Tag Archives: Etiquette

English etiquette by an Indian Harley Street doctor 

Most books of etiquette published seventy or more years ago. have  comic value .If they were written by foreigners anxious to ‘ educate ‘ their compatriots in  the ways of the English there is a strong likelihood that they will be occasionally hilarious. Such a book is English Etiquette, which was published at St Christopher’s, Letchworth, a radical and culturally significant independent school that had established a printing press by the late 1920s. Its author, a certain  Dr R. U. Hingorani, an Indian who was active from 1928 to 1930, according to the records, and appears to have been a Harley Street practitioner around that time. The booklet’s aim was to familiarise Indian immigrants with the customs of the English.

Here is the good doctor’s advice on :

Personal habits

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It is a social crime to lick your fingers when turning over the pages of a book. An educated Englishman values his books as part of his personal property—he looks after them and keeps them clean. If he lends them to a friend it is a personal favour and he expects that friend to return the books in the same condition as they were lent. Licking the fingers while turning over the pages, besides being considered a dirty habit, will, if persisted in, soon spoil the appearance of a book, giving it a ‘dog-eared’ look and detract from its value…

You should never overlook another person’s newspaper or book…It is quite in order to ask for a loan of a newspaper or book but you should wait until he owner has completely finished reading and then politely make your wish known…

In England, as in other countries, an attractive personal appearance is a great asset in any walk of life but to attend to one’s toilet in public is a very bad social error. For instance, finger nails must always be kept scrupulously clean—this is a very important point as dirty finger nails are taken as evidence of a person’s bad upbringing—but they must never be cleaned in public. Ears and nose should always be attended to in private and you must never play about with your fingers when talking to another person…

Another bad error is to talk to a lady with your hands in your pockets. This shows that you are not so accustomed to talk with well-bred ladies and that your primary education has been defective…

European and Far Eastern people lend emphasis to their speech when talking with friends and acquaintances by gesticulating with their hands. This is quite incorrect in English eyes. A person who continually uses his hands in conversation is considered to have had an inadequate education…Pointing with the hands should always be avoided as this is considered a very rude habit…

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More questions of etiquette in 1939


Jot 101 etiquette doffing a hat picIf Everybody’s Best Friend ( 1939) is to be believed, people were still debating the propriety of men giving up seats to women, whether or not it was necessary to doff a hat to a lady or where a man should walk on a pavement when accompanying a lady, as they had done for centuries before and perhaps still do. On the question of who should pay on a night out, to an earlier generation brought up before the advent of Women’s Liberation,  there is no question that a man should pay for everything. Notice that it is tacitly assumed that once the man and woman are married, it is certainly the husband who must pay for a meal and for seats in a theatre or cinema, even though the wife may have an income from her job. But have things changed that much ?


1 ) Giving up your seat to a ‘lady’.


There seem to be mixed views now on the question of whether a man should give up his seat to a woman in a crowded conveyance. Some men do, others consider it unnecessary. Has the custom changed ?


Custom in this respect has not changed and a courteous man has no hesitation in standing so that a lady may be seated. The exception is that no would desire an elderly man to give up his seat to a girl. A young man should be ready to offer his eat to an elderly man as well as to a lady. Similarly, in a crowded bus  or railway compartment in which only the women present are seated, a young woman may well offer her seat to an elderly woman, to a woman with a child in her arms, or to an old man.


When offered a seat a woman should always accept it readily, with a smile and word of thanks. To decline the offer is to slight a man who is doing the right thing. If a lady accompanied by a man is offered a seat, the man should utter a word of thanks for the courtesy shown his companion.


An interesting little point arose recently when my fiancée and I were travelling in a bus. The bus was full and men were standing down the centre. A lady got in. I offered my seat and had to go along the bus, with the result that my fiancée had really to travel the journey alone. Did I do right in offering my seat in these circumstances? Continue reading

Etiquette in 1939

DONT cover 001Boy meets girl…


‘ Most of the questions of etiquette so far discussed concern married and unmarried people equally. There are, however, certain formalities which specially concern bachelors and single girls—bachelor girls as the modern phrase has it—particularly those living in apartments…’


A bachelor’s party.


I am a bachelor living in rooms. In acknowledgement of the many invitations I receive to other people’s houses, I would like to hold a little party at my place. Is there any objection to this?


There can be no objection to your giving a party in your rooms provided you ask a lady of your own family, or a married lady friend, to act as hostess. Of course, you will not invite any married lady to attend the part without also inviting her husband. Where an invitation is sent to a single girl it must be accompanied by an invitation to her parents or some other responsible person.


Meeting her people


I have been friendly with a girl and would like to be introduced into her home. May I suggest that I call, or should the invitation come from the girl ?


You shold not ask for an invitation, nor should the girl invite you to call on her own initiative. The invitation should really come from the girl’s mother . An invitation like this generally comes from via the girl; the occasion is not treated as one calling for a formal invitation.


The British rules of etiquette in the late 1930s


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According to one of Jot 101’s favourite works of reference, Everybody’s Best Friend (c1939), these are some of the rules of etiquette that prevailed at the onset of the Second World War.


Should a man offer a seat to a woman ?


