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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When Technology Fails We Become Human Again

Monday, August 10th, 2015

I’m never sure whether I enjoy jumping on the train to go to London. Up until recently I haven’t been in a job where I have had to travel far (only from classroom to staff room for biscuits) and there remains an element of novelty and excitement as I plan my infrequent journeys to the “smoke” for meetings.

I always book a seat; really only because the online system does it for me. But it means I have no choice as to my travel partner, or, if you are lucky enough to find your reservation on a central table, partners. Grab a coffee, patiently avoid the sales patter to add a Spelt and Fruit Muffin to one’s order, and calmly climb aboard Coach C. And then what?

Nobody looks up. That might not be surprising when one considers they might have boarded the train at St. Earth sometime late last night, but it still smacks of mild rudeness. No acknowledgement. Until you make it clear that you are climbing towards your seat, and then begrudging half-movements, creating hamster sized gaps. Sit. Stay clam. Smile inwardly. And then what?

Passengers rarely even look up nowadays let alone acknowledge each other

Passengers rarely even look up nowadays let alone acknowledge each other

Plug your phone / laptop / tablet in to the plug point. Oh, no, they are already taken. Start to do some work (email some people who you will be talking to at a meeting in less than three hours), and keep on doing the same, through to Westbury, Reading and points East.

And why was I ever even vaguely excited at the prospect of such a journey. It never varies. That is what we do on early morning trains to London. Radial spokes of busy people all rushing on trains each day, all moving centrally; inexorably and individually.

That is until the free wi-fi packed up yesterday morning. Suddenly heads came up. Commuters smiled, acknowledged each other and conversation started. A delightful gentleman offered to buy coffee for those of us seated around our table; on his return he refused our obvious and pressing offers of reimbursement. We chatted through Westbury, Reading and points East. He has children and lives in Totnes. The other chap, ruggedly dressed in a jacket that made me feel that he might have abseiled to the station, shared his thoughts on Preston (he was born there). Phones, iPads and laptops were ignored. Yes, we could have used 3G connectivity, but we chose not to. Just for an hour we chatted and chatted and it was fabulous.

I sprang off the train and felt better as a result of having enjoyed the simple pleasure of conversation with strangers. It is what we used to do on trains “in the old days”, but is so rare now. Would it have happened if the wi-fi hadn’t fizzled out? I doubt it. But it was fun whilst it lasted. Fun and rewarding.

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Why Etiquette and Manners are Always In Vogue

Wednesday, May 27th, 2015

I find that time spent poring in leisurely fashion through the vast array of ‘sections’ of a Sunday newspaper is time well spent. Sometimes one finds news in the newspaper and such a discovery can make the day truly worthwhile. All too often page turning merely reveals a headline necessitating a prompt turn to the next page and the next headline… but imagine my delight at coming across a recent article by Camilla Long of The Sunday Times.

Camilla opened by admitting “I’ve become completely obsessed with the country’s leading etiquette expert, William Hanson”. She went on to refer to him as a “human comb-over utterly consumed by napkins”, before stating that she has missed etiquette experts “so much”. She infers that there has been a time when etiquette experts have been out of vogue, when manners have neither been relevant, nor topical. She is, of course, so wrong. Well, partly wrong – my friend and colleague, William, actually does have the most spectacular comb-over.

William Hanson, Etiquette Expert and Director of Operations at The English Manner

William Hanson, Etiquette Expert and Director of Operations at The English Manner

Manners have never gone away. The method of the coaching of the skills and knowledge associated with manners might well have changed, and changed for the better, but there has always been a need for the recognition for a set of social norms in order to impose self-restraint and compromise on regular, everyday actions.

William, as a role model to both adults and children, is superb in that he lives and breathes his subject – he does it properly and takes his role very seriously indeed. Whilst he laces his guidance with buckets of often-irreverent humour and anecdotes, he firmly believes that the traditional approach, based upon passing on a knowledge assumed over generations, is necessary in order for individuals to establish how to develop their own style, their own set of rules and compromises.

William Hanson teaching children the importance of confident table manners

William Hanson teaching children the importance of confident table manners

William, along with his colleagues at The English Manner, aims to inspire confidence in his charges, allowing them to know how it has been done in the past and how it can be done right now – the teaching of manners and social etiquette has never been so popular, relevant and fun. Especially if you happen to be lucky enough to be taught by William Hanson.

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The Magic of being Mindful

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015

So you have checked your Facebook feed, snap chatted with your friends, instagrammed what you are eating right now and connected to everyone through the ether. Then why do you feel so disconnected and anxious about not getting a ‘like’ on your status or post?


Now breathe in slowly and now breathe out.

Why should I? I hear you ask.

Recent studies show the benefits of just taking a moment and focusing on your breathing can improve any of the following;

  • Lower stress
  • Improve exam results
  • Shorten migraines
  • Protect your heart

And that is just for starters.

Mindfulness is defined by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Mindfulness–Based Stress Reduction programme at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, as ’Paying attention in a particular way, on purpose and in the present moment.’

In my 121 tutoring with students and professionals alike, I share the benefits of Mindfulness at the end of our session. We slow everything down, focus on the in and out breath and start to really ‘See’, ‘Hear’ and ‘Feel’ what is going on. The key here is about being present, distancing yourself from the chaos, to just be.

The trial results carried out with children in the classroom over a four-month period, recorded astonishing results and can be seen in the journal Developmental Psychology.

Taking a moment to breathe deeply can make all the difference

Taking a moment to breathe deeply can make all the difference to your stress levels

The children in the Mindfulness studies out performed their peers. The results, I think, speak for themselves;

  • 15% Higher math’s grades
  • 24% Rise in positive behaviour
  • 20% Increase in sociability
  • 24% Decrease in aggressive behaviour

The other areas of noticeable changes in the students were: improved cognitive control, lower stress levels, emotional stability, students feeling more optimistic and increased empathy towards others. This also had a ripple effect across the teaching staff as well as at home.

Google and Apple are amongst the progressive companies that employ Mindfulness techniques. It has been proved to increase decision-making skills, creativity and exam performance.

Being mindful clearly has so many wonderful benefits, so why not take some time and just ‘be’ in the moment, you will notice the difference, I promise.

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