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April 1, 2011 10:46 pm
Sir David Tang, globetrotter, entrepreneur and the man about too many towns to mention, divides his time between homes in Hong Kong, mainland China and London. Here he invites readers’ queries for his advice on property, interiors, etiquette at home (wherever you live), parties and anything else that may be bothering you.
In the FT’s Mrs Moneypenny column about fish knives, she wrote and I quote: “They are a Victorian affectation and not used even in some of the grandest houses in England.” Is it really true that the majority of the English people do not use a fish knife anymore?
Ah! “Phone for the fish knives, Norman”, as Betjeman famously demanded in the opening line of his wonderfully satirical poem “How to Get On in Society”. So it’s true that the use of fish knives is frowned upon by snobs. Nonetheless, there is always a corner of super-snobbery, and so I have come across them in some very grand houses, and their blades are always in solid silver, as silver does not retain the smell of fish – which makes it eminently sensible, and extravagant, to have a whole set of them! But, nowadays, fish knives are always found only in restaurants, and perhaps Surrey, or even, as I found, in a transport café – although rather pointless if they are not in solid silver, which they never are. I think you will also find that modern butlers turn their noses up at them, because they think they should not be part of the provenance of a great house, that is until some other grander butlers trump them with a gleaming set in the finest silver.
You seem to have been carried away in your admiration for the admittedly admirable Albert Einstein in your column. He can certainly be credited with discovering relativity but not with inventing it, any more than Newton can be said to have invented gravity.
You might be too clever by half. Gravity is a fact; relativity is a theory. Facts are discovered; theories are invented. Indeed, Newton invented his laws of motion in order to calculate gravity; whereas Einstein invented his formulae in relativity, together with others like the Lorentz transformations, with which to describe gravity in a new four-dimensional space-time. I am sorry to spoil your day if you are reading this.
What is the etiquette about having food wrapped and taken away from a restaurant, especially a smart one? Is it acceptable to ask the host, and would it be embarrassing?
Common sense should always rise above conventional niceties. And taking away unfinished food from a restaurant is not only common sense but good sense, given that wastage is wanton in our modern world in which so many go without. In America, portions are obscenely large, which typifies their excesses and explains their rampant obesity: I was once served a T-bone steak whose top bar extended on to the plate of my neighbour! But strangely enough, I notice that in Manhattan, many wives, particularly those with plastic surgery, always have their unfinished bits wrapped up for their pets. So only the other day, when a guest of mine at the Savoy Grill whispered to me to ask whether she could have her steak wrapped, I immediately commandeered the waitress, who smartly obliged as a matter of course. But then I turned to my guest and asked what kind of dog she had. She replied: “Oh no! It’s for my own supper!”
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