Modern Manners for Christmas

For the first time in its history, Debrett’s, the authority on social skills and modern manners, have revealed the questions they are most frequently asked by the public. The list, which covers everything from social kissing to mobile phone use, provides a revealing insight into the social anxiety people experience in behaviour for everyday situations. We may no longer live in the structured world of ‘Downtown Abbey’, but it’s clear that many of us still yearn for guidance on good manners.

Debrett’s was founded in London in 1769, and now has an international presence. In the last 12 months they received more than 10,000 enquiries from across the globe. The enquiries on social behaviour inform part of the recently released Debrett’s Handbook, a 480-page compendium on good manners.

Below Debrett’s reveal the questions they have been most frequently asked in the last 12 months, and provide their responses.


Debrett’s receive more enquiries about mobile use than any other device. According to Debrett’s, it is always rude to pay more attention to a phone than a person in the flesh, and they should always be put away when transacting other business – for example, when you’re paying for something in a shop. They should be switched off in theatres, cinemas (including during the trailers!), art galleries, or any space where silence is desired.


As electronic cigarettes become more popular, so to do the number of enquiries that Debrett’s receive on the device. The most pressing question is whether they are acceptable in the workplace. According to Debrett’s they should never be used in a work environment. Vaping shows that you’re not focused on your work and may also be a distraction to your colleagues.


Many people are clearly unclear on the subject of social kissing. According to Debrett’s, kissing is not appropriate in many professional situations. On the whole it should only be used among friends, but not on first meeting. An air kiss, without contact, may seem rude or impersonal, so very slight contact is best but no sound effects are needed.


Following the recent controversy surrounding public-shaming websites, Debrett’s has been inundated with enquiries as to whether it’s acceptable to eat or apply make-up on public transport. According to Debrett’s you should avoid both. It’s inconsiderate to eat smelly food in a confined environment, and applying make-up on public transport can jeopardise that all-important first impression and make you appear disorganised.


This is a common bugbear. According to Debrett’s, it’s selfish to recline your seat back during short daytime flights. When travelling by plane always stay within your own designated space and don’t hog the armrest. Also avoid kicking the back of the seat in front of you or using it as an aid to standing-up.


In a recent university experiment only 20% of London tube passengers offered to give up their seat to a visibly pregnant woman. According to Debrett’s, passengers should always offer to give up their seat to any individual that is pregnant, elderly, or clearly in need. It is important to remember, however, that it is just as rude to aggressively decline the offer of a seat as it is to not offer a seat.


Debrett’s receive a high level of enquiries on best business practice. The most commonly asked question is whether it is ever right to blind copy (bcc) someone into an email. According to Debrett’s, blind copying should be used discerningly as it is deceptive to the primary recipient. Instead, the email should be forwarded on to the third party, with a short note explaining any confidentiality, after its distribution.

If blind copying is essential – i.e. for a confidential document where all recipients must remain anonymous – then the sender should address the email to themselves, and everyone else as ‘bcc’ recipients.


The final question is one that we’ve all asked ourselves: is it rude to start eating at the table before everyone else has been served? According to Debrett’s the simple answer is yes, unless the host or hostess gives their permission for diners to start.

Editor of Debrett’s Handbook, Jo Bryant, said: “The sheer number of enquiries we receive demonstrates that manners are still hugely important to people. It can be a minefield knowing how to behave in social situations, but the key is to always consider those around you. The Debrett’s Handbook provides guidelines that will make everyday life easier, removing anxiety and minimising social awkwardness.”

Out now, Debrett’s Handbook is the most comprehensive book Debrett’s has ever published aside from its famed registers, People of Today and Peerage & Baronetage, and combines Debrett’s Correct Form with a guide to modern manners for the first time. Priced at £35, and available from the Debrett’s online shop (, Debrett’s Handbook will make for a great Christmas present – and it’s sure to settle a number of age-old family debates on manners and appropriate behaviour!

Polly has almost 20 years in the media industry. As Editor of Andover and Villages, she strives to bring the latest and greatest news with a minutes notice. Polly can be contacted via or alternatively called at