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Sorry, but here're some tips on nurturing your inner courtier.


ANEW history of etiquette reckons the average Brit says "sorry" 204,536 times in a lifetime.

It's one of those strange social paradoxes. If someone crashes into me on a pavement I always apologise first in that diffident, mumbling, embarrassed way that no mainland European or American would countenance.

Yet despite this common quirk of politeness, Britain is surely in etiquette meltdown. Most people's awareness of bad manners is confined to an '80s band fronted by Buster Bloodvessel. Rudeness is endemic.

Even royals have terrible table manners these days. Prince Harry - someone who must have grown up with more cutlery options than most - can't use a knife and fork properly, according to his dad, who says he's more adept at tackling goat curry with his bare hands It wasn't always thus. As Henry Hitching's history of manners reveals, English notions of courtesy and civility have their origins in French chivalry. Medieval knights swapped violence for negotiation to settle disputes. "Warriors were supplanted by courtiers, codes of conduct came into being, and with them came the idea of self-control as a virtue."

The only feature of Middle Ages life that modern Cardiff has adopted, however, is the amount of bodily fluids staining the pavements after a heavy night on St Mary Street.

If only the bottom-flashing binge drinkers had grown up reading Erasmus. The Renaissance saw a boom in the penning of etiquette guides for uncouth youth. The biggest-selling book of the 16th century was A Handbook on Good Manners for Children, written in Latin by the Dutch theologian in 1530. Through three centuries it went into 130 editions and was reprinted in English just four years ago.

Yet sadly some of Erasmus' top tips have not survived the passage of time. He tells the Spanish that it's not good to brush your teeth with urine while at dinner parties he warns against gossiping or criticising anyone. That rule wouldn't last long at one of my curry and cava nights.

But, as a recent review of this classic tome points out, his key message is timeless: "Young bodies are tender plants that grow and harden to whatever shape you've trained them."

With this in mind, I've come up with a few essential pointers for modern manners. For some sections of Welsh society it may be too late - wrinklies can do rude even better than the rug rats sometimes - but here's a stab at a 21st century guide to courteous living.

Post-Christmas Etiquette: If you are a young person write a thank you letter. Yes it involves holding something called a pen and a sheet of that papery stuff but the adult who has almost re-mortgaged their house to keep you in electronic gadgetry will be so stunned they may even weep. | Supermarket Etiquette: Do remember to wear clothes, as in proper outdoor garments not pyjama bottoms that reveal a horrifying glimpse of bum cleavage as one squats for a tin of Tesco Value baked beans on the lowest shelf.

And you know that sign that says 10 Items Only? Well that's what it actually means. If in doubt count with your fingers - if you run out of digits head for the main checkouts. When you unload your goods into the boot of your car don't be a lazy, inconsiderate scumbag and leave your trolley lurking for some poor shopper to reverse into. Finally, disabled spaces are strictly for blue badge holders not overweight white van drivers or people with an imaginary limp.

Cinema Etiquette: Feet should remain on the floor at all times, not flanking the ears of the person sitting directly in front of you.

Talk through the adverts if you must but not the trailers. If you can't last two hours without illuminating three rows with your iPhone stay at home with a box set. And take your giant popcorn receptacle, greasy hot dog box and empty Ben & Jerry's tub with you.

Social Media Etiquette: If you're spending time with one friend - as in face to face human company - don't spend all of it texting one, tweeting another and tagging yourself in the Facebook photos of a third.

On the subject of the latter resist the scourge of the Smug Status Update: "Sipping a chilled sauvignon after a fantastic day with my gorgeous husband - currently giving me a foot-rub, bless him! - and my beautiful children." Barf. And don't boast about the "catharsis" of culling friends or unfollowing tweeps. | E-mail Etiquette: Don't put your message in the subject line, no-one's too busy to write in the main body of an email.

Use words not emoticons. And remember everyone over 30 thinks LOL means lots of love not laugh out loud. Reserve sign-off kisses for people you would actually lock lips with in real life.

Driving Etiquette: Indicate at roundabouts; acknowledge a driver who gives way to you and don't pick your nose at traffic lights. The interior of your car is not lined with Harry Potter's invisibility cloak. | Saturday Job Teenagers Etiquette: Talk to the customers when you are serving them, not each other. | Relationship Break-Up Etiquette: Never ever use any form of digital communication to dump someone.

Only verbal, in person and with at least an attempt at eye contact will do.

And finally... Only say sorry for something you've actually done.

If someone crashes into you on the pavement they're the rude git not you.


Let politeness and good manners go to your head
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jan 12, 2013
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