Modern Day Manners with William Hanson

william_hanson_2It’s no longer just saying ‘please’, ‘thanks’ and knowing which fork to use at dinner. Today we’ve got to consider how to behave on social media and when (or not!) to use our smartphone.

But instead of twiddling our thumbs and wondering whether or not to call our friend on the bus or wait till we got home, we asked etiquette expert William Hanson to join us for a Q&A and put an end to these questions once and for all!

Here’s what you asked, and how he answered: 


Q: If you let off a smelly fart by accident whilst in company of a potential male suitor…should one admit & apologise or act nonchalant?

A: What a question! Haha! Well, old etiquette used to be that you would blame any noises or smells on the dog… even if there wasn’t one. Hopefully your male suitor is too polite to bring up your indiscretion, however. If he did… maybe not so much a suitable suitor!?


Q: Mr Hanson, please may you let me know if it is the correct etiquette for a gentleman who has invited a lady round to dinner (for the first time) to send her a text message earlier in the day, asking her to buy a bottle of wine, as he ‘forgot’? Even though the said gentleman works in an area of London surrounded by off licences.

A: It’s not a great start to the evening is it! It’s not really good form and should be avoided at all costs. Better planning is needed from the man!


Q: When someone is having a long, loud and personal phone conversation on the tube, what is the best way to get them to shut up and stop ruining everyone’s peace!?

A: Thanks for the question – I am regularly on trains and see this all too often. Sadly, technically, if it is not a quiet carriage there is not much you can do. But I have tried turning around several times and looking at the offender with a raised eyebrow in the hope they get the message. Sometimes it works. But I suspect you will not be alone in your frustration – the rest of the carriage will be behind you, probably. If you have the courage then do go up to the offender and with a broad smile, ask them if they could possibly talk a little quieter. But this is only for the brave!


Q: Why is it considered so rude to make or answer a phone call in a cafe – but a loud and annoying conversation with someone who is sitting next to you is OK?

A: Great point – but at least the loud, annoying conversation is face to face and you are focussing on the human rather than the gadget!


Q: Has etiquette changed for how one should behave towards a pregnant woman? Being six months, I have noticed how inconsiderate most have become.

A: Well the old rules of people having to stand up on public transport and offer their seat still apply – although, as you say, they are often ignored by rude members of society. If people do continue to ignore you then maybe ham it up a bit and stick that stomach out in the hope they’ll get the message! Good luck with the baby and hope all goes well.


Q: I found this problem where I went to a very upmarket wedding a couple of years ago. I was given a small cup of soup for a starter. I had to watch other people to see what they did so I could copy them. I was wondering is it proper to drink it, or to use a spoon?

A: If in doubt – watch your hosts! If the soup is a cold soup then it is often served in soup bowls with handles either side – this means it is acceptable to drink it. If not, the a spoon must be used to scoop the soup and eat it in the conventional manners. However you are now seeing soup (and other foods) served in totally impractical dining-ware. They look great but are a pain for we diners!


Q: Also, there seems to be a trend in women wearing see-through black leggings when engaging in sporting activities (cycling, yoga, running or even just going to the store) that are paper thin, with underwear on full view. It’s not a nice sight. What do you say then? I had the unfortunate experience of cycling behind a women with a thong on full view. The view during my ascent up the hill was not a pleasant one.

A: I am fully behind you! It’s not a great look, is it? Sadly you can’t really say anything to the fashion offender but just raise and eyebrow and thank the Heavens you have better dress sense! Of course, if your friend wears such a garment and asks for your opinion then you are fully at liberty to give it to them – perhaps with some sugarcoating thrown in for good measure.


Q: If you see someone walking down the street, in a cafe, etc., who obviously has some issues with makeup application and looks a mess, do you say something? I’m talking about ‘lipstick on teeth’, ‘fake eyelash falling’ off that type of thing.

A:  Not if you don’t know them, but subtly pointing out lipstick on teeth or a bit of leftover lunch in between the molars to friends can be considerate, so long as you take them to one side to tell them and not highlight it in front of everyone else.


Q: How do you not invite Uncle Harold to the holiday celebration? He always behaves badly and annoys everyone. Would a kindly chat have an impact or does he just get the ax?

A: If his behaviour is really outrageous then he gets the axe, I’m afraid. But perhaps you could tell him why so he can review his behaviour and perhaps score an invitation next year. That said, dis-inviting family members to a family event can be tricky and have political consequences. Tread the water carefully, and good luck with Uncle Harold!


Q: Should you always tell the truth when asked an opinion or is it more polite to be kind (lie)?

A: Tricky one – it does depend on what the question is, to be fair. Opinion on clothes, for example, is a common conundrum. If the person has spent lots of money on something and clearly loves it then telling them they look awful is perhaps not the greatest thing to do. Judge each situation as it comes and if you will hurt the person with your comments then hold your tongue!


Q: Isn’t it considered poor etiquette to act pompous and to look down on people?

A: It is, indeed! Good manners and etiquette do still have their place in modern society, however. Manners are about treating people with respect and not embarrassing anyone. Some people can use etiquette to be divisive and belittle others but that is bad manners!


You can see the full Q&A on our Facebook page here, here and here.

Got an idea for our next Q&A sesh? Drop us a line at with your suggestions!