Tag 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,


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 bavariatravel.com

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 fashionmagazine.com

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 virginiaspinespecialist.com

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 oprah.com

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 gadgetduck.com

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 http://www.reading-travelinfo.co.uk

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 iamtracyhumphreys.com

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.


Commuter etiquette: train journeys

Photo credit Stilettos on the Glass Ceiling

Photo credit Stilettos on the Glass Ceiling

Travelling by train to Oxford at the weekend has given me the opportunity to reflect on travel etiquette. I thought this theme is apropos as I imagine many of our readers commute to work or school. You might even at some point have taken a table to do some work on the way. Here are my thoughts on train travel decorum.



1. Mobile phones

Think of travelling as being in transit. It’s not the time or place to carry out lengthy conversations. Perhaps save long phone calls when you are in your own space, where you might better express your thoughts rather than being harried by the demands of travel. Bear in mind that phone signals could be intermittent, so repeating “Hello, can you hear me?” can be annoying for your fellow passengers.

Brief phone calls are acceptable; a short, “I’m on my way, see you in a bit,” can be commonly heard. It’s not necessary to turn your phone to silent while on the train. But having the volume on too loud and failing to answer it immediately when it rings can cause embarrassment. When in the quiet coach, the courtesy of turning all devices to silent must be observed. 

2. Luggage on seats

Ladies are often culpable of leaving their handbags on the seat next to them. When the trains are especially busy, it is polite to make sure available seats are free of bags. This way, other passengers can sit without having to ask if it is available. If not, one risks being asked, bluntly, “Is that your bag on my seat?”

Food on the go. Photo: customerexperienceplanning.com

Food on the go. Photo: customerexperienceplanning.com

3. Train food

Once, on the train from York to London, I sat with two ladies who were on their way to see a West End show. They decided to make a weekend of it, starting with their train journey. From their picnic bags, they unearthed little Victoria sandwiches, and to drink, individual champagne bottles. It was such a treat to see.

Train food must not be messy, but above all, it should not be malodorous. Fast food such as burger and chips (fries for the North American vernacular) are ubiquitous at train stations. But the oily smell that lingers in contained spaces is unpleasant. Avoid food that may drip and is awkward to eat.  

worktrain4. Working on the train

Many people use their daily commute to get work done. If you find you have to do work on one of the tables, try to keep your things within your space. People would generally try a different seat when they find someone is working at the table. However, if the train is very busy and someone sits at your table, make a kind gesture by gathering your things in a pile. If they don’t need the table space, often they would say so.

The novelty of passing countryside has long worn off for seasoned commuters. One would be hard-pressed to make this enforced journey pleasant, but in the least, we can help make it bearable. Good manners is, after all, nothing more than making sure everyone around us is as comfortable as possible.

Bon voyage,

This piece was first published in 20 February 2014 on the website Stilettos on the Glass Ceiling.

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 metro.co.uk

Photo from metro.co.uk

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 engagementrings.lovetoknow.com

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

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.

The Perfect Host

I approach having house guests like an elaborate play- this means setting the scene, the performance and finally, the curtain.


Any episode of Come Dine with Me will bring to mind guests poking around in every part of the house. It’s your life and tastes that are under inspection.

Photo from innovationsworld.net

Clean the house prior to guests arrivng. Photo from innovationsworld.net

Prior to the guests’ arrival, give the house a thorough clean, and hide all your secrets. If a guest should mistakenly open the airing cupboard, all they should find are neatly folded linen.

Hosts should plan guest entertainment such as games, walks, pubs or a visit to the neighbouring stately home. Guests need packing instructions for planned activities and the provisions of your house.

The guest bedrooms must meet good B&B standards. Provide crisp, clean sheets, at least two pillows per person , blankets, hangers and towels. The bathroom should be stocked with basic toiletries.

‘Oh, do make yourselves feel at home!’

You should expect to receive a house gift. This may come in the form or sweets, wine, a house plant or a meal during their stay.

Photo from theguardian.co.uk

Photo from theguardian.co.uk

Briefly show your guests around the house; limit it to the sitting room, kitchen, bathrooms and guest bedrooms. Now would be a good time to point out the little quirks of the house, for instance, ‘The lock on the bathroom door is broken, so a closed door means occupied.”

Depending on the length of their journey, guests may want to freshen up or rest straight away. Ask if they wish to do so, and have tea ready whenever they would like it. Only after this point can you gently impart the house rules. To avoid your guests feeling like they have entered boot camp, stick to bare minimum you simply cannot abide by.

Photo from asian-central.com

Hospitality, as is tea, should be free-flowing. Photo from asian-central.com

According to Debrett’s, ‘The unspoken code of hosting is to go slightly out of one’s way in honour of one’s guest.’ Three square meals a day must be provided, plus snacks and tea whenever it’s called for.

Breakfast is a breeze as it pleases even the pickiest eaters. The trickiest part is what time to serve it as some of us are larks and some of us are owls. Let guests know if it is to be taken together or whenever they care for it. Guests must never be harried out of bed.

Your sense of hospitality must be free-flowing, but don’t be a martyr. Accept help around the house when it is offered. Constant company uses up oxygen fast, so know when to take breaks from each other. Guests are a lot like children, they should neither be smothered nor neglected.

Photo from etsy.com

Photo from etsy.com

Take a bow

Overnight guests usually take the hint after breakfast has been served. You can usually expect weekend guests to leave after lunch. When your guests prepare to depart, look sad to see them go. But if it seems like they might never leave, a quiet word should embarrass them into moving.

Sometimes you will have to cater for unexpected guests—a  damsel in distress on the doorstep or someone who overdid it at last night’s party. Hosts should apply a deceasing scale of hospitality here. Be selfless and giving at the start and let it slip once your guests start becoming a nuisance. Once tea and other comforts have been withdrawn, their own homes will seem more appealing.

Those who ‘just pop by’ do not need to be welcomed every time. In fact, since Facebook and mobile phones, it is impolite not to give warning. Unwelcome, unannounced guests should be dealt with directly. If fabricating little white lies (appointments, tradesmen doing work) is beneath you, say instead, ‘I’d ask you in, but now is not the best time.’ Back in her day, Granny used to always answer the door with a hat on; that way, if someone unwelcome is at the door, she could convincingly say, ‘Actually, I’m just on my way out.’