The secret B&B connoisseur

Image of David Tang

Sir David Tang, entrepreneur and founder of ICorrect, offers advice on questions about property, interiors – and modern manners for globetrotters

Have you ever stayed in a bed and breakfast? Do you have any idea what a two-star hotel is like? Do you have any idea what a non-five-star hotel is like? You seem to write exclusively for the high end of society. Is it an indication that you despise the poor or that you can’t be bothered by their agonies?

I don’t need your patronising prejudices. Of course I have stayed in bed and breakfasts and two-star hotels. I lived in Peking in the early 1980s, and I can assure you that the conditions of my accommodation were negative-star. When I arrived in England at the age of 13, I was bundled off to a boarding school where I discovered chess. I became addicted to it and entered the All-England Junior Chess Championship, which took place at Bognor Regis. I stayed at the local Butlin’s Camp. Even at that tender age, the experience made me realise that there must be better places to stay – and eat! So I became a precocious connoisseur of bed and breakfasts. I would try many of them, especially at popular places such as Filey and Scarborough; or in Ireland where my aunt was a nun in County Wicklow. Therefore I suspect I have a much wider spectrum of experiences of all types of hotels than you, or most. And I can tell you that there are some very decent and charming B&Bs. But loquacious owners, who are prevalent, are to be avoided, especially for those of us who require dinner, bed and breakfast and who have deipnophobia, which is the fear of dinner conversations.

I am a deferential but ambitious young employee at a large Asian company and over the festive season, in keeping with Chinese traditions, my boss sent me an elaborate gift set of preserved meats. Unfortunately I am a philo Semite and the stench of Chinese sausage has offended my strictly kosher sensibilities. I am in a real pickle as I do not wish to seem rude nor damage my long-term career prospects. What is the correct etiquette in this predicament?

In a nutshell, you want to know how you can suck up to your boss when he has given you something you cannot enjoy. To protest would make you seem disrespectful and ungrateful; whereas to feign gratitude and enjoyment would make you a liar. My advice for such corporate pole-vaulting is to be practical with Machiavellian cunning. If your boss is egotistical and loves to be flattered, then you should simply say, “Thank you for your thoughtfulness.” But if your boss were to be civilised and forthright, then you should confess that what he has given you goes against your religion. An understanding boss will respect you for it. In other words, forget about veracity and etiquette. Concentrate on how to maximise the brownie points you would get from your boss. Meanwhile, pass on your preserved meat to someone who is not kosher, and make use of what you don’t need as the pretension of generosity.

I found Gillian Tett’s article “Beyond the quill: why handwriting’s era might be over” most depressing. How standards are slipping. Surely there is nothing more pleasurable than either receiving a handwritten “thank you” note, or indeed writing the note with a proper fountain pen and on beautiful notepaper. For me it says so much more than either a text or an email. And you don’t need any battery life and internet access. Long live pen and paper!

But be careful: the more important rule is the content! The form, for those of us with a tinge of respect for tradition, is, of course, relevant. Indeed, I much prefer to receive a handwritten letter in ink and proper notepaper than some email. Lord Hailsham, when he was Lord Chancellor, wrote a letter of thanks to me for a dinner. I was astonished by the elegance of his script. It might have come straight from a Gothic hand in a quill – a couple of his “y”s gyrated half way down the page with “p”s and “g”s scrawled across the pages. It was practically a work of art. But I have also received umpteen handwritten notes that are bread-and-butter – almost all of them start with the boring words “thank you”. I have always advised others, particularly my son, never to start a thank-you letter with the words “thank you”. So pen and paper are neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for a proper missive. It’s content, content, content. Therefore, if I had to choose between a marvellously written email or a boring pedestrian note, I would choose the former, even if I love pen and paper.

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