Doing it American style

Image of David Tang

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

What are the distinct differences between the Americans and the British in their approaches to lifestyle, particularly in interior designs and everyday living?

Given the mutual fawning between the American president and the British prime minister during their recent rendezvous in the US, they might as well have signed agreements for the construction of a bridge across the Atlantic. Yet the two nations could not be more dissimilar. In terms of interior designs, the Americans seem to love faux stuff – page after page of reproduction furniture, mostly varnished to the hilt as if it were going on board the Kon-Tiki. The American style is also markedly more stiff and even sterile. Everything matches. It is all rather contrived and lacking in abandon – the latter being the quality that characterises much more the British approach, underpinned, as it is, by a distinct sense of confidence. It is not difficult to understand this given the great rooms in all the historic stately houses and palaces in Britain. Over the generations, they have added layer after layer of sophisticated veneer. Compare all these to those neoclassical mansions in Florida or, God forbid, the modern ones in Seattle. Discovering that my business hero Bill Gates’s taste in interiors is so far from my own was the equivalent of being told that Marilyn Monroe was a cross-dresser.

The American lifestyle is also very different. In restaurants, portions are obese like most of the diners. I once ordered a T-bone steak whose ends extended so far that neighbouring diners might have easily tucked into my portion from their own plates. As for manners, the Americans seem to be more easy-going and friendly. I once met Monica Lewinsky sitting on her own in that glorious garden restaurant in Bel-Air in LA. I went up to offer her a glass of wine when she suggested a bottle, and we had a very congenial half-an-hour chat – and it was all very enjoyable. The surprise came when I received a note from her thanking me for the chance meeting. She had very tidy manners.

I have noticed that restaurant critics invariably neglect water, bread, coffee and toilets. A gently sparkling mineral water, warm and crunchy bread, a concentrated and aromatic espresso and clean and spacious toilets seem to me conditions sine qua non for a good “restaurant experience”. What is your take?

Frankly, I couldn’t care less about what restaurant critics write, and I think we all exaggerate their importance. If I go to a restaurant, I will return to it if I enjoy it; and not if I don’t. Therefore, my relationship with the restaurant has got nothing to do with restaurant critics. Indeed, when I used to take note of what critics wrote, I always found myself in disagreement. That shouldn’t be surprising as gastronomic experiences are intensely personal. I like chewing tender duck’s feet, which my wife finds totally disgusting. But I abhor wobbly mozzarella, which she hugely enjoys. She doesn’t mind waiters interrupting our conversation, whereas I go completely berserk whenever they do. So relax and stop being over-fastidious about reviews, because eating cannot be vicariously enjoyed.

My husband and I hosted a small dinner party for a couple for whom we even changed the original date to suit them. On the night, they spent the entire time before dinner telling our guests that they had “double booked” and wouldn’t stay for dinner or the entertainment. What is your advice on how to deal with them, as we have not spoken to them since?

You shouldn’t get too upset about undependable guests. I deal with them all the time. If I got the kind of hernia you get every time someone cancels at the last minute, I would be paralysed for life already. The point about dinner parties is that you should become an excellent host and not worry too much about appalling guests. If you don’t like any of them, simply don’t invite them. They will be the ones who get annoyed if your invitations are worth their salt. Aloofness is by far the best weapon against bad manners.

You travel a lot between Hong Kong and London – what is your advice on dealing with long-haul flights and the jetlag between these two continents?

The secret is to exercise immediately after the flight. At Barcelona airport there is no choice, as one is made to walk miles with a plethora of confusing signs. No wonder the Spanish Armada lost its way.

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