Sunday, 3 July 2011

When Good Manners Go Badly Wrong

If you live in the UK you can’t have missed it. A future stepmother in law, Mrs Bourne, sent a nasty email to the young woman her stepson wanted to marry. To make sure that she got the message, she even sent the email three times. In return, the bemused fiancĂ©e sent the email to some friends and it became viral. The email reads as follows:
It is high time someone explained to you about good manners. Yours are obvious by their absence and I feel sorry for you.
Unfortunately for Freddie, he has fallen in love with you and Freddie being Freddie, I gather it is not easy to reason with him or yet encourage him to consider how he might be able to help you. It may just be possible to get through to you though. I do hope so.
If you want to be accepted by the wider Bourne family I suggest you take some guidance from experts with utmost haste. There are plenty of finishing schools around.

Please, for your own good, for Freddie’s sake and for your future involvement with the Bourne family, do something as soon as possible.
Here are a few examples of your lack of manners: 
  • When you are a guest in another’s house, you do not declare what you will and will not eat – unless you are positively allergic to something.  You do not remark that you do not have enough food. You do not start before everyone else. You do not take additional helpings without being invited to by your host.
  • When a guest in another’s house, you do not lie in bed until late morning in households that rise early – you fall in line with house norms.
  • You should never ever insult the family you are about to join at any time and most definitely not in public. I gather you passed this off as a joke but the reaction in the pub was one of shock, not laughter.
  • You should have hand-written a card to me. You have never written to thank me when you have stayed.
  • You regularly draw attention to yourself. Perhaps you should ask yourself why.
  • No one gets married in a castle unless they own it. It is brash, celebrity style behaviour.
I understand your parents are unable to contribute very much towards the cost of your wedding. (There is nothing wrong with that except that convention is such that one might presume they would have saved over the years for their daughters’ marriages.) 
If this is the case, it would be most ladylike and gracious to lower your sights and have a modest wedding as befits both your incomes.

Read more:

It is fair to say that the whole British society is now divided in two: those who believe that Mrs Bourne is a Mother In Law (MIL) from Hell –as for me, I especially like how she implies that her future daughter-In-Law (DIL) is a gold digger-. On the other hand, I have read many articles supporting the MIL and blasting the generation Yers for their awful habits, as illustrated by the DIL’s behaviour.
As for me, I believe that both camps are missing the point. First of all, good manners are relative. What is considered to be polite over here might be rude in different countries. As an example, if you are invited at a diner at 7.30pm in France, you are not expected before 8pm. Should you arrive on time, you might have to witness the delivery of the so-called home-made meal by the local caterer. Very rude indeed and you won’t get invited again.
Even in Britain, good manners can be different from one family to another. I believe in respecting everybody and, above all, being flexible. This means that I will eat with my right hand when invited by my Indian friends and with my silver cutlery when I have a posh lunch at the Wolseley. Occasionally, I get it completely wrong: I once patted my friend son’s head and, as they are Indonesian you are not supposed to do this, as the head is supposed to be where the soul rests. My friends didn’t insult me in a nasty email, they just explained it to me and they knew that I didn’t mean to be rude. We moved on and got on with our life.
This leads me to my second point: do these people have a life? Do they have real problems (you know, as in health issues, relationship issues, real work projects…)? I can’t understand how they find the time to, on one side, write nasty things, and on the other, to circulate it everywhere. Isn’t the important point the fact that the Stepson is happy and getting married? Why didn’t they laugh the whole thing off, like I did with my Indonesian friends? I find it astounding that they have spent so much time on a “good manner” matter. The whole point of good manners is to respect each other and actually get on with your life. Good manners for the sake of them is, I believe, pointless. Apparently, I am the only one to be thinking this. Well, I pride myself in being unconventional then!


  1. I actually do not know how I missed this story this week. I have to say if what was said in the email was true is does not seem that she put herself in the best light - I am all for conforming to the manner expected b the host and their home. However for someone that wanted a hand written thank you, I think the irony is an email is funny! Lets hope that for the families sake they can sort this feud out!

