Friday, 21 February 2014

HOW TO BE MORE POSH: 'The Bluffer's Guide to Etiquette' by William Hanson and an exclusive feature: How to host the perfect tea party.

Apparently, being common is so 2013. For 2014, it's all about good manners, being polite to the person who just pushed in front of you in the queue, and knowing how to greet the Queen properly when you do meet her. When, not if, of course.

Now, I have occasionally been told I am a classy lady - something upon which I pride myself. Sure, I have friends who call me posh, but having scored less than amazingly on this 'How posh are you?' quiz, I realised I still have a lot to learn  -  I ain't no Kate Middleton (yet), that's for sure. (Let me know how you do in the quiz!)

So, when offered a copy of William Hanson's newly-published Bluffer's Guide To Etiquette, I eagerly accepted and proceeded to devour the book in one sitting - one simply must educate oneself about such matters.

You may recognise Hanson from the telleh - he's the UK's leading consultant in etiquette and protocol, and most definitely knows his stuff. What's expecially interesting, however, is that he's only in his 20s. (You were expecting a stuffy greying old man in red cords, weren't you?)

I absolutely LOVED his guide to etiquette! It's very entertaining but also full of useful advice and instruction. If you're hoping to casually sashay into the higher echelons of society, this is the book for you. At 21, it's come into my life at the prime time, and I know I'll be dipping in and out of it again and again.

The book is very funny, full of jibes at Americans and references to the Middletons, Sam Cam and Downton Abbey, and because Hanson takes a light-hearted tone, he doesn't seem snobby, holier-than-thou or patronising to us mere commoners. The text is also broken up with quotes, pictures and examples of things like invitations.

So what did I learn? Well, there are handy lists simply of things you shouldn't say and what you should instead. Apparently you need to know French to be posh, which bodes well for this here French and German student. Less pleasing however, is that you're meant to say 'bag' but not 'handbag' (slightly regretting my blog name now... Oops.)

I now know why the drawing room is called just that, I've learnt how to eat particular foods, and I've discovered that tiaras should only be worn by married women and if they have been passed down through the generations. That one from your dance show circa 2002? Yeah. Best leave it at the back of your wardrobe.

My new Bible
Chapters in the book include:
  • Dinner Party Decorum;
  • Spaghettiquette (the proper way to eat);
  • Twittiquette (how to correctly conduct yourself on social media);
  • Etiquette when Hatched; and
  • Etiquette when Matched (wedding etiquette).

So as you can see, full of really useful and relevant topics. And here are some excerpts:

‘[If questioned what you'd like to drink before dinner] asking for a branded beer like a Corona will make your host feel uneasy for two reasons: a) they won't have any and b) they will be mentally making sure they've locked away their jewellery upstairs.'

‘[When seated at table] you may have a pretty young thing on one side and an old trout on the other but you must charm them equally. It is only good manners to do so.'

‘Assume that when the soup course arrives it will be in a rimmed soup plate rather than a bowl - items that are not correct in formal dining. Only dogs eat out of bowls.'

Here are Hanson's top five tips on how to be more posh in 2014:

1.      Never say ‘Pleased to meet you'. You may think you're being terribly nice saying this upon greeting a stranger, but those in the know will have mentally clocked that you are not saying ‘How do you do?' If you don't know who they are, can you be sure you really are pleased to meet them?

2.      Revise your handshake. The last time someone told you how to shake hands you were probably very young. Get a loved one to review your handshake honestly. Try to avoid being a wet fish or a bone crusher. People judge others on the quality of their handshake.

3.      Abandon Pancake Day. For houses of quality, it's called Shrove Tuesday. Serve crêpes in the evening. Oh, and it's St Valentine's Day, also.

4.      Avoid attending Facebook parties. If you are invited anywhere by Facebook then don't go. It won't be worth it and you'll probably be served beer in the bottle or be given wine that hasn't been decanted.

5.      Pudding v dessert. The final course of a dinner (and arguably the best one) is the pudding. Note, it is called the pudding. NOT ‘dessert'! If you call your lemon posset with spun sugar basket a dessert when dining with the hoity toity, then you might as well prepare for a future dining at a Toby Carvery - where you can help yourself to the dessert buffet for the rest of eternity.

How many of them did you already know? 

I'm a big fan of the book and of Hanson's work, so I'm thrilled to be able to share an exclusive feature he's written especially for Handbags and Cupcakes: How to host the perfect tea party:

"A tea party is one of the most enjoyable ways to spend time with friends, in my opinion.  It’s relatively cheap to put on (as you don’t have to spend money on alcohol) and you could even – shock horror – buy in the cakes and sandwiches if you were really short of time, or are a total klutz in the kitchen.  

Whatever happens don’t forget to explain to your guests what everything is on your tea tray.  Technically, tiered cake stands are for hotels.  Private houses then and now will simply serve their offering on several plates.  You won’t find a three-tiered cake stand at Buckingham Palace (not for private entertaining, anyway).  That said, they are pretty and save on space if you don’t have a coffee table the size of a football pitch.  

Ensure each guest has a small fork or pastry fork, tea napkin (correctly 12 inches square) and small plate.  If more than three guests then I suggest you get out the second (or third) tea pot, this will also spare you running back and forth to the kitchen too many times.  

Finally, if you are hosting on your own, don’t be a martyr and do everything yourself.  Good guests will offer to help and don’t be afraid to accept their offer once in a while.  Have some jobs put aside that guests can do if and when they ask – this could be helping to warm the teapot, taking the cling film off the plates, or helping welcome other guests (although really you as host should do this, but if you’re clad in oven gloves, glasses steamed up from the oven door, dealing with piping hot scones, it is perfectly acceptable to dispatch a friend to answer the door!)  Happy tea partying!"

And there you have it, folks. Now we shall all be perfect tea party hosts. Thanks so much to William for the special feature and I thoroughly recommend his book.

The Bluffer's Guide to Etiquette is available for Kindle and iPad at and the iBookstore (RRP £4.99); the print edition is available at and all good book and gift shops (RRP £6.99).

Hanson calls it 'a handbook for social climbing - the Middleton family proving that it is still very possible to do this. And for those who are, like me, already socially affluent, it provides an amusing tableaux of the unwritten rules of the cut-glass finger bowl brigade.'


  1. Rachel, first time commenting. Just wanted to say that I love your blog as I really like Germany and I've been fascinated to follow your experiences and travels. You've got a great writing style and your enthusiasm is infectious! You and I are far apart in age and location, but I always felt that if I was travelling through Bavaria I could invite you out for Kaffee und Kuchen and a natter.

    All of that is a bit a preamble to saying: really not sure today's post did you justice. You seem like someone with an open heart and an open mind: why then would you care whether someone said "pleased to meet you" rather than "how do you do?"? Why does it matter, when someone's gone to the trouble of making you a lovely soup, that it's in a bowl, not a "rimmed soup plate"? It seems so antiquated, so hidebound - so much about dividing people into arbitrary "them" and "us" - something I've never previously got the impression that you were like from your blog.

    I'll assume it's a blip, wish you luck in your move to France and at the blog awards, and keep on reading. X

    1. Hello and thank you for making your first comment. It's so lovely to hear you're enjoying reading my blog. Really lovely of you to say such kind things.

      Sorry you didn't totally love this post. It was all meant in a light-hearted, jokey manner though. Maybe I should've made it clearer that I see it all taken with a pinch of salt: of course I don't really care in the slightest what bowl my soup is served in - heck, I'm about to eat some straight from a tupperware myself! But I thought the book was funny and interesting nonetheless.

      Thanks for your comment though as well as the luck and I hope you do keep on reading :) X


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