situation. Learn more about Scope and their campaign on their website.

Sex Etiquette

This book came to my collection by way of a tongue-in-cheek present from a friend. It’s only apropos to review the book on the day of enforced love, Valentine’s Day.

Photo credit:

Nerve’s Guide to Sex Etiquette by EM & LO Photo credit:

The book takes the reader through the whole dating experience from the first meeting and courtship to long-term relationships and break-ups. There’s even sections on “ex etiquette” and rules for the best friend of the “dumpee”. The authors have all eventualities covered.

The book speaks with a breath of delicacy and seduction from the very beginning. One advice on table manners during a date goes:

…be particularly careful in managing ticklish delicacies such as frankfurters, bananas, lollipops… and ice cream, lest the exhibition encourage undesirable… advances.

But the title in no way misrepresents; the bulk of the book is dedicated to S-E-X. It offers etiquette in all its desirable flavours: cherry, vanilla, rocky road and passion fruit, to name but a few (innuendo intentional). This book explores virgin territory, booty calls, threeways all with a tone of respect.

My favourite bit of the book is the ‘Suggested Timeline for Various Intimacy Milestones’. It’s a guide from the first date to the first year and at which point to attempt “moves” so as not to offend your partner’s delicate sensibilities. According to the timeline, a kiss on the cheek (possibly lips, but no tongue) on the first date is acceptable but “heavy petting” would not be appropriate until after the 4th date.

It is a thoroughly enjoyable read, and if taken with a pinch of salt, it becomes a sort of “relationship guide”. I highly recommend this book to everyone, to those who are 18 going on 60 or the 40 year old virgin.

On living with flatmates

Photo from

Happy flatmates. Photo from

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

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

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.



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.

Query: The engagement is off, who keeps the ring?

Dear Etikate,
If an engagement falls through, what is the social convention with the ring?
-via Facebook

Photo from

Photo from

Dear Readers

I mentioned in my previous post that engagements involve numerous formalities and rituals. This holds true even in its cancellation.

Contrary to the announcement of the engagement, it is not necessary to announce the cancellation. Tell a few strategic people in your inner circle and the news will circulate through word of mouth.

If invitations have already been sent out, a note must be sent to the guests informing them of the cancellation. The reason for the cancellation does not need to be given.

All gifts should be returned, enclosed with a card thanking them for their generosity. Something along the lines of “Thank you for your generous gift, but the wedding will no longer take place.”

Now ladies, on to the ring.

Ladies, do not wait to be asked before you return the ring. Photo from

Ladies, do return the ring before you are asked. Photo from

If you decide to call off the wedding, then return the ring to your now ex-fiancé. Do not wait to be asked. This is especially the case if it’s his family heirloom.

There are some schools of thought that believe the bride may keep the ring if the groom breaks off the engagement or is found guilty of infidelity, for instance. I can only interpret this as “reparation” for the bride losing face over the cancellation.

If he insists that you keep the ring, then do so. I would suggest selling it and going on a luxury holiday with the proceeds. After all, nobody wants to keep something that symbolises at best an amicable parting of ways or at worst, a very painful humiliation.


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

Rules of engagement for the couple and everyone else

Photo from

Photo from

Judging by my Twitter feed, Christmas was a very popular time to propose. My page was flooded with photos of hands showing glittering diamonds. Tweets with #heproposed or #engaged abound.

Engagements and weddings are tied with all manner of traditions and rituals. From my experience, it has become easier since the turn of this century.

Formalities begin with asking the parents. If the proposal comes before the permission, the parents must be asked (or told) shortly afterwards.


Parents should be told first, then family, then friends and colleagues. Changing your marital status on Facebook has increasingly become the way to announce an engagement. Before a mass Facebook announcement, your closest friends should first be honoured with a phone call or at the very least a private message on Facebook. Peripheral friends can settle for a photo of the ring on your wall. Announcements may feel self-important and attention seeking to more reserved couples, but friends do not like to hear life-changing news (especially happy ones) through the grapevine.

