Debrett's to update etiquette advice with namastes not handshakes, paper napkins, and no pandemic chat

Jessica Carpani
Prince Charles, Prince of Wales uses a Namaste gesture to greet Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood as he attends the Prince's Trust And TK Maxx & Homesense Awards at London Palladium on March 11, 2020 in London, England - Debrett's set to update etiquette guidelines to include no handshakes and shorter picnics - GETTY IMAGES

Etiquette for entertaining friends and family can be a minefield at the best of times, but even more so in the time of coronavirus.

Now Debrett’s is stepping in to guide the way, and are set to update their advice to reflect the new normal of the pandemic and subsequent lockdown. One development is that handshakes may be a thing of the past, according Lucy Hume, Associate Director of Debrett’s, with the UK taking a lead from Denmark where people are cautious about tactile greetings.  

Instead, she said, it could be replaced with “the namaste or the bow that’s conventional in Eastern cultures or just a friendly nod when we’re meeting others”.

Ms Hume said: “Some of it is clearly going to be a big adjustment but, whether with friends and family members, we may just get used to not hugging or kissing on greeting and that becomes a norm.

“That is almost just as much a sign of respect as we consider a friendly greeting now is, that sort of giving people space.”

The news may come as a welcome relief to Prince Charles, who was filmed struggling to come to terms with not shaking hands at the Prince’s Trust Awards on March 11.

The Prince of Wales instinctively went to shake the hand of Sir Kenneth Olisa, the Lord-Lieutenant of Greater London, but quickly remembered the social-distancing measures - that at the time included washing hands - and instead bowed his head with his palms together in the Hindu greeting Namaste.  

Ms Hume stressed that while Debrett's is the authority on modern manners, they are not health and safety experts but wanted to give advice on adjustments they anticipate hosts and guests will need to bear in mind.

Debrett's

Debrett’s Guide to Hosting & Entertaining, which will be published in October 2020, will include updated recommendations that will help people navigate the new world as lockdown eases, including that when attending a picnic different households stick to their own food, utensils and picnic blankets rather than sharing - and that this may be cut short thanks to the closure of public loos.

Hosts’ best china should also be replaced with disposable paper plates, while multiple laundered towels or even paper towels should be provided in bathrooms instead of a communal hand towel. 

Meanwhile, some new topics of conversation may be off the table and Debrett’s plans to issue online guides on how to maintain friendships in a time of strong feeling.

Ms Hume said: “People’s attitudes to Government guidelines and the way that the situation is evolving might cause difficult conversations to be had between friends and family members over the next few months.

“I think it’s probably the case of advocating for a respectful approach to those.

“Trying to be understanding from different viewpoints, and recognising that while some may be desperate to get their kids back to school, others are understandably wary of it.”

Instead, she suggests steering away from potentially contentious conversation.

People may want to “avoid talking about the pandemic”, said Ms Hume, adding: “Come up with other things to talk about, whether it’s sport making a revival or the good old reliable British weather which is always a favourite topic.”