The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 13 April

Dear Thomas

One of the many irritations of modern life which I am encountering is the following: people who reply to me with, ‘Yes, that should be okay,’ instead of the much more reassuring, ‘That will be okay,’ with the emphasis on ‘will’.

I had this today from a tradesman in relation to a date we arranged for a home visit. I also have this response fairly often from a team of volunteers I manage when I ask if they can be put on the duty rota on a specific date. It leaves me with a lingering doubt that they may tell me at the last minute they are not available.

Am I being overly sensitive about this refusal in some people to properly commit to something they have agreed to do?

Margaret, via email   

Dear Margaret

No, I don’t think you are. Quite right: this is definitely a problem of modern manners. You ask someone what time they’re coming. ‘Oh, around six,’ they say, or even, ‘It should be around six.’ Well, when is that, exactly? More radically, that clever little insertion of ‘should’ suggests, as you say, the possibility that the person will be a total no-show, total failure:‘I should be able to make the scones for the Over-60s Tea.’ Marvellous. It’s just too bad, I suppose, if the over-60s face no scones, just blank plates on the tea table.

Why all this fluffiness? Why this commitment phobia? People may not be busier than ever before, but easy electronic communication means we’re more frantic. Invitations, requests, possibilities are pouring in at all times. It does the head in. So, up to a point, there’s understandable muddle and confusion.

But, more deeply – massive dangerous generalisation coming up – many of us don’t have the energy and dynamism to say, ‘Yes, I’ll do it gladly.’ Isn’t it only the few who have the attack and determination to get things done and get them done well? The rest of us just amble on agreeably, following vaguely well-intentioned but not wanting too much stress.

There’s not much that can be done about the ‘should be’ responses. If you put pressure on them to make a firm commitment, they’ll just grow even more evasive. Although you could say, in a jolly way, ‘Oh how nice, well, I’ll see you at the hall (or wherever) at 4pm with your Victoria sponges.’ See if they dare to defy you.

Even if you say nothing, the irony is they probably will turn up in some shape or form and do their voluntary work or carry out building activities, after a fashion. Persistent offenders you can dispense with, of course. As for the rest of them, they’re followers. You’re the leader, by the sound of it. That’s just how it is.

Please send your questions to thomas.blaikie@lady.co.uk or write to him at The Lady, 39-40 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ER


WHAT TO DO ABOUT...Cream tea

Good Morning Britain’s Piers Morgan suffered a catastrophic make-up fail in early March. His face was a marvelous orange glow, but his hands… oh, dear, when he put his hands to his face, horror of horrors, his hands were deathly white. Someone had forgotten to bronze his hands. (Or he had forgotten himself.) ‘Looked like your hands belonged to somebody else,’ a wag tweeted, and Piers Morgan was obliged to issue jokes on the subject via Twitter himself. It’s funny how hands let us down. There’s nothing cosmetic surgeons can do about aging hands. As far as I know, there’s no bronzer for the hands. It would come off and get everywhere. Or the skin on the palm in particular wouldn’t take the bronzer. So, in normal life rather than TV life, there’s nothing for it but to wear gloves. The real problem is we’re noticing too much about each other these days. High- definition TV, endless selfies… too much is coming out. Too much detail. People say they must be ‘Instagram- ready’ at all times. But what you see on TV and in photos – it’s not real life.

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