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Illustrations by Joe McKendry

Etiquette gets a bad rap these days. However, contrary to popular belief it's not about keeping people in their place, or creating an exclusive club, it's about creating a level playing field for social interaction through a set of recognisable guidelines. Take the example of a dinner party, a very personal expression of hospitality and a great pleasure for all concerned, but only if the host and the guests know what's expected of them. Without rules of engagement one, other or both parties can easily end up feeling hard done by.


The first is incredibly annoying, the second almost enough to break off a friendship. NB, sending minute-by-minute updates about the "situation" in your office will do nothing to diminish the irritation you're causing the host.

You will be told if the host would like you to bring a bottle. There's no way to ask to open a bottle that you've brought without suggesting there's something wrong with the host's wine.

It's rude to talk at great length about a subject that most guests are likely to know nothing about, even if one other person at the table shares your great passion for early-1980s BMWs.

Cooking takes real effort so short of a serious allergy, or a religious objection, guests ought eat most of what they're given - although it is reasonable to ask for a small portion if you know that the menu isn't to your taste.

This is a wildly irritating habit in its own right, and it is very likely to result in hot wax being spilt on the candlesticks, tablecloth or table. Use a match or a lighter if you're firing up a cigar (having asked the host's permission first).

The perfect dinner ensemble