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 It is an honour under the crown and therefore can be withdrawn.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.


How to wear a tiara: a tribute to The Dowager Duchess of Devonshire

Last night, over a post-supper Earl Grey, the grave voice of BBC Radio 4 announced that Deborah, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, the last of the Mitford sisters had passed away.  I was filled with profound sadness. I knew the Mitford sisters. That is, I knew of them.

The Mitford sisters (L-R top): Unity, Jessica, Diana; (L-R bottom): Pamela, Deborah, Nancy. Photo from BBC News

If you are not familiar with the Mitfords, I encourage you to find out more about them. They are a fascinating collective; six sisters who, in the course of their lives would become involved with some of the most influential figures of the last century. The sisters were often described thus: novelist Nancy, farmer Pamela, Diana the beauty, communist Jessica, Nazi sympathiser Unity and Duchess Deborah. Their lives are documented from the hundreds of letters the sisters wrote to each other.

The youngest Mitford sister, Deborah married the Lord Andrew Cavendish, the future Duke of Devonshire. (Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes played ancestors of the family in the film The Duchess).  Deborah is credited with transforming the family seat, Chatsworth, into one of the most popular visitor’s destinations in England.

Chatsworth House in Derbyshire. Photo from

I have visited Chatsworth, and it was from Deborah’s book All in One Basket that I learned my tiara etiquette. She recalled attending a dance given by The Queen at Windsor Castle where she came down to dinner wearing the Devonshire tiara (see picture below), to find she was the only person wearing one. Embarrassed for being overdressed, she sat through the meal wishing she was anywhere else. When the dancing began, she took it off, put it under a chair and enjoyed herself enormously. She said,

‘I suppose Windsor Castle is the only house where you could be sure of finding the blessed thing still there at bedtime.’

The Devonshire tiara. Photo from

Why wear a tiara
‘They are the nighttime equivalent of an Ascot hat. They are the finishing flourish to the best evening dress; the opposite of dressing down.’ So Deborah described what tiaras are for.

Traditionally, tiaras were worn only by married women. This was because they were heirlooms, and belonged to the men from great families and were worn by the wives. Today, tiaras continue to be a popular feature of the bridal trousseau. Indeed, for a bride blessed with a slightly large head, a tiara would look more becoming than a full veil.

Wearing a tiara automatically improves one’s bearing. One cannot slouch when wearing it. In spite of the combs and pins, there is a possibility of it slipping. I should know, I once wore one to a fancy dress party. They make the wearer sit and stand straighter, thereby making them look more distinguished and instantly taller.

Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Photo from The Independent

How to wear a tiara
Queens and empresses wear one at state occasions. Holly Golightly wore one as if it were part of her being. Always put your tiara on fully coiffed hair. The stones atop your head won’t shine and glitter as well when placed on unstyled hair.
Wear your tiara 2.5-5 cm (1-2 inches in old money) from your hairline. If worn too far to the front, one risks looking somewhat like a Neanderthal. If worn too far back, it will not be seen in photographs.

The Manchester tiara

Should you get a chance, do pay a visit to the jewellery gallery of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, where you will find tiaras that provide a delightful insight into the history of their owners. My favourite is the Manchester tiara, made for Consuelo, Duchess of Manchester. She was an American socialite who married into one to the great English families in the late 1800’s. The credit line of the tiara display reads, ‘Accepted by HM Government in Lieu of Inheritance Tax, 2007’. Like I said, absolutely delightful!

All the best,

To Duchess Deborah and the Mitford sisters.

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.

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.

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,

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.