Charming tips from The Mistress of Manners

It’s always awkward at Christmas time - the distant cousin you’ve never really met, your great aunt who can’t really hear, or maybe it’s the prospect of your boss letting her hair down for one day a year.

But how do you excuse yourself from these laboured encounters to enjoy that barrel of mince pies and watered down mulled wine in peace?

A new dame of all things debonair has arrived in South Hampstead to run a Charm School to help negotiate the excruciating Christmas encounter.

Dana Gornitzki, otherwise known as Mistress of Manners, is editor of social etiquette magazine Mien and she coached nine holiday naysayers in the art of small talk at in The Meanwhile Space at the O2 Centre in Finchley Road last week.

“It’s such a happy time of year, but people really forget the small things, like just saying ‘Happy Christmas,’ or smiling once in a while,” said the 37-year-old, who lives in Belsize Park.

The etiquette expert has taken on South Hampstead because our manners are reputedly going to pot.

“It’s a global problem,” she said. “We’re so used to sitting behind computer screens and being on mobile phones that we’ve forgotten how to approach real-life situations.”

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Among her other gripes are people eating fried chicken on buses, men forgetting to hold doors open, and people chewing with their mouths open.

And when we’re not minding our Ps and Qs, or ducking out of chit-chat meant only for philistines, the Mistress of Manners reminds us not to forget about posture.

“It’s a lost skill these days because everyone wears trainers or Uggs – even to work! Shoulders back, stomach tucked in, chin high, eyes forward,” she chimes, like a formidable Victorian school ma’am.

Her golden Christmas party tip when your witty repartee has run dry is to politely offer the peron you are speaking with a drink.

That’s a lot to take in - and all while balancing an encyclopaedia on your head. But with our mobile phones turned off there is nothing much else to think about.

Lawyer and good manners connoisseur Duncan McPhie, 42, who travelled all the way from Scotland for the session, said: “I struggle everyday to be a better gentleman. This is part of my education.”

The Mistress of Manners agrees that chivalry is dead.

But attend enough of her classes in the ‘art of wooing’ and you will be sure to waltz out the door like a modern-day Bond.

And so, with my head held high and my stomach sucked in dear readers, I would like to say: “A very merry Christmas, and a happy new – may I get you a drink?”

* To contact the Mistress of Manners visit