  2. I feel so sorry for that poor girl. I hope she runs off to Australia (either with or without the fiance) where people are a lot more chilled out about "manners" :)

  3. @multiplemummy - how did you miss it? I count you on the MIL side then...
    @LJB - 1-1 you are clearly on the DIL side.

  4. Have you read the latest development - that it MIGHT have been all a publicity stunt for a wedding company? Who knows? If that's not the case, it's scary how fast supposedly private communications hop over into the public domain - at least, that's what I take from this whole episode.
    (With love from your newspaper-finding mirror image!)

  5. I like the way you've said that manners differ - so very true. I used to do cultural training and it's amazing what you have to include in it when people travel around the world. For example, in India when you visit someone and s/he offers you something to eat or drink you're say 'no' for the first two offers at least. The host is supposed to insist and then you agree to eat/drink something. However, I know it's not the same in other cultures. Also, in certain parts of India, you are offered a glass of water as soon as you go to someone's home. It's considered polite to drink it, even if you're not thirsty!

  6. It looks like some people have nothing else to do, you're right Muriel!!
    Good manners don't mean anything if respect is not considered.

    1. Is it respectful publicly to insult the family you are about to join?

  7. I'm a fan of manners. The MIL, while having good manners, doesn't understand best practice. Her approach to behavior change is obviously incorrect; it has failed. The commentator in the clip is spot on.

  8. @ Deborah - I have read this too. It looks like there is no such thing as bad publicity then!
    @ Corinne - Good manners can differI I have learned it the hard way..How interesting that you used to teach cultural differences!
    @MarieHarmony - Glad you agree with me!
    @Thom - Sounds to me that you are more on the MIL side...

  9. You're hilarious and spot on I would say. I hadn't heard this story and had to read the full article. What a riot!
    Does anyone else think it's ridiculously ironic to bitch someone out and insult them under the guise of lecturing them on good manners? To me... that is not good manners.
    I agree with you, too, that manners and behaviors are relevant to the situation, time, place, and culture.
    When I was living in Mexico I learned a lot of lessons. But if I did something that wasn't appropriate b/c I didn't know, etc., everyone was so gracious in helping me to figure it out... then we all laughed it off and I learned something!
    It's also weird to me when this stuff goes viral. I got a really crappy email like that once completely insulting me personally and my character because I had been sick and said that I couldn't lead a bookclub discussion (seriously, right?). And even though I felt hurt and angry about it, it still didn't seem like the thing to do was to forward it to everyone I know.
    Although it was pretty ridiculous.... maybe I should post it on my blog. (hahahaha.... just kidding!)
    Have a great day, Muriel!

  10. Hi Muriel: Manners are manners, and imposing manners in an authoritarian mode...made for problems. They're both wrong. Manners are important, but respect is important too.

  11. Interesting story and I think you are right that these people need to get a life. In my book, that means maybe they need to learn to confront each other face to face! If they had just talked this out in person, it would not be national (now international) news! Amazing! :-)

  12. Which of these criticisms were misplaced, i.e., criticisms of correct behavior, desirable behavior? Again, The MIL is out of line and should have found another way or another person to "help" the DIL, but the DIL's behavior does need improvement (as does the MIL's).

    When you are a guest in another's house, you do not declare what you will and will not eat - unless you are positively allergic to something.
    You do not remark that you do not have enough food.
    You do not start before everyone else.
    You do not take additional helpings without being invited to by your host.
    When a guest in another's house, you do not lie in bed until late morning in households that rise early - you fall in line with house norms.
    You should never ever insult the family you are about to join
    You have never written to thank me when you have stayed at Houndspool.
    You do not need to regale everyone with the details of your condition

  13. Unless someone is deliberately being rude, I think it's a little ridiculous to react by chastising. I doubt many people get what they want that way -- at least not resentment-free. :)

