Dear Miss Fine,
What’s the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you in a formal situation? I’d like to feel better about that time I fell over at Royal Ascot and flashed my striped underwear to the world. As you are an expert, would you be so kind as to share a few battle stories?
I’m grateful to hear that at least your “flashing” was accidental. I wish I could say the same for other Ascot attendees that I have witnessed outside the confines of the Royal Enclosure. There is more flesh on display in the Silver Ring of Royal Ascot than during spring break at Daytona Beach. In fact, Ascot was recently forced to issue revised dress code guidance, recommending that women “wear knickers, but not on show.” Surely that’s sound advice for any social event—royal or otherwise—but maybe that’s just me.
Still, I understand that despite our best efforts, fashion mishaps occasionally occur. For example, in the Stewards’ Enclosure at Henley Royal Regatta, women are required to wear dresses below the knee. The dress code is so strict that one of my friends was forced to pull her skirt below her bottom and cover her exposed derriere with a long cardigan in order to pass through the gates.
I am also the first to admit how easy it is for the events of the British Season to blur into one long, alcoholic picnic. And I’ve also come to notice that the more formal the social event, the faster it spirals out of control. Many London “balls” actually remind me of my American college dances—meaning despite the black tie dress codes, guys and girls still end up sprawled drunkenly on the dance floor (or under the table). The fact that everyone is a few years older than they were in college doesn’t seem to change the caliber of behavior. If anything, it’s worse.
I once found myself attending a ball for a charity that provides cricket equipment to disadvantaged children. (In England it doesn’t matter if the child is starving or homeless, as long as he or she can play cricket.) I was seated at a table of rowdy rugby players and had already consumed several glasses of champagne before the first course arrived. It was salmon of some kind, yet I was so caught up in the ridiculous conversations happening around me that I accidentally used the wrong knife. I quickly spotted my mistake after the first bite and swiftly changed knives, certain no one would notice—least of all the highly inebriated gentlemen on either side of me. How wrong I was.
Within seconds, the broad-shouldered, floppy-haired Englishman to my right was standing up and tapping his spoon on his water glass to get the table’s attention. “I would like to announce that the lovely American to my left has used the wrong knife,” he bellowed good-naturedly. “And for this she must be penalized!”
To atone for my mistake I was forced to chug the rest of my wine, the rest of his wine, and all the remaining wine in the bottle sitting in the centre of our table. As you can imagine, I have very little recollection of what happened after that. But let me tell you: I now make a point of paying close attention to my cutlery before each and every course. And so should you.
Miss J Fine
Jerramy Fine is the author of Someday My Prince Will Come, The Regal Rules for Girls and Bright Young Royals. The Dear Miss Fine fancy advice column will run twice a month — send your questions regarding English etiquette, life in England, and royal encounters to graduatesinwonderland at gmail dot com and we’ll forward your questions on to her.
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