Category Archives: Travel

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?


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.


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,


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,


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

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

Cheers: toasting and clinking glasses

I was in Munich at the end of September. At the celebrated Hofbräuhaus beer hall, we were sat opposite a very affable father and son from Argentina. The father is a surgeon, in town for a conference. As luck would have it, I had done a little research on the biofuel industry of Argentina last year. I knew a little bit about their country, so I had an instant icebreaker.

Photo from

When our beers arrived, they offered their glasses for me to clink with the customary ‘Salud!’ (In deference to our location, we should have said ‘prost’.) Right before I touched my beer stein to theirs, I hastily said, ‘Oh, you have to look the other person in the eye or you’ll have seven years of bad sex!’ (Siete años de mal sexo.) Whether this was a silly superstition I picked up from my Spanish friends, well, I didn’t want to risk it. Seven years is a long time!

During a speech
Speeches are usually given after a meal.
Sometimes it is given between the main course and the dessert. When the speaker invites everyone to “raise their glasses,” in hounour of someone (or something), guests are expected to stand and do just that, raise their glasses. Do not touch your glass with your neighbours during a toast.

At a drinks reception, it is a good idea to leave a little bit of your drink, just in case there is a welcome speech. You can always finish it right before you enter the dining room. If you find you have polished off your champagne too early, don’t call attention to yourself, just raise your glass with the rest of them.

President Obama giving a toast at a state dinner at Buckingham Palace. Photo from The Telegraph

Cheers, to your good health!
In the very olden days, when individuals still drank and talked unreservedly with strangers in pubs, people clinked glasses with each other to signify trust. This is because some of the other person’s ale will spill into your glass and vice versa (somehow it’s always ale in the days of yore). This acts as a deterrent to the sinister, if someone had slipped poison into your drink, there is a chance that some of the poison might be mixed into their drink too. Was it irony or mockery that the words “to your good health” precedes the touching of glasses?

Later on, perhaps because people developed greater (dis)trust of drinking companions, the middle and upper classes eschewed the practice. Indeed, in the early part of the 20th century, clinking glasses was an indication of a working class upbringing.

To clink or not to clink glasses?
Undoubtedly, clinking glasses gives a gathering a friendlier atmosphere. It also gets people talking. If people offer their glasses to you, do not hesitate and touch your drink to theirs. It is considered rude not to do so.

Although I must admit, it can get awkward when there are more than four people at the table. It causes confusion, crossing of arms and spillage. Whatever you do, just make sure you look the other person in the eye and smile.

Cheers, to all that we love,

A royal toast! Photo from

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.

Photo from

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.

Bus etiquette

This post was inspired by a Tweet from one of my favourite sources of British customs, VeryBritishProblems (@SoVeryBritish). 


I found this particular Tweet very funny, only because it’s so true! If the person before me forgets to thank the driver, I say my ‘THANK YOU!’ louder than I normally would, so the driver knows he or she is especially appreciated. I hope this post will help make every part of your bus journey more pleasant.

Where I live, the buses are colour coded based on their routes. Photo from

The Driver
I am very lucky, where I live, there is a good bus service and the drivers are always so nice. Have your money or bus pass ready before you get on. This would avoid unnecessary waiting with the driver awkwardly staring at you.
Smile and greet your driver with a kind ‘Hello’. Of course, give a cheerful ‘Cheers!’ as you alight.

Other Passengers
Don’t sit next to other passengers if there are empty seats available; 
it is very strange to do so. There are exceptions to this, for instance, if sitting on the back of the bus gives you motion sickness.
If it’s busy, do take the seat furthest from the aisle, thus sparing other passengers from having to ask you to move. Avoid placing your handbag or shopping on the seat next to you when the bus is very busy.

Imagine sitting next to her on the bus! Clip from Taylor Swift’s ‘Ours’.

Giving up your seat
Do give your seat to those less able to stand, the elderly, very young children and pregnant women.
My friend Raúl believes it’s impolite to let a lady stand. On a recent holiday to Seoul, he  gave his seat to a lady, who then repeatedly bowed to him in thanks, as per their custom. It was a little sweet to see how people from different cultures respond.

London buses. Photo from

Double-decker buses and the stairs
I love how ubiquitous double-decker buses are to the UK. ‘Ladies first,’ said a kindly man as we wait to go down the stairs. Going down the stairs is one of the very rare times when it is NOT “ladies first”. A gentleman always goes down the stairs before a lady. This is so if the lady misses a step, the gentleman can lightly hold her by the elbow and prevent her from falling. Gentlemen, it is important to note, only do this if you know the girl. It’s more acceptable nowadays to help a lady after a fall than to stand guard just in case she does.


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,