U R 2 Rude - Spear's Magazine

U R 2 Rude

Daisy Prince on BlackBerries, dinner parties and modern manners

Daisy Prince on BlackBerries, dinner parties and modern manners
 

I’m no dinosaur who thinks that technology is the root of all modern evil, but it the fact that we all have to be linked up, signed on and on call means that our lives are scarcely our own. Are we so dependent on technology that old-fashioned manners have been forgotten? One recent occasion, when I was stood up but somehow at fault, seems to illustrate how things have been turned on their head.

When an American acquaintance came to town, she asked my fiancé and me if we could find a single Englishman to bring along to dinner. I came up with the perfect man: early 40s, attractive, a banker, and had lived in New York, ensuring cultural common ground.

My fiancé, the banker and I met at the restaurant at 8.30pm. At 9pm there was no sign of the girl and we started getting worried. By 9.30pm, we were calling not only the hotel and her mobile, but trying to find people who might know where she was, in case something had happened to her.

As it turns out, nothing had. When I checked my emails at home, I found one sent from her at 7.04pm saying that the guy she was ‘dating’ had turned up unexpectedly and so she couldn’t make it. I know that everyone in America has a BlackBerry, but there are still a few low-tech souls like myself who don’t.

Somehow the responsibility has shifted from the person who is cancelling the evening, to the person doing the inviting. Not that I’m using my column to settle scores, but I don’t think that we have reached the point where everyone has to have a BlackBerry.

That said, the BlackBerry is now so ubiquitous that people scarcely raise an eyebrow when it is hauled out and fiddled with during dinner. But it’s going too far when you see people doing it in church, as I have observed in Bedford, New York. There is even a comprehensive page of ‘BlackBerry etiquette’ on the web, for those who need a little coaching.

There will always be some establishments that will hold out against the oncoming tide of modernisation. One couple I know who are trying to get into an ultra-Waspy country club threw a fit, when someone produced a BlackBerry at the table. Being seen with someone using the device was exactly the kind of behavior that would get them blacklisted.

Even in men’s clubs in London, where using your mobile is forbidden, you can catch members looking in their jacket pockets at their phones, the same way they might have sipped from an illicit flask during Prohibition.

While BlackBerrys are only beginning to creep into the London scene, text-messaging to excuse tardiness is a common British foible. According to one London man-about-town ‘Text-messaging has made it OK for people to be late.

You never used to be able to text someone and tell them you were running 20 minutes late; you just needed to make that much more of an effort to be somewhere on time. The other maddening thing about texting is that people are constantly changing their plans.’

This is much more common in New York than in London. Because apartments are generally too small, social life revolves around restaurants. Susan Barnes, a New York-based friend, says that she won’t throw dinner parties in her-larger-than-normal pad because New Yorkers are terrible about cancelling just hours or even minutes before dinner is due to start.

Restaurant dining is less formal than a proper dinner party and it’s marginally more acceptable to be a bit late or cancel at the last minute. Although it might be more of a New York phenomenon at the moment, it’s definitely heading to London. New Yorkers are probably worse than Londoners, simply because work is still paramount there in a way that hasn’t yet permeated.

Dinner parties are one of the best things about moving to London. Invitations on stiff cards (hilariously known as ‘stiffies’) find their way onto your mantelpiece (one of the rare ways that the British show off is by having their social engagements set out for all to see).

Certain rules have always held true for these occasions. You arrive at the house no later than 15 minutes after the appointed time on the card. There is no need to bring flowers or wine, although you must send a thank-you note almost immediately after the dinner, no matter how pleasant the evening.

It’s a tried and true formula and it’s been going for at least 100 years. The only downside is that there is no room for spontaneity and if you are trapped late at work you must be prepared to suffer the consequences. A recent New York transplant to London had an invitation to a dinner, but was forced to stay at work and arrived an hour-and-a-half late.

The hostess barely spoke to her all evening and the host actually took her husband aside and demanded that she write a letter of apology to his wife . Sounds extreme? Maybe, but perhaps these slightly neurotic hosts have a point. In the age of BlackBerrys and mobiles, we’ve all forgotten our manners a little bit.



 

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