Arguably the world's most famous engagement ring. Photo from

Arguably the most recognisable engagement ring in the world. Photo from

If so desired, the bride’s parents can announce the engagement through the ‘Forthcoming Marriages’ column of the paper. However, the reliance on print media has declined. This should not be the only means of announcement. Traditionally, the groom-to-be’s mother writes to the bride-to-be’s parents expressing her joy at the engagement.

Ladies, this will probably be the only time in your life where your hands will be such a focus of attention. Keep hands moisturised and nails neat, and if possible, polished. Avoid unsightly chipped or peeling nail polish at all times.

Congratulations and best wishes

It might as well say

It might as well say “You’ve landed a nice one!”

Traditionally, one congratulates the groom and offers best wishes to the bride. This is because offering congratulations to the bride could convey that she is somehow ‘lucky’ to have caught a man (see evidence from a sample greeting card above).

Modern etiquette seem to suggest it is now acceptable to congratulate the bride, although it is still frowned upon in some circles. What I can say with certainty is congratulating the bride is no longer code for “You finally got one!”

Personally, I still offer my best wishes to the bride. That’s how I’ve done it since my youngest aunt married when I was 11, when saying ‘congratulations’ was a faux pas. However you choose to do it, consider the people around you when conveying your happy thoughts of hope to the couple.

A sweet card congratulating the couple. Photo from we

Do send a sweet card to congratulate the couple. Photo from we

Again, traditionally, one only addresses letters of congratulations (or best wishes) to either the bride or the groom, never jointly—heaven forbid the act of living in sin is recognised! I find this archaic and frankly, parochial. Modern day well-wishers don’t see why the couple cannot be congratulated together. If both the bride and the groom are known to you, write to both.

Engagements are a social experience and an exercise in etiquette. The one rule you can always count on is all forms of congratulations or well wishes will only be received with a very happy and sincere “thank you”.

With all good wishes,

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,

Order of introductions: who to introduce to whom?

Introductions can be tricky.

Do you break conversations to make the introductions? Do you introduce your girlfriend to your Dad or your Dad to your girlfriend?

The pleasure of making introductions falls on you if:

1. You are the host of the event.

2. You are the common acquaintance of individuals unknown to each other.

Introduce persons during a natural break in conversations. Failing to make introductions before the awkward ‘I’m Joanna, by the way,’ is a shortcoming on your part.

First Lady Michelle Obama introducing her daughter Sasha to HM The Queen of Spain (photo from

First Lady Michelle Obama introducing her daughter Sasha to HM The Queen of Spain (photo from

Now, on to introducing who to whom:

Introduce a man to a woman

a younger person to an older person

someone of lower social standing to someone of higher social standing.

For example, if you wish to introduce your your colleague James to your friend Marie, you might say, “Marie, this is James, we work in the same laboratory. James, this is Marie, a friend from my university days.”

In this case, James (the man) is introduced to Marie (the woman). Gender trumps age, and age trumps social standing. The only exception to this rule is if the person is a head of state (or government), a cardinal or royalty.

It might help to remember to say the more “important” person’s name first. For instance, you might say, ‘Prime Minister, may I present my wife, Juliana.’ In this case, Juliana (the woman) is introduced to the Prime Minister, regardless of the latter’s gender.

Please do leave a comment below if you have an introduction conundrum.

Lovely to meet you,

Rescinding invitations: disinviting guests

Keep Calm Studio

Fans of the series Made in Chelsea would recall a recent episode where Alex invited Binky and Fran to a dinner party. Only to withdraw Fran’s invitation because he wanted to have a dinner-date with Binky.

Fran was unceremoniously disinvited via text the morning of the party with Alex fibbing a ‘rugby injury’. The lovely Fran was left in tears.

Had Alex followed the rules of decorum, Fran’s feelings could’ve been spared, and he would still have his date with BInky.

1. It is impolite to issue invitations in the presence of those not invited.

2. If unforeseen things happen that would warrant an invitation to be rescinded, do it in person or failing that, at least a phone call. A text message lacks the tact and compassion the situation requires.

3. A reason does not need to be given instantly. A simple ‘I’m sorry, but I have to reschedule the dinner.’ would suffice.

4. If the person asks for a reason, tell the truth. People appreciate being told the truth, and in time, would come to understand.