The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 2 November

Dear Thomas

Do you need special training if you have a young person of 19 to stay? I’m not used to youth, but I thought I’d be all right, even as a single person, when a friend asked me to have her son for the weekend since he’s new to this country. And this boy I’ve known all his life! I didn’t reckon on him being monosyllabic and spending most of the time in bed or in the shower. Beforehand, I made a point of asking the young man if he really wanted to come because I couldn’t be sure that his mother wasn’t pushing him into it. But he was very insistent. All the same, he seemed to hate every minute. What did I do wrong?

Dmitri Preshov, London

Dear Dmitri

House-guest trouble writ large! There’s not much excuse for a late teen carrying on like a classic teen of 16 or so. Although research shows that most teenagers exhibit none or only a few of what are imagined to be the typical teenage symptoms: they are not depressed, withdrawn, selfish and horrid. If it makes you feel any better, your visitor probably couldn’t believe his luck being able to loll in bed for hours in your up-market establishment, and then use up all your hot water. I expect he’s on some student programme, living in basic accommodation. No wonder he wanted to stay with you in the lap of luxury.

The trick with these visiting youths, who might be your children’s exchange students or whatever, is to crack the whip without appearing to do so. Or, to put it another way, from an etiquette point of view, you are the host but also a supervising adult. And, yes, to answer your initial question, you do need special training. The starting point is not some clever plan but the relationship. As in all of life, what matters, or ought to matter, is not whether you have power over someone, but whether you can make a connection. So you must talk to them. That’s the first priority. Don’t be put off by grudging one- word answers. Keep cool and keep smiling. There won’t be instant results. And remember that a two- word answer is progress.

The second priority is structure: never say, ‘You’ve got to do this and you’ve got to do that…’ Give them the opportunity to come up with a plan of activities. If nothing doing, provide one of your own, which quietly obliterates the chance to stay in bed. The third important thing is flexibility: be prepared to abandon your scheme of activities and try something else. It might also be an idea to produce some people of a similar age, but only for a short time initially in case it doesn’t work out. As long as you don’t get cross, you’ll have done your best.

Please write to Thomas at the usual Bedford Street address or email manners@lady.co.uk 


WHAT TO DO ABOUT...'Keep out' signs 

A reader who wishes to remain anonymous has contacted me about a disagreeable notice that has appeared in a wood near her home. It’s difficult to know which is worse: that it’s a pink fluorescent scrawl, or what it says, which is, ‘PRIVATE KEEP OUT’.

The toxic presentation is hard to overlook, especially when it chimes in perfectly with the content. This is the urbanisation of the countryside at its worst. Townie people moving in, putting up fences and rude notices telling everybody to go away. No, no, no: this is not how it’s done in the country. By long tradition, landowners have always welcomed neighbours, or anyone known to them, to walk in their fields and woods. It’s taken on trust such people will understand how to behave and will not trample the crops or let their dogs chase sheep. The ‘private keep out’ approach is nouveau, ignorant and jumped-up. Everything that’s ghastly.

In our present revolutionary times, perpetrators are going to get their comeuppance. A Wealth Tax will be slapped on. Or their domains will be confiscated by the authorities. We can’t have this sort of thing in modern Britain.

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