‘…a courteous man has no hesitation in standing so that a lady may be seated. The exception is that no one would desire an elderly man to give up his seat to a girl…When offered a seat a woman should always accept it readily, with a smile and word of thanks. To decline the offer is to slight a man who is doing the right thing…’


Should visitors smoke ?


Smoking is so general nowadays that men are inclined when visiting to light a cigarette without giving the matter a thought. But strictly, I suppose, a man should never smoke in another person’s house until he has asked permission to do so?


The real answer is that a man should never smoke in another person’s house until permission has been given him unsought…But if a guest asks permission to smoke it is difficult for a hostel to refuse it. Hence the considerate guest —especially when he does not know his hostess’s views on the matter—refrains from smoking until he is invited to do so.


Powdering in public.


It seems to be the usual thing now to see girls making up openly in tea rooms, cinemas and so on. But surely it is not accepted as being quite the right thing to do?


It is not a correct thing to do—and many a girl prefers not to reveal too openly how much her complexion owes to mart instead of nature !Some young men are not altogether guiltless in this respect, for not infrequently one sees them vigorously using a comb or nail-file even at table.


Escorting ladies.


Where should a man walk when escorting two ladies—near the edge of the pavement, or in the centre?


The man should walk on the outside, near the edge f the pavement, as when with one lady only. Where the ladies vary to any extent in age, the more elderly of the two should be in the centre.


DONT cover 001Books on social etiquette have always proved popular. People are naturally curious about the manners of other ages. Such books also produce good talking points at parties or other social events. Don’t, a copy of which was recently discovered at Jot HQ, purports to deal ‘ frankly with mistakes and improprieties more or less common to all ‘, is no exception. Although undated, the dust jacket illustration and general design places it firmly in the early fifties, and an AA leaflet dated August 1953, which has been tucked into it, confirms this guess.

‘Censor’, the pseudonymous author of Don’tmakes no apologies for the book’s distinctly proscriptive tone. ‘ Manners maketh man ‘, he/she quotes, adding rather severely that if the rules appear ‘ over-nice’, ‘ everyone has the right to determine for himself at what point below the highest point he is content to let his social culture drop’. Ouch!

Reading certain parts of this book will make most people cry out in protest at an unreasonable ‘don’t’. For instance, why shouldn’t people wear jewellery that is ‘ solely ornamental’. What’s the point of jewellery unless it is ornamental ? Then there’s the request not to drink outside of meal times. Does this mean that one shouldn’t drink in pubs, hotels or at parties? Obviously absurd. ‘Censor’ is equally unreasonable concerning the shaking of hands: ‘Don’t …offer to shake hands with a lady. The initiative must always come from her. By the same principle DON’T offer your hands to a person older than yourself, or to anyone whose rank may be supposed to be higher than your own, unless he has extended his.’ Totally irrational. Then there is the faux gallantry: ‘Don’t forget that the lady sitting at your side has the first claim upon your attention. A lady at your side should not be neglected, whether you have been introduced to her or not.’ Even in 1953, this must have appeared preposterous, although another ‘don’t’—that men must not remaining sitting when a lady leaves the table —was still observed in some circles. Continue reading

Etiquette as Great Grandmother knew it

Blackour book cover 001Found in The Black-Out Book (1939) are these rules copied out in her diary by the editor’s great-grandmother.


Good manners are made up of petty sacrifices


When calling, do not enter into grave discussion. Trifling subjects are better.


It is rude to turn a chair so that your back will presented to anyone.


In company do not converse with another in a language that is not understood by the rest.


If it becomes necessary to break a marriage engagement, it is best to do so by letter. The reasons for your course can be given much more clearly than in a personal interview. All presents, letters, etc., received should accompany the letter announcing the termination of the engagement.


During a walk in the country, when ascending a hill or walking on the bank of a stream, and the lady is fatigued, and sits upon the ground, a gentleman will not seat himself by her, but remain standing until she is rested sufficiently to proceed.


A dispute about religion is foolish. When it is known that there are fifteen hundred millions of people on the face of the earth, speaking 3034 languages, and possessing one thousand different religious beliefs, it will be easily seen that it is a hopeless task to harmonize them all. Continue reading

How to walk – The rule of the pavement

From Correct Conduct, or, Etiquette for Everybody (M. Woodman. London: W. Foulsham 1922) this piece about the etiquette of walking and pavements. This is the world of the early Downton series or for older viewers The Forsyte Saga. The gentleman has to know what to do in complicated situations ‘…a man who meets his parlourmaid in the street is in a quandary’ – here tipping the hat is suggested (but no nodding…)

hatsoffThe rule of the pavement used to be to walk to the right. The “Safety First” Committee is endeavouring to induce public opinion to favour walking on the left. Instinct suggests the right, common sense the left. Pedestrians should appreciate the fact that this change is being made, and act according to their own dictates. 

When walking with friends, do not proceed along the pavement more than two abreast, and then take to single file on passing other people.

Always give way to perambulators; they certainly are a nuisance, but a necessary nuisance. When a lady is walking with a gentleman, she should take the inside. This is survival of the days when all roads were muddy and passing vehicles splashed those nearest.

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