The Etiquette of Personal Space: Don’t’ Stand Too Close To Me!

Monday, October 5th, 2015

I am lucky enough to live in the English countryside and although I am frequently in London for meetings or travelling worldwide for The English Manner, I suppose it is not often nowadays that I am standing in a large crowd of people or waiting in anything other than an orderly, still very British, queue at a checkout or in line for service.

It struck me yesterday evening, whilst waiting for my daughter and her friend to return from a travelling vacation in India, how those who live and work in this country appear to have lost their awareness of the etiquette of personal space. Yes, there is an etiquette for it!

The world is getting smaller and more crowded and the closer our paths cross with others the more important it must become to ensure that we feel safe and respected. That could be on a pavement or in an airport concourse, moving through doorways and in and out of buses, trains, lifts and any public space.

When teaching people to enter a room and network, my first rule is ‘stop look and listen’. Be aware of the people around you, yet last night not one person waiting for their colleagues or loved ones seemed to be aware of anyone else in the same situation. People were oblivious to the fact that by waving their name card in the air straight into my face or at the back of my head, that they were not only standing too close but were actually being a menace! I am only 5’6” tall and fairly slight, but am I really that insignificant? Don’t I command any thought that perhaps I too needed to see across the barrier and crowd to be able to identify the girls coming through? The so called etiquette expert was in a dilemma, having leaned away as far as I could and shifted position several times, I wondered if I should just come right out and say something, but wary of making a scene and having to explain why I needed more space to peer into the revolving doors without having my head knocked off by their arms, I instead retreated, cowed, to another position further along the line.

Then of course the usual bug bear of earphones and obsessive checking of mobiles kicked in – too easy now for us to be totally absorbed in checking emails and texts whilst being unaware of anyone around us and also where we are standing or worse still walking with heads down! Stop it, please!

If walking in a crocodile or a line, we were always taught to keep up just as we are told when driving to keep up with the traffic.   A good rule to follow and again, the mobile phone users take note: don’t suddenly stop in the street or in a crowded area and check your damn phone! Move to one side and be aware of your surroundings. When on the phone give yourself space. Apart from the safety aspect, do we all really need to listen to you telling your friend what you are having for dinner?

Allow others to come through a door or exit a taxi or a lift before you try to get in. Hold a lift door or a heavy door instead of pretending not to notice or perhaps even worse, not noticing. If you are standing near a lift button, ask your fellow travellers which floor they need instead of making them squeeze past you to press the required button.

Personal space is a term used to define the physical distance between two people in a social, family or business environment. It is an invisible shield, formed around you to create a distance, and is important not only for privacy and security, but for our own feeling of personal safety now too. Years ago I was mugged on my way back from the office to home just a mile or so away on foot; since I was approached from behind and held at knifepoint, I have been highly aware of anyone coming up close behind me from that day. I realise that has perhaps made me a bit paranoid, but the rule of thumb applies: the comfort zone is a few feet unless you know someone exceptionally well. So everyone, let’s try to keep a distance of 3-10 feet for public spaces and if crowds allow, 4-12 feet is best. And, whilst we are on the subject, don’t tailgate on the airport slip road either; we all want to get home too!

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We Celebrate Our Queen’s Achievement This Week

Thursday, September 10th, 2015

I am going to indulge myself a little this month and hark back to my career roots in The Royal Household of Her Majesty The Queen.  This month marks the spectacular achievement of Her Majesty’s tenure as the longest reigning monarch in our history, and The English Manner offers every congratulation to The Queen.

A quite remarkable woman, as a former employee I have only warm and happy memories of my time in the Household and having the honour to interact with the Royal Family; and as a subject of the United Kingdom, I have the utmost admiration and respect for our Queen.

Her Majesty has never put a foot wrong and, as someone put it on the wireless today, her reign has seen the invention of the Mini, the internet, Facebook, numerous terrible conflicts and too many changes of Government to mention, but The Queen remains a constant and whether a Republican or a Royalist, one has to admire that tenacity and durability.  This monarch has without doubt given us tremendous stability in times of worldwide strife.

