Thursday 26 April 2018

When wine drinking is "cringingly common"

Here am I, “A jumped-up pantry boy, who never knew his place”, as I hope it will say upon my headstone. I thought it was posh just to drink wine, full stop. I thought I stopped being common when I gave up brown ale and Party Sevens.

But no. It seems it’s not as simple as that. It seems there are a number of class signals in wine drinking itself which reveal whether you are U or Non-U, posh or common. Have my guests been laughing at my social gaffes for years because I Didn't Know?

You may not have heard of Nicky Haslam, or Nicholas Ponsonby Haslam to those who have to look him up. He is an interior decorator. This is a profession which requires that you are rich enough to have an interior with which you can do what you like, and then to employ someone else to do with it what they like.

Nicky is “interior decorator to royalty, pop stars, oligarchs and aristocrats” (House and Garden), who are presumably that rich. His small country house is “ravishing”, his London apartment “elegantly playful”. Sometimes, he even looks like a curtain. (Oh, “And do use the couch for your feet,” as John Betjeman put it. So much for class.)

However, Nicky Haslam has developed a secondary career, as an arbiter of what is currently U and Non-U. In the 1950s, this business started with observers specifying that genuinely posh people used words like ‘napkin’ and ‘pudding’, while upstart social climbers said ‘serviette’ and ‘dessert’. Now, it largely seems to involve answering the question which has been perplexing Brits ever since we graduated from using sheets of Bronco; whether the paper on a toilet – no, lavatory – no, loo roll should hang down at the front or the back.

Nicky has declared many things to be ‘common’, such as heating, telescopic umbrellas, coloured wellies, cufflinks and Richard Branson. And unbeknownst to me, Nicky has issued several edicts on aspects of wine – which, horror of social horror, I may have unwittingly transgressed.

For example, he says that rows of wine glasses on a dining table are ‘common’.

Really? Personally, I find them attractive, efficient, and informative of what is to come.  (And it’s a rule which appears to be transgressed at the poshest of dining tables: Buckingham Palace.)

Nicky has declared that changing wine glasses for the second bottle is “cringingly common”. Of course, his wine presumably does not dump a beach-worth of sediment into glass number one.

But in particular, he says that it’s either wine, or it’s white wine. It is ‘common’ to offer “red wine or white wine?” One should ask, “Will you have some wine, or would you prefer white?”

I have clearly been making some huge social blunders over most of my wine-drinking life. In my jumped-up ignorance, I have been cheerfully lining up glasses, and asking guests “Red or white?”, for years. I thought I was displaying generosity – but perhaps I was only displaying my lack of class.

What about my guests? Can I trust that they, too, have all been commoners who Didn’t Know? They may have been poshly ignoring my faux pas, then laughing at me behind my back.  Or perhaps I had already blown it by putting on the heating?

Once you go down this route, you find a surprising number of similar class edicts about wine. William Hanson, a “trusted expert” on etiquette and protocol, lists words that “prove you’re not posh”, and says  that “the word ‘bubbly’ is “a big Non-U giveaway.” It was, he says, invented to make people – presumably poorer people, like me – feel less guilty for serving prosecco rather than Champagne.

He says that 'alcohol' is U, while 'booze' is non-U – “and the term ‘vino' is obviously common.”

And then I came across a guide in the Telegraph to what’s posh and what’s not in 2018, written by someone called Sophia Money-Coutts, who must know whereof she writes because she has a name as impossibly posh as Margaret Tea-Fortnum.

She says that drinking at lunchtime is posh, because “it suggests you don’t have much of a job to go back to.” In my circles that’s called ‘unemployed’.

Not posh, she says, is cold champagne. She quotes Haslam again (these people clearly all know each other): “Much nicer not freezing cold.” Obviously common is spraying people with it. Presumably whether freezing cold or not.

Who are these people? What makes them “trusted experts”? Although it obviously helps to have a name like Susan Notebook-Smythson. Or to be a Ponsonby.

CJ doesn’t get bogged down in all of this stuff; but now I’m worried that that’s because he instinctively knows it already. When he offers me "Wine?", it is indeed always red. No, he has never offered me “Red wine or white wine?” But I assumed that was because he hadn’t got any white.

How many other wine drinkers, like me, were simply oblivious to these rules? Which only revives the old question about whether a falling tree makes a sound if no-one is there to hear it. If a social edict falls upon wine drinkers, but none are aware of it, does it make an impact?


1 comment:

  1. nice article and we have the same initials! cheers to wine mate.


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.