  14. I read the letter and for a minute there I thought I was reading one of the excerpts from the old newspapers you found at your house ;-)

  15. They both sound dreadful but I think the MIL sounds worse, too awful to be true. Poor Freddie caught in the middle. Unless this is a spoof, or an attempt to call attention to the lack of good manners among the younger generation (which many could use), I think the older woman's unfeeling email was an even worse display of bad manners as it showed her to be a class-conscious snob, uncaring (about diabetics), ungracious, intolerant, bigoted, and possessing a 19th century arrogance. The commentator was absolutely right. They are both at fault. And I pity Freddie caught up between the dragon and self-centered, rude young lady he wants to marry.

  16. But Muriel Dahling, you KNOW how the Brits are about manners, they depict EVERYTHING that's worth anything in life; namely what others think of you. Bad manners are a sign of bad BREEDING, and who would want to be embarrassed by a daughter-in-law badly bred? Whilst not exactly family, she could be seen as a negative, inferior serf, and bring the fam to gutter level before you can say: ILL BRED AND NO CLASS. Surely you understand these things now dahling, it's about appearances...

  17. Ok, a marriage that is going to have more public scrutiny than asked for. But yes, the mannered lady should have known some manners herself and she could have talked it out with her future DIL rather than sending out an email - probably one of the most awkward ways to carry out a serious conversation.

    As for the manners thing, it is very culture specific. I am an Indian and we have manners that are very different from the western world. Doesn't mean that we hold them at fault. To each his own. Respecting others traditions and cultures is an important aspect but that doesn't mean that there isn't a polite way of conveying it. Like a small talk explaining what she didn't like could have been much more apt than going through all this trouble.

    Well, Freddie you are in for a ride!

  18. @ Stacey - I have to break it to you Stacey: you are a real lady! If I had received such an email I would be fuming. Absolutely fuming. And I might have forwarded it to a few people. Just might....
    @ BornStoryteller - Agreed. That said, this whole thing has made me realise that my manners are not very good.
    @ Thom - I personnally find the MIL's comments very aggressive.
    @ Kenya - It is all about being diplomatic & respectful. Well, they weren't
    @ Sam - sadly, it wasn't...

  19. @ Elizabeth - I know it only too well Elizabeth. The hing is: i don't really care about appearances.
    @ Penelope - You are right. Where is Freddie in all this?
    @ Hajra - Maybe MILs never learn?

  20. Sorry I am not sure if my last comment posted.....I just wanted to say that I believe in teaching good manners and respect for others. The old stand by like please, thank you, your welcome and excuse me are very important in our house. Also I personally think that unless there is the possibility of danger parents should stay out of their adult children's lives.

  21. I'm with Penelope. What does poor Freddie think about this? Will he disown the evil mother? Call off the wedding? Or perhaps both?

  22. I like your take on this Muriel...your focus on manners being relative. Often times, people forget this and just readily take a very ethnocentric stance. I would have to admit though that personally, I still believe that one's dirty laundry should not be aired in public. Clearly there are much better ways of dealing with in-law issues other than the route this DIL (and MIL) took. Again, this is me, my standards. :-))

  23. I love what you said about good manners for its own sake is pointless. I'm with you there. Manners are for getting along, not for making one feel superior over another.

  24. Hi Muriel -

    I just think people should watch their tongues (and typed words) very carefully. There is so much verbal abuse going on and I really don't like seeing/hearing it. I try to stay away from it all. That's why this group is about the only group I spend much time in. There's just too much extra curricular non-sense, verbally, I have to move on. :)

  25. WOW! I'm totally taken aback by this piece of news, Muriel! Thanks so much for sharing it!

    I am in complete agreement with your thoughts on this. It sounds like the MIL was taking this all as a personal attack and had closed herself off early on already. Communication can't happen like that, so it just goes to show how this became a disaster. EEK!

  26. Cute post. My father in law is british and I have learned of so many "manners" that I never knew existed (or really cared about for that matter ;)"