Oh not to be rude!

Posted: September 23, 2012 in life

I remember a writer describing a banquet at Greenwich – the setting, the uniforms, the opening grace – “And then each of the men turned to the lady on his right and said: ‘How did you enjoy your holiday?'” This is one of the 50 safest phrases that keep you from saying anything unfortunate – you hope.

It is so easy to drop a brick, even with the best will in the world. First and foremost is simply forgetting names. It’s no good saying: “How do you spell your name?” if the answer’s going to be B-R-O-W-N, and not much better trying: “When did we meet last?” if it turns out you both work in the same office. You can break an actor’s heart by asking: “What do you do?” though mend it by: “I thought you seemed familiar”; and a senior-looking author should never be asked: “Are you still writing?”, though: “What are you writing at the moment?” is safe enough. In fact, “What are you doing at the moment?” is OK for most people, although avoid “doing these days”, which implies the best days are over.

This assumes you don’t want to be rude, of course. Causing offence while being extremely polite is another art – take a Chinese mother- in-law who warmly told a girl I know not to take any trouble with dinner; naturally the girl slaved for days – only to be told: “I’m so glad you didn’t take any trouble – I do hate fuss.”


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