Her Majesty became the longest reigning British Monarch on 9th September 2015

Her Majesty became the longest reigning British   Monarch on 9th September 2015

We have been fortunate enough this year to lead cultural learning experiences for guests from China and America as well as some from other parts of the world.  As part of these programmes we have shown the power of the British Monarchy in tourism and it is without doubt one of our greatest exports!  We have enjoyed exclusive private tours of Kensington Palace, The Crown Jewels and the Tower of London, The Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace and indeed, Buckingham Palace itself.  This year’s exhibit of the arrangements for a State Banquet are absolutely superb and I am sure the wonderful late Master of the Household Sir Peter Ashmore would be thrilled to see how it has been laid out to show visitors how it is done.

For our part, as we consistently teach to British Royal Standards, I am delighted that we have been able to showcase table settings and placements, and decorations the way we have been alluding to for years!  A truly super exhibit, and for those who have not yet seen it, I urge a visit before it closes on 27th September.

We have once again this year been to Sandringham House, and I hosted a very special group at that most beloved Scottish castle, Balmoral.  Remodelled extensively by Queen Victoria, I was struck this time by the restoration of the gardens and the new visitor centre facilities.  It must be 25 years since my last visit, and memories of the Summer Court and long stays as the nights drew in were abundant as we arrived in glorious warm sunshine to be greeted by a guide who remembered my time there in the 1980s!

The beautiful cottage where we Household girls stayed boasts a new kitchen but looked pretty much the same otherwise, and I will always remember the wonderfully kind Housekeeper taking pity on me as I shivered on the Highland evenings and allowed me a two bar electric fire in my room to keep me warm as well as the must have dram of whisky!

Sandringham House

Sandringham House

A journey to Balmoral is quite a long one from most parts of the country, but it is well worth the visit.  The Royal Whisky Distillery at Lochnagar is a superb tour; a more commercial one than the smallest distillery at Edradour (worth visiting en route at Pitlochry to see the difference between the two) and there are wonderful walks around the Estate itself.  Not open to visitors whilst Her Majesty is there over the summer months, but certainly one to head up the list for 2016 if you have a chance.

The visitor centre at Balmoral is superb, and if you peep inside the church at Crathie Kirk, you will see remnants of generations of the real Royal Family; a real live family, of grandparents, children, grandchildren and friends, who gather together with the occasional official visit from the Prime Minister or others, on their summer holidays, worshipping each Sunday in their local church.

Balmoral Castle

Balmoral Castle

As the summer, such as we have seen it, draws to a close and the nights and mornings darken, we wish Her Majesty many more years on the throne, and a very happy summer holiday at Balmoral!

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Not very jolly but often necessary – the importance of Death Notices

Thursday, September 3rd, 2015

A death notice should simply state the facts.  Sentimentality and gushing tributes are not correct here.

Pared down, a notice should read:

PARKER – On 4th May, Ruth Iona.

However you can also include a little bit of factual information, such as key relatives and the time and place of the funeral:

PARKER – On 4th May at home. Ruth Iona, beloved wife of Michael.  Funeral service at St Mark’s Church, Church Road, Bristol, Wednesday 15th May at 11am.  Private family committal afterwards.

It was once practice to include the deceased’s address but common sense has stopped this as, inevitably, enterprising thieves were scouring the newspapers for ideas for their next heist.  What is important now is to give enough information that readers who may have known the deceased can identify their friends & family.


In Britain, it is still thought the smartest people die in The Times or the Daily Telegraph.  However, in today’s society the death notice should be placed in the newspaper that is read by the majority of the deceased’s peers.  For example, if the deceased was a big figure locally then an announcement in the local newspaper is wise – especially as national newspapers charge an extortionate and distasteful amount for such notices.

An obituary is at the discretion of a newspaper editor.   They cannot be bought, unlike the above death notices, and usually only appear if the deceased has been of notable prominence during their lifetime.  The best obituaries are mini-biographies that present the facts of the life just lost.

Finally, remember that a person is not socially dead until the funeral has happened.  That is when they become ‘the late X’.

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Announcing our new ‘Three-Day Masterclass in Protocol’

Monday, August 31st, 2015

The English Manner and the Protocolbureau have joined forces and developed a practical protocol training in Brussels, London and The Hague

Want to know how to manage a visit of a high-level delegation or a national day? How to handle formal written communication? How to navigate a formal dinner? How to be aware of the sensitivities when placing guests? What is the right order of precedence and which guests rank most highly? After completing this three-day masterclass, you will be equipped to meet the challenges and complexities of modern protocol management.

