Manners are making a comeback says William Hanson. The etiquette expert tells Jayne Dawson how he can turn even the roughest diamond into a polished gem.
You could say it’s all in the kiss. We in this region, in this country, are famously bad at kissing – I’m limiting discussion to the social variety, you understand
We worry about when to go in for the cheek and when not; we dither about which side to aim for; we suffer anxiety about one cheek or two or, crazy as it sounds, three.
There are so many permutations and potential misunderstandings that the entire kissing thing scares us witless. And when it comes to the digital kiss – we lose all reason and sprinkle them everywhere. Proper grown-ups turn into online teenagers, throwing kisses at people we wouldn’t speak to if they were our only companions on a desert island.
William Hanson is not scared, though, and he doesn’t sprinkle inappropriately. He has everything under control. For Mr Hanson is a master of etiquette and manners and it is his belief that this is the year when good manners will come back into fashion.
So, if you want to be ahead of the curve and learn how to be posh, William is your man. I’ll be giving you his formula for the perfect social kiss later, but first, if it isn’t rude to ask, what does he think of our manners here up north?
Does he believe the stereotype that we are all common as muck, that our baths are where we keep our coal and our gardens are where we keep our racing pigeons?
“No” is the firm answer. William may have southern vowels but he is a seasoned northener. He lives in Manchester, but his brother lives in Leeds city centre and William visits him often, though he doesn’t go in for any of that Leeds nightlife nonsense. William may be only 24, but he is more of an afternoon tea chap.
But he has only good things to say about Yorkshire people.
“Manners, at heart, are all about putting the other person at ease. Yorkshire people are more open and friendly, they are good at putting people at ease.”
And, while we’re at it, here’s another big question. Is being posh the same as having good manners?
It’s a “no” again but, says William, posh people often know the rules of etiquette and etiquette is the practical guide to putting others at ease.
William knows all this stuff because... he just does. He was a precocious child born into an upper middle class family who developed a passion for etiquette after being given a book on the subject by his grandmother. Now he works for the English Manner consultancy and teaches all over the world.
But let’s get down to the important business of acting posh. What’s the very, very worst thing a person can say to reveal their common origins? William knows exactly what it is – and he has rather explosive views on the subject. “Don’t say pardon, it is completely naff.”
To emphasise the point he recalls an anecdote about writer Jilly Cooper’s mother, who believed “pardon” to be the worst word it was possible to introduce into a conversation. You might as well go the whole hog and lob a certain pithy, four-letter expletive into the middle of the room. In fact that f-word would be preferable, she believed.
Another total clanger if you want to appear rather refined, William says, is to say “pleased to meet you” when greeting a stranger in a formal situation. The correct phrase is “how do you do?”.
Carole Middleton, mother of the Duchess of Cambridge, fell foul of this when first meeting the Queen, and was ridiculed for it.
William’s personal bugbear is people who say “dessert”. Don’t. Just don’t. If you have any self-respect at all, “pudding” is the word you need. Dessert is the fruit course. No argument.
“If you ask the Queen what is for dessert she will tell you it is an apple,” said William. And while we’re at it, don’t say “toilet” because “lavatory” is the word you are seeking. Likewise, “living room” will get you into trouble too. “You live in every room, so it’s actually your sitting room,” says William.
But if words fail you, remember it’s in the attitude as much as the vocabulary. Therefore, to sound positively aristocratic, it is essential to describe a baked potato as “marvellous” but the experience of losing a limb as “a bore”. And no boasting – or you will simply be a pretender in the Hyacinth Bucket mould.
Keen to test this new knowledge, the Yorkshire Post visited Trinity Leeds shopping centre armed with three killer questions designed to brutally separate the posh from the common.
We asked shoppers: “Is it ‘how do you do?’ or ‘pleased to meet you’?; is it ‘Pancake Day’ or ‘Shrove Tuesday’? and is it ‘pudding’ or ‘dessert’ “?
The posh answers, according to William’s guide are: “How do you do”, “Shrove Tuesday” and “pudding”.
The first person we asked was none other than Lord Harewood, of Harewood House – who proved to be a little bit common despite being 52nd in line to the throne.
David Lascelles revealed he prefers to say Pancake Day, thus scoring low on the posh index, though he does order pudding. On the greeting question he said he prefers not to use any formal phrase.
He said: “Other people think I’m posh but I don’t think of myself as either. Being precise about what you’re saying is a good thing.”
He took our test results on the chin, saying: “I imagine most people are a bit of both. It’s more about being yourself.”
Sanah Hussein, 18, from Dewsbury also proved to be a commoner. The Leeds student said: “Manners are about respect. You need to respect someone to get respect back, but I’m a teenager so it’s common to speak slang.”
Chris Dobinson, 44, a council worker from Norwich, came out as posh. He said: “Manners show appreciation for other people and it doesn’t take much time or effort. I would say I’m middle of the road.”
Paul Kayley, 44, a firefighter from Otley, was a bit more common than posh on our test.
“I definitely think that manners are important. It shows how well you get on with other people, that you fit into society nicely and that you have consideration for other people, but if someone called me common I wouldn’t be that insulted.”
Anthony Smith, 31, a Leeds flight instructor, was another commoner on the day. He said: “I wasn’t brought up posh but I’m too educated to be common.”
But it is time to get the kissing conundrum out of the way. The first thing to know is, no lips should ever be involved. Now that is clear, here is what to do: “If it’s online then the correct way to behave is simple. If you would kiss a person on meeting them, then do the same on your text, email, whatever. If you wouldn’t, then don’t.”
In person, it’s more tricky but very negotiable, says William.
If it is a man and a woman greeting, the lead should always come from the woman. If it is two women then the lead should come from the most senior woman.
“Do whatever they do. If they are going to kiss you, then lean to your left to kiss their right cheek.
“It used to be one kiss, now it is often two, or even three. There are places in France where it is five. Greeting everyone can take half an hour.”
The Bluffers Guide To Etiquette is available now online and from bookshops. To order from the Yorkshire Post Bookshop call 01748 821122.
Top tips: How to pass for posh
The eating process is pretty grim. Your aim is to minimise it. Elbows in, never turn over your fork, never eat off your knife.
Only dogs eat out of bowls. Your soup comes in a soup plate.
Never request a branded beer from your host.
Always divide your time equally between the guests on either side of you.
Copy what your host is doing, even if it is not correct.