Sunday, 23 October 2016

Mandi’s Guide To Brexiquette, or How To Avoid Being Dealt a Trump Card

Picture the scene. You’re chatting happily away to someone you’ve just met, thinking how sympatico they are, delighted at that instant ‘click’ when you first shook hands or smiled a ‘pleased to me you’. This is your kind of person, you’re thinking. Someone you can talk to about anything and everything, confident that they will ‘get’ you, and not think you a mind-numbing moron or a pretentious intellectual snob.

Then, they drop an O Bomb.
Or perhaps I should say an OO Bomb.
Just as you’re wittering away, certain that they share your outlook on life, they drop an (Outrageous) Opinion into the conversation to disavow you of that sweet, sweet illusion.

If you’re smart, you let it pass, inwardly chanting Voltaire’s "I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it" mantra before steering the subject in the direction of fluffy kittens or the merits of cheesecake over brownies.

If you’re smart.
Or perhaps I should say “smarter than me”.
My initial intentions are always good, really they are. After the first flash of “WHAT did they just say?”, the shock realisation that my inner idiot has misread the person before me, and a brief pause as my brain recallibrates itself, I try to gloss over and take the conversation to less controversial territory. 

All well and good – until they repeat, reiterate and challenge me with more O Bombs.

Many a time have friends who know all too well had to drag me away from heated debates in bars after one too many O Bombs have been dropped. Many more are the times when I've received a warning kick under the table accompanied by raised eyebrows and a hissed “Mum. No. Stop” from the embarrassed offspring (who also knows me all too well). But I can’t help it. Though largely a live-and-let-live type of gal, I have my own opinions and many of them are strongly held. If you get in my face with statements designed (I’m sure) to provoke a reaction from me, there comes a point when you will get them. 

Be careful what you wish for.

We live in confusing times. There are more hot potatoes these days that at the Great Potato Bake in Hyde Park (no, it doesn’t exist - but it damn well should). Brexit, Trump vs Clinton, climate change, jet trails, immigration, vaccines, home schooling, refugees, bathroom designations, the F word (no, not that one, the other one that seems to put far more people into a panic), fracking, fox hunting, badger culls, whether Starbucks spiced pumpkin lattes qualify as real coffee, and so much more.

The trouble is, you can’t always tell where someone stands from the slogan on their t-shirt.  

I grew up in simpler times. I was 14 when Britain’s first female PM sailed into No.10 Downing Street quoting St Francis of Assissi. My naïve nascent feminist (yeah, that’s the F Word I was talking about) rejoiced at the thought of a woman in charge at last. It didn’t take me long to change my mind. But one thing was for sure, love her or hate her, you knew where you stood with Maggie.

These days, it’s much harder to work out where the lines lie. They seem to be scribbled in the sand that’s constantly being washed by the tides of history. And you can never tell who's been paddling in the shallows.

So, to get beyond the preamble, how can you avoid that awkward moment when you realise you’re teetering on the precipice of a heated debate with someone that you so want to like you? 

Here's my not-very-reliable guide to etiquette in an uncertain age.
  1. Try very hard not to roll your eyes (I’m famously bad at this bit).
  2. Remind yourself that everyone is entitled to their opinion, even if they are wrong.
  3. Count to 100, lose count halfway, then start again.
  4. Attempt diversionary tactics. Ask them what star sign they are, what their favourite band is, or if they understood what the hell “Inception” was all about (warning, even these subjects can be minefields of controversy so tread carefully and feign indifference even if they respond with utter tosh).
  5. As a last resort, point and shout "Oh look! A squirrel!"
  6. If they insist on continuing to bombard you with their rhetoric, take a deep breath and…
  7. Let them have yours. If they have the right to express their opinion, so do you. And if they don’t feel they need to follow the etiquette of polite conversation, then neither do you.
After all, a vanilla latte may be a safe, popular choice, but a double shot of espresso is the real thing - and it's much more stimulating.


  1. You are me - all over. The reason I do not get inebriated to the point of loss of inhibitions in public places is because I am just the same as you.

    If someone makes a racist joke my immediate reaction is to say very calmly that they have pickled the wrong audience for such material and they had better go and talk to someone else.

    I make no apologies for that. I have even done it at a wedding, to the bride's brother.

    Everyone has their limits. That is mine.

  2. PICKLED the wrong audience?

    So, Freudian...

  3. We all have our limits of what we're willing to take from others. I have quite a few walk away slowly moments, especially in writer forums!