The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 17 November

Dear Thomas

What to do about time-wasters? I have a dear friend with whom I go shopping. Most of the time the experience is a joy. But he is a terrible time-waster. Shop assistants will nearly pull a shop apart in an effort to please, but at the last moment, often after choosing several expensive items, he will suddenly change his mind and leave the shop. He never has any intention of buying anything. I know it. I cringe with embarrassment. Should I put a stop to it and tell the assistant, or is it part of life’s rich pattern? He is beautifully dressed and can certainly afford the items. But it seems to me very bad manners from a gentleman in later life.

Muriel Bowden, Lytham St Annes

Dear Muriel Well,

Usually the act of going shopping together is lethal to any relationship, so your bond must have a special strength. The number of men you see slumped in despair in department stores, especially at weekends, while the women riffle through the racks of frocks. Only young couples, in the first flush of romance, seem to enjoy shopping together, but how long will that last?

In the current climate, I feel obliged to mention: any sexist stereotyping is reliably based on statistics – so there.

Ideally, shopping is a solitary activity, is it not? Or am I wildly wrong? You’ve got so many pits into which you could fall – some dawdling, others not, some only interested in their own purchases, not supportive of others buying, or blank horror at what the shopping companions insisting on having but not being able to say so, or being rail-roaded into getting something against your will.

Of course you do hear of wonderfully successful ‘girlfriend’ shopping expeditions – so what’s the secret?

And here, an even rarer thing: a man and a woman shopping together, although I can see that him having the shop turned upside down for nothing on a regular basis is awkward. You could perhaps make a joke of it to show the assistant you’re concerned and relieve your feelings. Just say generally: ‘Oh, that is a tricky shelf to get something down from,’ or ‘So sorry, now you’ll have to tidy up your display.’ As his choices pile up, make remarks that assume he really is going to buy them: ‘That will look wonderful on your mantelpiece,’ etc. Even: ‘I might almost buy that for you.’ All this could do the trick of embarrassing him out of his embarrassing behaviour. Before he gets the chance to move on to the third or fourth thing he’s not going to buy, you could suggest paying and moving on to the next shop because the truth might be he’s doing all this because he’s a bit bored with that shop but doesn’t like to say so.

Please send your questions to or write to him at The Lady, 39-40 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ER

WHAT TO DO ABOUT...British Style

I'm grateful to The Lady’s wonderful staff writer, Melonie Clarke, for alerting me to the results of an important survey. ‘Not quite to do with etiquette,’ she says, but I wonder. Racing Green, the clothing company, surveyed 2,000 people re: what is British style? The answer: wellies, flat caps and tweed jackets. What on earth to make of this, when 90% of the population lives in cities? When it comes to home décor, 67% opted for floral designs as the premier British look, with antique styling, country/period, shabby chic/rustic all following closely behind. The quintessential British items to have in your home are: a teapot, net curtains, a four-poster bed and an aga. Cynics might conclude that when surveyed, people tend to depart into a nostalgic dream world. Perhaps harmless, especially if 75% believe that we’re a stylish nation. More telling is what the survey discovered about British style sins: No 1 is sports/active/ leisure wear worn when there is no intention of taking exercise. Now you’re talking: I so agree. What I call the pull-on look, trackie bottoms, hoodies, leisure ‘tops’, all regularly boil-washed to ruination, yet kept in service – it’s the bane of our age.