From applying make-up on public transport to air kissing colleagues, the new nos-nos of modern etiquette

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While once upon a time we learned to cross our legs when exiting a sports car or fretted over flower arrangements at the dinner table, the face of social etiquette in 2014 throws forward a rather different set of questions and quandaries. 

In these heady days of first names, 24-hour living and social media, we're more concerned with how to greet a new associate (hearty arm pump? awkward nose bump?), whether or not to eat burgers on the tube and when it's appropriate to turn off our phones.

Luckily, Debrett's, the timeless authority on manners and British heritage, is here to help. The finesse experts there have put together a natty little guide on all things modern etiquette.

The Debrett’s Handbook covers all kinds of social situations, from emails to e-cigarettes, providing "guidelines that will make everyday life easier, removing anxiety and minimising social awkwardness". 

"The sheer number of enquiries we receive demonstrates that manners are still hugely important to people," says the book's editor Jo Bryant. "It can be a minefield knowing how to behave in social situations, but the key is to always consider those around you."

Here is a selection of top modern no-nos they've put together, compiled in response to their most common public queries. 

Personally, we're gutted at the blanket ban on dramatic kiss noises and you won't find us parting from our make-up on the tube - but some of the rules do make sense, or are at least the Right Thing To Do.

Read on, absorb and know never to seat-jump on an aeroplane again...

Don't air kiss colleagues and don't use sound effects

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.

Don't forget to give up your seat on public transport

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.

Don't chat on your phone while you're paying for something at a shop

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. 

Don't recline your seat on daytime short-haul flights

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.

Avoid blind copying people on email

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.

Don't eat or apply make-up on public transport

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.  

Don't smoke e-cigarettes at work

As electronic cigarettes become more popular, so 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.

Don't eat before everyone is served

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 

The Debrett’s Handbook is out now.  For more information visit

Photos: Getty Images and Rex Features

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