One of the things about being the only smoker left in the Cotswolds, is that one gets to observe politer society through a succession of living room windows. Its been a busy week, but under cover of three dinners, a drinks party and a 40th birthday celebration, I have been able to conduct extended anthropological research whilst loitering in various Oxfordshire gardens, and have worked out where I have been getting it wrong.
Follow these 6 Dos and Don'ts and you'll fit right in. Here's how to be Queen of the Social Scene and shine right through the Christmas party season:
1) Do put on your best social face.
This means keeping everything beneath the nose frozen in a polite rictus, whilst the eyes dart between the face of your co-conversationalist, (all the better to check whether she has had any work done) and the horizon over her shoulder, to see if anyone more influential/wealthy/entertaining has arrived.
2) Do not talk to people that you do not like or do not know.
Broadening one's social circle can be dangerous - you never know which end of the village they may inhabit, as it were. It is, however, expected that you will criticise their weight and/or their attire in semi-hushed tones with your friends.
3) Don't eat anything.
It is usual to ask whether things are organic and/or whether they were acquired at the local farmer's market, but under no circumstances should you actually chew anything, even if the hostess shops in Waitrose. Plead a wheat allergy, an intolerance to dairy, or declare you are in the South Bikini Body Atkins Cabbage Zone. If, heaven forbid, you are given a plate with something solid on it, just push it around with your fork.
4) Do be confident that your husband never flirts.
He never talks to a lady's breasts or accidentally touches her bottom. You are woman enough. Really.
5) Do talk about money (but only to tell everyone how hard-up you are).
It has become perfectly acceptable to tell everyone how much your shoes/car/holiday cost but remember, being poor is the new black. Frequent charity shops and jumble sales. The labels that currently impress are Freecycle, Ebay and Scope. Even if you have buckets of cash and keep falling over your staff/trust fund/SUV, plead poverty.
6) Do not look as if you are having a good time.
It is not cool. Keep smiling to a minimum. (Refer back to point 1.)