Debrett’s reveal modern social etiquette dilemmas

Casual businessman smoking an electronic cigarette
Casual businessman smoking an electronic cigarette
Share this article
Have your say

IT WAS founded more than 250 years ago and is viewed as an essential resource for those with a penchant for Downton Abbey-style high society.

But etiquette experts at Debrett’s have revealed that they are now deluged with more queries about modern-day dilemmas such as mobile phone and e-cigarette use than any other type of more traditional social problem.

The publisher of the Debrett’s Handbook has for the first time revealed the list of problems brought to it by readers.

Keep up to date with all aspects of Scottish life with The Scotsman iPhone app, completely free to download and use.

Debrett’s, which was founded in 1769 and receives more than 10,000 inquiries from across the globe every year, said it is asked more questions about the etiquette of mobile phone use than any other issue.

That is closely followed by queries over where it is acceptable to vape – to use an electronic cigarette – in public, said Debrett’s, which stated that people “still yearn for good manners” .

Other modern social etiquette problems to make the top ten issues plaguing modern-day Debrett’s readers include whether it is acceptable to eat or apply make-up on public transport, while experts have also been quizzed about whether “blind copying” someone into an e-mail – so that the recipient does not know someone else has seen it – breaks etiquette rules. This is a practice which Debrett’s says should be used “discerningly”.

The handbook, which has been published this month, combines the historic Debrett’s Correct Form, which has been published since the mid 1900s, with an additional guide to modern manners for the first time.

Jo Bryant, editor of Debrett’s Handbook, said: “The sheer number of inquiries we receive demonstrates that manners are still hugely important to people. It can be a minefield knowing how to behave in social situations, but the key is to always consider those around you. The Debrett’s Handbook provides guidelines that will make everyday life easier, removing anxiety and minimising social awkwardness.”

On the subject of mobiles, the handbook says that users should switch off their devices when they are talking to anyone else, or in a situation where people prefer silence, such as a cinema, art gallery or theatre.

“It is always rude to pay more attention to a phone than a person in the flesh,” the guide said. “And they should always be put away when transacting other business – for example, when paying for something in a shop.”

Debrett’s also rules on e-cigarettes (see quiz, left), while it states that it is categorically considered rude to start eating before everyone else is served.

Other issues to be dealt with by Debrett’s experts include when social kissing is considered to be acceptable and whether people are showing bad manners if they recline their airline seat on a short flight.

On that subject, the etiquette “bible” states: “It is selfish to recline your seat-back during short daytime flights.”

Edinburgh-based social etiquette commentator Roddy Martine said: “We have been taken over by technology and it is very difficult to escape from it, so it is no surprise that Debrett’s are dealing with these issues.

“When it comes to mobile phones, it is extremely irritating when you are at something like a formal banquet and mobile phones are going off.”

He added: “There will always be a place for a guidebook like Debrett’s as people are very anxious not to offend others and they want to be seen doing the right thing.”

In 2006, Debrett’s updated its Correct Form book to include a section on business etiquette, and another on American usage.

The company, which has published its People of Today – a rival to Who’s Who – has been mentioned in many works of literature, including William Thackeray’s novel Vanity Fair and many of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes titles.