I don’t know about you, but when it comes to Christmas, with its parties, presents and pitfalls a-plenty, the least of my worries is wondering what to buy Auntie Margaret (yup; shortbread again). Instead, the biggest stresses of the season are social: one kiss or two at a neighbour’s annual seasonal gathering? How to cope if you forget a colleague’s name after a few mulled wines? What to wear to a festive fancy dress do?
So, to help me – and you – navigate the social nightmares of this testing time of year, I’ve been browsing the advice given by the ultimate etiquexperts: Debrett’s. Although it must be said there are a few gaps in their knowledge, which I’ve set out to correct…
DO praise the mouldy mince pies
According to Debrett's, in pre-war society it was considered rude to make remarks about food, drink, houses, pictures or furniture. However, Debrett's hastens to add, there are very few places where this still applies. In fact, it’s now rude NOT to say everything is fabulous, and ideally you should be specific as to why. The host’s apartment reminds you of your student hovel? Praise the ‘retro’ curtains. A mince pie tastes like it’s seen better years? Remark generously on its can’t-quite-put-my-finger-on-it flavour. A spindly chair gives way beneath you? Compliment its delicate legs and blame the excesses of the season…
DON’T tell the party bore to be quiet
So a certain loud mouth has been holding forth on the subject of bridges for the past half hour and you’re going slightly insane. But whatever you do, says Debrett's, don’t tell him to put a Christmas stocking in it. Instead, during a micro-pause, say to one of the quieter, more interesting listeners: “didn’t you once cross a bridge during your fascinating trip to Madagascar? Do tell!”
DO think of something to say
It’s all very well to begin a conversation with “how do you do”, lectures Debrett's, but it’s not polite to stop there: you have to think of something else to say next – and sharpish. The etiquexpert suggests the old royal standby gambit of “have you come far?”, though this is best avoided if at your street’s Christmas party (monkey covering eyes emoji).
DON’T leave Santa’s price tag on
Sadly, Debrett’s doesn’t cover Secret Santa niceties. However, having given this office party problem considerable thought over a sherry, I can confidently address the issue of price. If you’re given a budget of, say, £5, is it impolite so spend either more or less? I say it’s not – at long as you remove the price tag. High quality regifted items (IDEAL for Secret Santa) with an RRP of more than your budget will be well received, as long as they’re a) not awful, and b) not half-eaten/burned/monogrammed. And if you’re going all Scrooge with a £2.99 notepad? Better make sure it at least looks expensive.
DO admit your bad memory
If you can’t remember someone’s name, Debrett’s urges, you should “admit it and blame yourself”. This is not advice I have adhered to; my solution in such dire straits is to wait until another person joins the conversation who Mr Nameless doesn’t know, then introduce the new person to Mr Nameless, leaving Mr Nameless to introduce himself, thereby revealing his name. Genius. Debrett’s may wish to hire me to write their etiquette guide hereafter.
DON’T supply your medical history
If asked, “how are you?”, the only answer you should give, says Debrett's, is “very well thank you, how are you?” On no account should one “give a true account of your state of health”. Debrett’s does not address whether exceptions should be made if you are a) speaking to your doctor, b) hacking up phlegm, or c) spurting blood from a severed limb.
DO kiss quietly
Handshake? One kiss? Two? This one is a social minefield, especially with all that mistletoe, but never fear; Debrett’s is here. As a general rule they advise making your decision according to the age of the kissee: older people are more likely to prefer a handshake; youths keener on the double kiss. An air kiss, Debrett’s advises, is acceptable in a social setting, but warns: “a very slight contact is best, and no sound effects are needed.” Could someone please inform Patsy and Edina? Mwah!
DON’T ignore the dress code
In general, Debrett’s advises, it is “disrespectful to ignore hosts’ requests when it comes to dress code, even at fancy dress parties, which does acknowledge can be “a minefield”. However, it suggests that neither “hiring a full theatrical outfit” nor “feeling miserable all evening” are necessary, and instead sensibly exhorts guests to select “well chosen accessories or jewellery” which can “indicate the style or period required”. Which I take to mean that as long as you’re wearing diamonds, you’re perfectly dressed, whatever the party. Now, where's that Santa list again? I've been a TERRIBLY good girl this year. Apart from that incident with the bollard, but that was SO not my fault, should Pink House Husband ask.
Laing, the rather fabulous jewellers, commissioned me to write this post to appear on their website, but I thought that you, my impeccably behaved Pink House Guests, might fancy a shufty too.