Saturday 20 January 2018

You can eat with your hands – but don't use capital letters in emails

Dave Robbins tiptoes through the minefield of modern manners

Are manners old-fashioned? Should we look to Love/Hate for our guidance on how to behave, or to Downton Abbey? Are courtesy and chivalry signs of weakness or of strength?

These are some of the issues facing the modern man. The social battlefield has become even more mine-strewn with the shocking news that it's now okay to eat pizza with your fingers.

Yes, folks, Debrett's, the maker of the iconic etiquette bible, has given the green light to hand-to-mouth pizza-scoffing, so long as you dab your mouth afterwards with your napkin rather than use "grand wiping gestures".

But taste in manners is changing. Debrett's etiquette adviser Jo Bryant says there is no need to adhere "to rigid, and outdated, code of conduct" when it comes to food – or anything else.

Etiquette is a tricky subject. Just ask Vicki Walker, who was sacked from her job at a New Zealand company in 2009 for sending emails in capital letters and for colouring some text in red.

She was later awarded NZ$11,000 (about €7,000) for unfair dismissal, but her case highlights the need for a code of etiquette for online behaviour.

In an effort to provide a guide through the impenetrable forest of modern social comportment, we turned to three experts: Mary O'Rourke, our Weekend magazine's agony aunt; Tina Koumarianos, etiquette queen at IMAGE magazine, and Christine Bohan, lecturer in social media and deputy editor of

• Email: Dear Sir, or Hey Dude

"I don't expect an email to begin with 'Dear Christine' and end with 'kind regards', but I don't expect smiley faces or emoticons either," says Christiney.

Email is a less formal medium than print, but there are still dos and don'ts.

Don't forward mass emails, watch your grammar and don't use coloured text or caps. Excessive or poor punctuation is also bad email etiquette. "It's hard to take someone seriously if they can't even master the caps button," says Christine.

• The fair sex: "After you" or "me first"?

The Victorian and Edwardian periods marked the high point of elaborate courtesy towards women.

Some women still hanker for the days when men held doors open for them or stood aside to allow them to pass.

Should a modern man rise when a woman joins the company, or offer his seat on the train, or wait until the ladies are all seated before sitting down to dinner himself?

"Holding the door open for a woman, I still think it's a nice thing to do," says Mary. Tina agrees: "It's exceptionally good manners to do it, and it's bloody rude not to."

And what about standing when a woman joins the company? "Not always necessary," says Mary. "It can be awkward if you come into a room with four or five guys. One tries to stand up, and then they all try it."

"The man should stand when the lady first joins the group, but there's no need to rise from your chair every time she gets up to go to the loo," says Tina.

• Invitations: RSVP or KYOO (keep your options open)?

It's an all-too familiar scenario. You're having a party, and text or email your guests. Usually fewer than half reply, despite the fact that you have put RSVP on the invitation.

"This is very, very rude," says Tina. "People have to know how many guests to cater for."

"I'm amazed at people who don't RSVP," says Mary. "If it says RSVP, then not to is very bad manners. You should reply a couple of days before the event at the latest."

• Mobiles: silent, meeting or vibrate?

"There was one minister in the last government who would text or email on his BlackBerry while actually talking to you," recalls a Dáil veteran. "He didn't intend it, but it came across as very rude.

"Checking your phone is very, very rude," agrees Tina. "If you're expecting an important call, leave it to one side on silent. If you need to answer it, apologise, get up and take it outside."

• Twitter: a guide to Tweetiquette

"What's rude in real life is also rude on Twitter," says Christine.

For instance, if there's a conversation going on between two people on Twitter, it's rude to just jump in and join it, she adds. "It makes things a little awkward."

Re-tweeting is also fraught (you should credit the original tweeter), and lurking silently on Twitter is frowned upon.

"You get people who spend a lot of time on Twitter, they follow everyone, but never tweet themselves," says Christine. "You have to contribute on Twitter."

• Texting: LOL, GR8 or ROFL?

"Personally, I find texts a bit invasive," says Christine. "They can seem a bit pushy."

Mary is also dead set against text language. "My niece texts me and uses all these abbreviations. By the time I have worked out what they mean, I could have called her 10 times over," she says.

"I think: spell out the word," adds Christine. "It's not like we're paying that much for texts these days. Some are allowed, such at BTW, but ones like GR8 are only for 13-year-old girls."

Irish Independent

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