3 May 2022

Showing that you care

Good manners are about the basic courtesies that make everyday transactions more pleasurable, and everyone will find them an asset, both socially and professionally.

But there are further refinements of these fundamental codes of behaviour that will enhance social life. These are the small gestures, which show that you care, that you have taken the trouble to notice and accommodate other people, and done your best to make them feel at ease.

As society has evolved, and become less class-ridden and more democratic, people have rejected the more arcane examples of British manners, which seem increasingly irrelevant to modern life. This is understandable, but there is a risk in doing so that some of the more effective niceties will also be obliterated.

As a general rule, your guests will appreciate signs of forethought and planning, which will indicate that their comfort is important to you, and that you are prepared to make an extra effort to ensure they are enjoying themselves. The only risk is that you will overwhelm your guests with your attention, but this is a much better option than leaving them feeling neglected or forgotten.

We are all aware, for example, of the formal accoutrements that will make a dinner party special – seating plan, table linen, matching crockery and glassware, table decorations, candles, and so on, will all send out signals about the occasion. But even if you are inviting friends round to an informal lunch or supper, there are certain finishing touches that will communicate the care you have taken to make them feel welcome.

If you lay the table before they arrive – it signals that you are looking forward to their company and have planned and prepared ahead for it. Even if you are not going for a fully decorated table, add a little finishing touch – a small posy of flowers or some candlesticks for example – to indicate that this is a special occasion.

Give everyone a napkin, or at least a paper napkin – providing hastily torn-off segments of kitchen towel is fine for a family supper but will indicate you are not paying special attention to your guests.

The days of formal house parties are long gone and forgotten – for many of us having people to stay involves improvisation rather than time-honoured arrangements, and we accommodate our guests in hastily purloined children’s bedrooms or on sofa beds. But, however minimal your guest facilities, you can still show you care.

If you do have a guest room (or even a borrowed bedroom) try and prepare it before your guest arrives – guests who have to stand by while the bed is being made up will feel that they are imposing on the host. If you have to improvise for your guest and provide them with a sofa bed that cannot be made up until the end of the evening, at least have the bed linen, pillows and duvet prepared and ready. It shows that you have planned for their stay and done your best to minimise inconvenience.

If your guest has their own bedroom, add some finishing touches: a vase of flowers on the dressing table, an inviting pile of books on the bedside table, a fresh bar of soap, a radio. This attention to detail will show that you care about your guest’s comfort and are happy that they have come to stay.

It is always better to err on the side of making too much effort rather than too little. This is very apparent in how we dress. Strict dress codes are becoming less common and many social invitations are therefore difficult to interpret. Nevertheless, it is better to dress up rather than down for most social occasions. You may feel overdressed, but you will probably look better turned out and smarter than more casually dressed guests and there is the added bonus that the host will see that you have taken some trouble and will appreciate it. By making a bit of an effort you are paying a compliment to your host, and what could be politer than that?

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