Impeccable Table Manners

Jon and Karen


Appearances can be deceptive. It sounds obvious to say it but most of us, when we look at someone charming and beautiful, don’t want to believe there’s anything sinister going on beneath the surface. But the sad truth is, we should all come with government health warnings. Even the most saintly or virtuous people have a secret chamber of horrors lurking within – it may take you for ever to find it, but it’s there.

In a world where everyone is falling over themselves to tell you how straight-talking they are, we tend to forget this. Like going into H&M and asking if they have something in another size and being told “all stock is out on the shop floor”, we assume because everyone is being frank and honest – and all those other words we use instead of “boring, rude and opinionated” – that there’s nothing more to come, that all the grossness is there for us to see. But this is the problem, there’s more. So much more, left unsaid. Don’t believe me? Cast your eye back over Britain across the last couple of weeks or so. Whether you’re a baker in Barnsley, or Boris Johnson, bile will out. And the real killer is, when it does come out, it’s not what you were expecting, it’s worse, and, usually, much to your horror, the demon in the room is you.

Hoping to keep a lid on their garbage opinions this week are 24-year-old Jon, a technology journalist, and Karen, 26, a visual merchandiser. Read what happened on their date, which sounds like a real treat, before I wade in to make everything even worse.

Jon starts us off and is in blue. Karen’s in pink. Fairly obvious colour coding, I know, but do you really want to have to think about this too much? It’s Saturday.

jon hope

You would think, wouldn’t you, that these are fairly achievable goals? Almost too easy, like waking up in the morning and saying you hope “there’ll be some weather at some point today”. And yet, I have read ahead, and I reckon Jon might have gone home a couple of checkmarks short from this bucket list.

karen hope

You’re in luck! Well, about the Instagramming anyway. I had a quick breeze over to the restaurant’s website and, sure enough, there’s a gallery of all the things you can order and it looks like just like your favourite earnest food blogger’s Insta. See?

Screen Shot 2016-07-02 at 08.15.03

I’ll gloss over the fact the pictures of the restaurant itself – the Criterion, one of the most gorgeous rooms I’ve ever been in – look like they were taken on an iPhone 3 by someone also taking part in a sponsored swim at the same time.

Anyway, I hope Karen got her phone out and did some serious uploading – Instagram likes are the only hearts she’ll be leaving with tonight.

Also, “to meet my future husband” – is this what being 26 is like now? Keep it.

jon first

Jon works in tech journalism so I’m going to have to take his sartorial judgement with a pinch of salt, I’m afraid. Sadly, the full length version of the date picture is unavailable to me today because of tech issues – perhaps Jon would know what to do – so I can’t tell you whether Jon has a clue in the fashion stakes or not.

karen first


Karen is like one of those contestants on Catchphrase who takes “say what you see” literally and just screams any words to describe what her eyes recognise. Yes, he has specs on and, yes, he has what someone who was feeling very generous might call a beard. But how did you feel? Either Karen is an android or she doesn’t know that a first impression is an opinion, not a fact. I mean, go wild with it!

jon talk

Telling someone your favourite member of Busted is Charlie was the most popular way of coming out as gay in 2003.

The “pleasant, but superficial” here is a very Dowager Countess kind of burn, but a burn it definitely is. Jon is trying to say, with all the subtlety of a someone driving a JCB around a crazy golf course, that he is a CLEVER PERSON who talks about the BIG ISSUES. Of course, it takes two to ride a tandem, and it doesn’t sound like Jon was particularly interested in steering the conversation anywhere more cerebral:

karen takk

margo tenenbaums

I am hesitant to roll my eyes and chuck out the word “millennial” to dismiss this, because it’s just so lazy and obvious and everybody else does it. But, honestly, show me a more Generation Y triumvirate of chat than that and I will give you a biscuit.

I wish people concentrated more on actually being fucking interesting on Twitter, rather than getting verified so they can pretend they are.

Oh, and it’s not a ‘blue tick’, which I am willing to bet the entire GDP of the nation, or whatever’s left, that’s what these two called it. The badge is blue, the tick is white. I will definitely go down with this ship – you see if I don’t.

That said, what’s wrong with talking about “pleasant but superficial”  stuff on a date? How deep and meaningful do you want to get when you meet each other for the first time? You’re in your 20s, it should be curt hellos, seven double vodkas with sambuca chasers and a taxi to whoever’s bedsit is the nearest. Get with it, millennials.

Jon awks

Ah. Straight-talking, you see; it’s overrated. I won’t comment on the journalist mentioned here, because I haven’t really read anything she’s been involved with for quite some time, but what I do know is “telling it like it is” is the biggest lie of the 21st century.

People who “tell it like it is” are doing nothing of the sort. They think they’re being very clever, blurting out opinion dressed up as fact and “saying what everyone is thinking”. But, the thing is, that toddlers also say what everyone’s thinking when, in the post office queue, they point at a bald man and ask why he has no hair. It’s accepted they do that because their brains haven’t finished growing yet, so they can’t make a call on what is appropriate to think and to say; they have no cultural awareness that allows them to make fully formed judgements. They are just telling it like it is.

People tell it like it is when they don’t know how to think. It is beyond them. Intelligent people who tell it like it is, however, are the most malevolent of them all – they’re the ones pointing out the bald man to the toddler and offering him a sweetie to say what everyone is thinking.

Enjoy your sweetie, darling.

karen awks

If the moment described by Jon above truly was awkward, why doesn’t Karen mention it at all? I mean, I’m assuming intellectual heavyweight Jon, so bored by the pleasant but superficial chatter, seized this opportunity to explain to Karen why admiring this columnist was distasteful. How could he resist telling Karen that the columnist has a grim attitude toward migrants, women, Muslims and pretty much anyone who isn’t white and middle-class and/or doesn’t agree with her? He saw his chance, I am sure, to explain that while she might be cool with some women and some poor people and, for example, gay people desperate to label her an icon, she dismisses other minorities which are very likely to include those people she professes to adore.