The English Manner and the Protocolbureau will teach you all the basics of international protocol and etiquette, and the management of high-level events. You will be inspired, gain insight and indispensible knowledge and skills. You will become proficient in preparing meetings with dignitaries and become an advisor for colleagues.

The course is ideal for embassy staff, those working for international or multi-lateral organisations, public relations and public affairs specialists, personal assistants, event planners, communication experts and protocol officers.

The Three-Day Masterclass in Protocol of The English Manner (London, United Kingdom) and the Protocolbureau (The Hague, Netherlands) will be held in Brussels (December), London (November) and The Hague (October).

The English Manner is a worldwide operating organisation founded by Alexandra Messervy, formerly of the Royal Household of Her Majesty The Queen. The Protocolbureau is the number one protocol expert of the Netherlands.

The training will be given among other by the Honorary Chamberlain and former Master of Ceremonies of H.M. Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands, Gilbert Monod de Froideville, former BBC newsreader Diana Mather, the UK’s leading etiquette expert William Hanson, and the Head of Protocol, Events & Visits of the International Criminal Court, Bengt-Arne Hulleman.

”With the worldwide expertise of both organisations we are able to offer a truly unique practical protocol training that covers all the basics in only three days” – Jean Paul Wyers, director of the Protocolbureau

For more information please visit:

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Being a Guest in a Staffed House – Part One

Thursday, August 20th, 2015

Shooting season is upon us and long weekends in country houses across the land will be the norm for the privileged few.  For newcomers fortunate enough to be included in these rituals for the first time, there are some standard routines to follow which will have you mingling with the long-time guests with minimum notice.

These are also good guidelines for anyone visiting a staffed house at any time of year. For many, the idea of staff is associated with hotels where guests are accustomed to making demands and giving orders.  In a staffed house, remember the staff do not report to you and also be mindful that they are the eyes and ears of your hosts.

Remember that the staff are the eyes and ears of the host!

Remember that the staff are the eyes and ears of the host!

First, please arrive at the agreed time.  This may have been dictated by your host or hostess, or agreed according to your Friday commitments and train times (common for the younger guests who may actually work in The City).

At one house, guests were given very specific, staggered arrival times and as they all drove, it was common for them all to meet up at a particular bridge about half a mile from the house.  Here they would pass the time and mingle, each leaving to arrive at their appointed time.  This eased the household routine enormously allowing for each guest to be welcomed and escorted to their room, giving staff time to unpack, offer guests a welcome drink, etc., which would have been impossible had six or eight guests arrived simultaneously.  The butler, of course, knew of the guests’ routine to meet away from the house, but it is unclear whether the host ever caught on.

Do not expect to be greeted by your hosts who you will probably not see until tea.  The butler will provide any information you need, dress code for dinner, etc., so don’t be afraid to ask. The butler will offer to unpack for you and while this is a genuine offer and one that you may accept, it is the norm amongst regular guests to demur that they are happy to look after themselves.

The butler will probably know if you have arrived directly from home or if you have been travelling, and if you have been travelling, will probably enquire if there is perhaps any laundry or pressing you would like done.  This is a genuine offer of convenience for those in need; it is not an opportunity for you to unload two week’s worth of clothes for laundry and pressing while you are there.  Likewise, do not ask to have seven shirts ironed if you are staying two nights. Pressing services are intended to rescue poorly packed clothes, not replace your personal laundry routine.

You should only ask for a minimum amount of ironing to be done!

Country clothes are appropriate, and this may include the clothes you have travelled in, for tea on arrival. But if your helicopter has brought you directly from your office, it is appropriate to change for tea.

Do not linger at tea.  By the time your hosts have gone up to dress, so should you. The same staff who need to clear tea will also be setting up drinks and getting on with the dining room.

If you have been invited to join your hosts for drinks in the library (or wherever) at 7:00 pm, you have the usual 10-minute grace period and should arrive by 7:10, suitably attired. Pay attention to the dress code (amongst the younger set, “black tie no tie” has become fashionable for the men and is perfectly acceptable, but looks increasingly sad once past 30).

Ladies should never out-dress or out-bejewel the hostess. Generally, diamonds are not appropriate in the country, although there are some stunning exceptions for important pieces.

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