Etiquette Not Dead

'no, after you'

'no, after you'

Last night I introduced the fantastic Robert Goddard, who was giving the NAW lecture at the Birmingham Book Festival.  He’s a speaker who can make a 500 seat auditorium seem like a living room, partly because he knows what he’s talking about. 

A crime writer, he says, has to get things right.  And to get things right, it helps to be the kind of person who protects detail like others feel for kittens.  If temperamenally you enjoy searching out errors in ancient train timetables (Bradshaw’s (d.1961) for maximum satisfaction) , you could do worse than try your hand at a crime novel.

Also, it’s always reassuring when at a public event a professional storyteller turns out to be brilliant at telling stories.  The one I enjoyed most involved the correct etiquette for  a gentleman who wishes to show a lady through a revolving door.  His dilemma is that he needs to help with the door, but without pushing in front.

The correct solution, apparently, is for the gentleman to enter the revolving door alone, complete four fifths of a cycle (alone), and then to allow the lady to enter the empty section in front of him.  He may then complete the cycle, following the lady graciously into the lobby.

Alas, this kind of attention to detail is rarely easy to follow in practice.  Other people are ignorant and push in front.  And ladies are not as patient as they used to be.

I had a similar dilemma come up in Becoming Drusilla.  I can never remember whether the man (if he’s a gentleman) is supposed to walk on the right or the left of his companion.  In my mind I have memories of two conflicting possibilities:

‘The man walks on the outside [next to the road] to protect the lady from wheel splash.  Or the man walks on the left [which will sometimes be shopside], keeping his scabbard clear, ready at any moment to safely draw his sword and defend the lady’s honour. Or is that the right, freeing the sword arm?’

Looking back on this, I don’t think a gentleman would stand on the right.  Even though the sword-arm would be free, the sword in pulling clear might rent and slash the lady’s clothes (crinoline, hopefully) in the act of being honourably drawn.

The answer to this dilemma has since revealed itself.  A gentleman should stand on the left of the lady, but should always walk on the right-hand side of the road.  Then everyone’s happy.

I should be writing crime novels.  I’m that kind of guy.