Q: To The Right Honourable:
I was recently at a sit-down dinner at the Southampton home of the daughter of one of the great media titans when I noticed someone tapping at her chin in my direction from across the table. Naturally, I smiled and tapped back. Before long, it started to resemble some Astaire-Rogers duet.
Was this some sort of flirtatious Morse code I’ve not caught on to? Oddly enough, after we got up from the table, I couldn’t find her anywhere. But during lunch, she couldn’t take her eyes off me (or my chin). Now my heart’s been playing taps ever since.
A: Dear Tone Deaf,
Tsk, tsk, tsk. Or, rather, tap, tap, tap. I’m sorry to inform you that your tap-dancing lunch mate had no amorous intentions on tap. She was signaling to you, my dear lad, that there was a rather visible morsel of food ensconced in your front teeth (hopefully not of the Jolly Green Giant variety. Let us pray).
Her modus operandi was entirely correct (even if shunning you later was horrid). Chin up: Next time, excuse yourself and pry loose the foreign object wedged within your front caps (need we mention that public flossing is as heinous as clipping your toenails
at Gibson Beach).
Your charming ignorance of The Lord’s Manners: Etiquette 101 (see Bloomsbury Press; 105th edition, thanks to rubes like you) brings to light the glaring absence these days of the most basic of table manners. Much to his horror, He Himself has noticed flagrant misbehavior à la table, including some of the finest homes within a chip and a putt of the Maidstone.
While at a dinner party on Lily Pond Lane, I had the misfortune of watching an arm repeatedly reach across me for a platter of tenderloin (almost toppling my glass of 1990 claret). “Please pass the beef” would have sufficed. Even if it takes an eternity to receive your helping, No Reaching Across The Table!
Why is it that the most elementary table manners have fallen by the wayside?
Do rest your arms at wrist level at the table. Do use a piece of bread or your knife (not your fingers) to rustle up those edibles that can’t be singlehandedly assembled on one’s fork.
Do not stack the dishes! Manners has himself almost fainted, upon seeing in the best of homes this unseemly sight at dinner’s end (thank God He is never without his smelling salts. Or flask of Remy Martin). Whether at a posh luncheon or a family dinner, thou shalt not scrape and stack! One needn’t hire footmen to remove, one by one, unscraped dishes to the kitchen. That’s what kids are for. It makes for good breeding as well as excellent exercise for the digestion.
If this atrocious practice of “stacking” isn’t corrected immediately, I fear the worst: philistines obsessed with the modernity of their kitchen more than the appearance of their dining room (please don’t get me started on wraparound sectional sofas) will soon be installing the dish washer at the head of the table.
One final “note”: Do write a thank-you note to your host or hostess. A bona fide note, that is. With pen and paper. Not doing so is as conspicuous as forgetting to wipe your lips and leaving a smudge on your glass.
It is never too late to dash off a thank you or wipe away poor table manners.
Make a note of it.
Q: Dear Your Lordliness,
My girlfriend and I recently had a row—a big one—on her birthday. I know I was in the right: she accidentally threw away my Acqua di Parma Murano glass candle among the wrapping paper. What really got me steamed up was that she dismissed it afterward as “a little accident”—and with no contrition whatsoever. Somehow, though, I seemed to be to the blame for ruining her big day. Even worse: We had it out in front of the entire birthday party at her parents’ place on Gin Lane.
Where did I go wrong?
A Carriage House (address withheld)
A: Dear Birthday Blues,
Lord of the Manner’s Edict Number 674: Never engage in an argument on a loved one’s birthday. Hold thy tongue. At least for the day. Be like a Brit and keep that upper lip stiff (using the proverbial duct tape, if necessary). I am afraid that you are holding, as we say in cards, a weak hand. Or a life of solitaire thereafter.
Regardless of whether you were in the right, you’re wrong. You can’t win. It is her day. And you ruined it by imploding—no matter how insensitive her behavior. Tomorrow is another day. One does not advocate “Cold War” silences between couples rather than airing each other’s grievances. But timing and tone are essential.
When it comes to verbal fisticuffs on a beloved’s festive day, the birthday girl (or boy) scores a first round punch simply by virtue of the day in question. Consider yourself in a hostage situation. Maintain all calm. Think long term.
Bickering on birthdays—or holidays such as Christmas, for that matter—can haunt you forever, embedded in his and her unconsciousness. The memory, regardless of how major or minor the fracas, will raise its horrid head, even if unspoken, like some latent muscle spasm, for many a birthday or Christmas to come. And may well tarnish the celebratory goodwill you feel for one another on all those red letter days you’ll commemorate together ’til death do you part.
Lest we forget, there is no such thing as a good audience to jousting by shouting. A couple crossing swords before friends in a Southampton sitting room, even if merely the aside snide, is no different than some anonymous twosome going at it on a city street with such vehemence that you can’t bear to watch, let alone listen. In the Hamptons, there is no such thing as anonymous. What couples do behind closed doors is their business. Keep it your business and keep the door shut. As we all know, the oceans are wide and the sun is golden, but life in the Hamptons is a small world after all.
What happens in the Hamptons, doesn’t stay in the Hamptons.