The new rules of social engagement | Tatler

When Nancy Mitford set out the rules for being U (upper class) in 1955, she might have expected them – like most things relating to the English aristocracy – to stand the test of time. But a pandemic can turn even the strictest rules on their heads. Once, proclaiming oneself ‘sick’ (as opposed to the U-appropriate ‘ill’), and talking of ‘homes’ rather than ‘houses’, could send one’s social stock plummeting.

Reassuringly some nuances still exist: ‘toilet’ will never pass muster; those who have taken to the lockdown trend for two wheels would be expected to ‘bike’, never ‘cycle’; and asking friends to take off their shoes inside is intolerable, no matter what the Sage experts say.

But as our vocabulary has morphed to focus more on social distancing than social climbing, subtle new rules have emerged. Gavin Rankin, proprietor of U-bolthole Bellamy’s, the Queen’s favourite dining spot, expects ‘a resurgence of the fan as a sort of face mask’ in the restaurant, complete with age-old flirting techniques. He also predicts ‘air-kissing, only from a greater distance’, but table-hopping ‘will be out, thank goodness’.

Elaborate ‘tablescapes’ are still non-U, trumped by the family silver; but don’t be surprised if opera gloves – both hygienic and glamorous – have a renaissance. Live-in staff are now practically a prerequisite for the much-dreaded second wave, particularly if they also happen to be trained hairdressers. Dogs on the bed, however, are out (just don’t tell Lady Annabel Goldsmith’s legion of hounds).

For the first time, being health-conscious is smart, in both senses of the word. That means less sharing of lipsticks, cigarettes and spouses – but if you must, remember Matt Hancock’s golden rule and, for goodness’ sake, do it outdoors.


Being chaste
Live-in staff
A chest freezer
Pictures of your children volunteering
Having a driver
Doing your own nails
Zoom-calling your therapist
Waving in the street
Open windows, all year
Builders’ merchants
Bowing instead of shaking hands
Separate bedrooms
Personal trainers
Tinned food
Dressing for dinner
Owning a bike
Holidaying in the British Isles
Ensuite bathrooms
Having a pen pal
Keeping chickens
Paying for a new hospital wing
The private room – or booking every room
Knowing someone who’s working on the vaccine
Investing in Learjet
New soap


Careless kissing
Crowded drinks parties
A dirty kitchen
Hugging your parents
Complaining about travel
Borrowing lipstick
Online cocktails
Leaning in at dinner
Being late for a reservation
Sharing cigarettes
Dogs on the bed
Steam rooms
‘Festivals’ in your garden
Using a hanky, not a tissue
Weddings abroad
Carrying cash
Bare feet
Hot tubs on skiing holidays
The phrase ‘the new normal’
Bringing a surprise plus-one (or plus-five)
Discussing your antibody test
Homemade masks in floral fabric


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