I'm sitting in Martello this lovely afternoon, sipping a coffee and listening to the concert on the beach. I have my laptop with me and I'm reading some news, I'm alone at my table and there are three chairs that are not used.
A woman came by and took one without asking.
This annoyed me. Really annoyed me. I gave her an evil eye but she wasn't even looking in my direction, as if I was invisible. I'd say she was in her fifties, well dressed, likely straight from a hairdresser and I was utterly dismayed with her behaviour that was in such a contrast with her look. I would probably be very nasty to her should I have an opportunity, but she made off with my chair without a word or a glance and now she's enjoying her Chardonnay two tables away with her back to me so my evil looks will have no effect either.
This made me think about manners in general. Where I come from no matter how obviously alone a person is and how obviously empty the chair looks asking for it - I'm sorry do you mind? - is something that one always does. Maybe I am waiting for a friend or for a group of them; making an assumption that I'm not is impolite at least, plain rude in this situation. There were plenty of other chairs around that were not at my table but I was the only one sitting alone.
There are many things about manners and etiquette that my parents taught me and what they didn't teach me about I learned at Minding Manners training with Tamiko Zablith in London, that cost me an arm and leg but I thought was important enough to spend money on. It was great. I learned how to greet people properly depending on situation, how to recognise a bad bottle of wine, how to eat fruit with a knife and fork and other useful things, including passing the Port (Do you know the bishop of Norwich?). I care about my manners, they are a crucial part of how we are seen by others and of oh-so-important first impressions. How do you do, yes, I know which fork to use and I know how to behave myself in public, pleasure to meet you.
Thanks to my parents and to the etiquette training I managed not to make a fool of myself when I was served escagrot in Brasserie L'Européen in Paris. They serve it with a tiny fork and a shell handling tool that looks like an eyelash curler. It was worth the bother.
I wish I could forcibly send everyone on etiquette training, I really do. A world would be a much nicer place if people cared more - or at all - about their manners.