A man literally handed a ticket to dole out some weapons-grade mansplaining and he didn’t take it? Nope? No mention? This is unprecedented. We can only assume, then, that Jon let Karen fall down that particular hole, sat back in his chair and thought “that will make a great response for the Blind Date column”.

Don’t complain about conversation being shallow if you’re not prepared to get your swimming trunks wet.


We’ll skip table manners as there is a LOT to get through today and it’s gone 9.

Jon best thing

Imagine saying the best thing about someone was they laughed at jokes you knew were shit but still told anyway.

Karen best thing

“Pleasant, but superficial” indeed. I don’t think there’ll be a seat at the Algonquin Round Table for Jon just yet, do you?

jon friends


We GET it. You and your friends are a herd of Einsteins roaming majestically across a land built of science labs, broadsheet newspapers and think tanks, while Karen is a big pink Michael Kors handbag left on a stool in the champagne bar in the Westfield at White City.

What could they possibly have to talk about? Hmm, well I bet they’d certainly find something to say about YOU when you sloped off to the toilet to practise your zingers.

karen friends

Try turning it off and on again and then just throw it in the bin, Karen. You might as well.

jon made of you

Yeah, probably. Great first-date material that, laying into an actor. who, I imagine, your date quite likes.  Guaranteed to endear you.

It sounds to me like Jon wanted Karen to think he was awkward and intense., like they were positive attributes. I mean, I guess it works on Marlon Brando and James Dean or even James Franco (they’re celebrities, Jon, do look them up) but to carry off intense and awkward you also have to be… interesting enough that people persevere and, indeed, care?

Karen made of you

This makes me sad. Here, it seems Karen is saying, “I know I’m awful, but hey” and while this can be a good attitude to have sometimes – because everyone is awful, whether they like to admit or not – it feels to me Karen is apologising for who she is.

I see a lot of women in this column say that they reckon the guy thought they were “scatty” and it annoys me on all sorts of levels. If a man thinks you’re scatty, it’s because his own fly’s testicle of a brain can only deal with one thought at once  – and that thought is “be a man and own everything”.

All this dumbing down to make people like us, or to make up for the fact that they don’t. “Oh I was too scatty. I was so awkward and intense.” Self-deprecation is hugely overrated. It’s damaging, because eventually you start to believe it, and then you really are fucked.

jon three

Jon describing Karen like he’s selling a puppy to a lovely family who came all the way from Warminster to buy the pick of the litter – except that one’s been taken.

karen three

Karen describing Jon exactly as he’d hoped, the smug bastard.

jon kiss

This has been a difficult read, hasn’t it? Jon being really condescending, Karen being as wilfully basic as her life force will allow, but out of all their try-hard, race to the bottom answers, I think it’s this one that will tip me over the edge.

It’s so carefully constructed, so purposeful – playing so damn hard to the peanut gallery that it’s in danger of keeling over and having a stroke right there in the middle of the stage, under those sweltering lights. It was typed and retyped, triple-checked for syntax and then, when Jon was done, he sat back in his chair with his hands behind his head and thought “this is the one all my mates will love”. This answer is everyone who ever got one over on you that you can’t get out of your mind. Your nemesis in 18 words.

24 years old. So long left to live. I wonder how much he’ll learn in all that time. Let’s hope this isn’t it.

karen kiss

Oh God, Karen, with your MTV Real Life Chicago hey dude whatever vibes.  If I promised you 1000 Insta likes by teatime, would you promise to talk about how you felt? I mean, you like a columnist who tell it like it is (good one, btw) yet you have  said literally zero of any consequence throughout. Be like your hero Katie, just this once! Tell it! Tell me something! Even if it’s to say he’s an arsehole!

jon change

karen change


The absolute state of people in their 20s in 2016. I hope everyone under 30 reading this now winces, and feels like those six people who voted Leave in the EU referendum, but aren’t racist.

This is who speaks for you – two carrier bags filled with water and plonked in a fancy restaurant, playing hot potato with the one brain-cell nature has allowed them to share for the evening.

karen score

jon score

Scores that low but wouldn’t change anything about the evening except your main course? You are not my people.

So. The end. Will they meet again? Will Jon finally manage to get that intellectual pow-wow he so desperately craves? Will Karen step away from Instagram long enough to realise that the bloke opposite her during dinner might actually be Draco Malfoy – oh, of course she won’t, she’s only read one of the books. (I, too, only read one FYI.)

It’s the final question and I can’t wait never to see either of these two again.

jon meet

Oh, bore off, second least interesting member of the audience on Question Time.

karen meet

HA! Karen waited right until the end to deliver her final body blow. “A bit young for me.” That two-year age difference was the killer all along. Who knew?

And as for the spark?

spark koala explosion

Update: Karen offers her version of events

Note: All the comments I make are based on the answers the Guardian chooses to publish, which may have been changed by a journalist to make for better copy. The participants in the date are aware editing of answers may happen, I assume, and know these answers will appear in the public arena.  This isn’t about me thinking these two people are bad people – I don’t know them. I am sure, in real life, they’re great. I’m critiquing the answers, not the people themselves. If you are the couple in this date, please do not take this personally; I don’t see the date in advance so my reactions are my first ones. And it’s early. Too early for this. If you want to give your side of the story, get in touch and I will happily publish any rebuttal or comments you might have.

Another note: There will be no Blind Date blog on 16th July. 

Photograph: James Drew Turner for the Guardian


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