Etiquette tips, please

by John Q on March 3, 2005

Here in Brisbane, we’re not really up with which fork you should use first and so on, so I was concerned to this piece from the New Statesman by Nick Cohen (reprinted with the usual delays in Australia by the Financial Review)

I think you can smoke in the Groucho[1], but you can’t in Waitrose or at any Islington dinner party I’ve been to in the past decade. The social taboo against smoking is becoming absolute, in the middle classes at any rate … it is social death to put a cigarette in your mouth, not to stuff cocaine up your nose.

I’m obviously out of touch here. Last time I checked the etiquette manual was de rigeur to go to the bathroom to snort cocaine, and to go out to the porch to smoke. But now I fear total embarrassment at my next middle-class dinner party: obviously I should have the cocaine served at the table. Can anyone give me more details here – are individual salvers the way to go, for example, and is it OK to ask guests to bring some of their own?

To be fair to Cohen, he’s making a serious point, namely that consumers of cocaine, as well as risking imprisonment and health damage, are financing bloody and brutal drug dealers (though, as he concedes, the only real answer is legalisation, and he’s apparently not prepared to advocate that).

But do we have to have the standard whine about how hard done by smokers are compared to other drug users? Apart from coffee, tobacco is the only recreational drug you are legally and socially free to consume in public at any time of the day or night[2], subject to the minor restriction that you don’t blow the smoke on other people or smoke in an enclosed space with the same effect. Is Cohen’s tiresome repetition of old-fogey cliches a required part of the process of becoming an ex-lefty?

fn1. A fashionable club in London, it appears.

fn2. The law on public alcohol consumption varies from place to place. But, almost everywhere, the social strictures are far tighter than in relation to smoking.

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03.04.05 at 9:38 pm
03.05.05 at 3:53 pm
03.05.05 at 3:56 pm
03.05.05 at 5:03 pm



kasei 03.03.05 at 11:17 pm

“Is Cohen’s tiresome repetition of old-fogey cliches a required part of the process of becoming an ex-lefty?”

Yeah, next he’ll do something really dumb like advocate invading another country for no discernable reason…


paul 03.03.05 at 11:28 pm

What about tea? Is that restricted? Or cola?


AC 03.04.05 at 1:53 am

Paul: A typo, surely. Coffee isn’t a drug, caffeine is, and is contained in tea and cola. Of course, tobacco isn’t a drug, either. Or was that your point?


floopmeister 03.04.05 at 2:36 am

So you use forks in Brisbane now? Last time I travelled up from sunny and warm Melbourne (!) we had to bring our own.

Oh, how times change…



John Quiggin 03.04.05 at 5:22 am

This is the kind of prejudice we’re struggling against. We’ve had forks at least since since Expo 88, as I’m sure you’re aware floopmeister. But how are you supposed to use two at once?


mike 03.04.05 at 8:23 am

Coffee for caffeine strikes me as a perfectly reasonable case of metonymy.


ajay 03.04.05 at 9:42 am

Private Eye, back in the seventies, had a parody of a fashionable contemporary dinner party written in the style of James Boswell, which included the deathless line: “I believe the pot is with you, sir. Be so good as to circulate it.”


john b 03.04.05 at 10:17 am

I believe the socially acceptable way of serving coke is to hire a dwarf to carry a tray of the stuff on their head. Or so Freddie Mercury once told me.


abb1 03.04.05 at 10:43 am

A piece of 2mg mint-flavored Nicorette for me, please.


victor falk 03.04.05 at 12:04 pm


victor falk 03.04.05 at 12:05 pm


Squid 03.04.05 at 12:14 pm

I believe current etiquette in London is as follows. I’ll check in my copy of Forbes when my man’s man comes back from making breakfast.

The host is expected to provide one silver backed mirror per eight guests. More is acceptable, but no more than one mirror per four guests.

The host should also provide a selection of ‘house’ snorters. Traditionally plain silver, though ‘novelty’ shapes (such as vacumn cleaners) are acceptable for less formal gatherings or those involving mostly young people. Snorters may optionally be stamped with the gentleman’s coat or blazon.

Guests will normally bring their own. ‘House’ snorters are provided for unexpected guests. A guest should try and bring a suitable snorter – best to stick with standard designs and simple motifs unless you know the other guests well, in which case a certain amount of freedom of expression can be permitted. They should also carry some marking (coat or crest or blazon) so guests can easily distinguish their own snorters as the evening progresses.

It is considered bad form for a guest to bring their own mirror.

The host should make available their own supply as a matter of course. Guests should also bring with them enough for themselves and a little extra.

When taking a line, it is bad form to ‘hoover’. That is, to try and clean up the line completely. It is good form to take the line in one, clean sweep, leaving detrius and ‘leavings’ around the side of the line. Over and evening this detrius is left to build up around the sides of the mirrors. These are normally left for the butler to disburse amongst the staff by way of a tip after the evening has concluded.

For any more information, I would point the interested reader towards Forbes, the chapter on after dinner entertainment. Also I think there was an article in ‘Gentleman’s Gentlemen’, November last year. I think my man still has a copy somewhere.


Jimmy Doyle 03.04.05 at 1:44 pm

“If only there was somebody out there ready to step in an protect my squishily vulnerable little mind by regulating cable TV. Maybe the nice folks who wanna protect me from cigarette smoke whenever I go into bars can help me out here!”
(Fafnir on Fafblog, yesterday).

Looks like Fafnirs goin all fogeyish an “ex-leftist” too!

As for ‘the war against cliche,’ I would just like to applaud Mr Quiggin’s bluff, quasi-ironic, stereotype-busting disclaimer of any expertise in etiquette, on the grounds that he is an Australian.


KCinDC 03.04.05 at 2:16 pm

AC: So you don’t consider marijuana a drug, preferring to say that people are buying/selling/using THC?


mc 03.04.05 at 2:24 pm

Ekow Eshun – who I don’t generally rate – nevertheless had a better (and far earlier) response to Ian Blair’s remarks in the Observer on 6 Feb:,,1406928,00.html

On smoking, I agree – there may be slightly more justification for this kind of delusion in the US (I think I remember once seeing signage telling me not to smoke in the open air), but very little in the UK (including the recent proposals). Surely though the true test of the old fogey is when you start going on about the ‘war on the motorist’ (on which see for example this priceless example – though at least this guy doesn’t pretend to be anything other than reactionary:,,2-1470528,00.html)


David 03.04.05 at 3:25 pm

If you don’t bring your own coke, it’s expected that you will use the smallest spoon.


Buffalo Gal 03.08.05 at 11:52 pm

Sorry I’ve lost the link, but the etiquette question has been answered: one snorts coke at the table to leave the bathroom free in case others need to use it for a three-way.


Buffalo Gal 03.08.05 at 11:57 pm

Of course, the link is right there in the followups – credit Majikthise.

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