The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 22 June

Dear Thomas

So the World Cup has started. Several friends have indicated that the TV will be on if I call in when there’s an ‘important’ match taking place. What I’m really asking is: do we have to get excited about the World Cup, even if we don’t like football? Is it letting the side down to be bored by it all?

Candia Talbot, Exeter

Dear Candia

If you’re talking about patriotism, don’t forget the complication: are you Scottish, English, Welsh or Irish? Or all four? I’ve never taken an interest in football, but once in the 1990s, it went deathly quiet on my street on a summer’s evening. Occasionally a strange roaring came from people’s houses. ‘We’ were playing in some massive match or other. So I turned on my TV and got caught up in the occasion, although I still maintain that you can’t see the ball until it’s too late when viewing football on the small screen.

So, yes, we get more involved than we realise. Everybody knows about the great moments, when Gazza cried and David Beckham got sent off. Oh, and that Achilles injury in the Beckham foot, which so wracked the English nation that the Poet Laureate wrote a poem about it. To affect complete indifference would be, well… a bit affected. Not very convincing.

And this time round there’s the rather fascinating Russian aspect. You remember on 27 April I considered Russian manners: what are the Russians like, basically. Now, with the World Cup frenzy, the whole topic has re-emerged. Football intellectuals have been on TV explaining how Russia has so many borders it has acquired a defensive mentality through its long history. This is why they worship goalkeepers of all the possible types of player. Russians are being taught to smile in preparation for the onslaught of foreign visitors. But one Russian lady said she’d been arrested for smiling. Russians don’t smile in public. I suppose it might undermine their defensive position. If cultural understanding is an offshoot of the World Cup, it can’t be a bad thing. Then there’s the perennial worry about the fans. You remember when the World Cup was in Japan, the England supporters were strangely tamed by that ferociously polite (and tidy) culture. So what will happen in Russia? I hope there won’t already have been difficulties by the time you read this.

Let’s hope they take the advice of my correspondent, Miriam Hall, who says of her visit to Russia: ‘A mutual understanding of good manners between visitor and host must always prevail. The culture and etiquette will often feel strange, but go along with it, be pleasant and friendly, show an interest in the country and don’t draw attention to yourself. Keep a low profile, absorb everything you see, for you can talk about these things afterwards.

Please write to Thomas at the usual Bedford Street address or email

WHAT TO DO ABOUT...Nice lorries 

Have you heard about the four-year-old cyclist who was whizzing along on a trailer bike (a bike attached to another bike that is doing all the work, in this case being pedaled by the child’s father, Tom)? he little girl, Rhoda Jones, lives in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, but for some reason was cycling in Jedburgh, Scotland. Well, the big event was that a lorry came along and gave them a wide berthie, didn’t terrify and/or cover them in dust, mud or other debris. Rhonda acknowledged the courtesy with a thumbs- up, calling out ‘thank you’. We know this because a video of the incident was posted on Twitter by her family and has been viewed over 700,000 times. Everything is right about this story: alert, responsive four-year-old, in command of the situation, thoughtful lorry driver, and footage posted online that isn’t dissing someone, exposing would-be horrible, abusive or dangerous behaviour. I’ve mentioned before how one-sided and self-righteous these postings online of camera footage can be. This one is undiluted joy.