x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Common courtesy

On serious political careers and fashion magazines, parental controls, tipping in restaurants and high heels for girls.

Suri Cruise's parents have said they can't talk her out of wearing her silver high heels.
Suri Cruise's parents have said they can't talk her out of wearing her silver high heels.

Serious political careers and fashion magazines don't mix There's one very good reason why female politicians should never pose for fashion magazines and that is that they will never be taken seriously again. It may be unreasonable to suggest that attractive women ministers should turn down the opportunity to be styled by a professional and photographed in gorgeous clothes, but when a fashion editor from Vogue or Vanity Fair calls and dangles such temptations - promising no doubt that it will all be done in the best possible taste - the answer should be a polite but firm "no".

As the Spanish Popular Party secretary general María Dolores de Cospedal is discovering, your political credibility plummets no matter how decorous the photographs seem to be. Black and white shots of her posing in a smart cocktail suit in the December issue of Vanity Fair España have attracted a bucketload of criticism. They say she is undermining the seriousness of her position and they're right. It takes weeks to plan this sort of fashion shoot, weeks of getting your hair right, dieting, having facials, choosing clothes and just thinking about the photo session. That's time de Cospedal should have been using to plan her party's next attack on government policy.

She's not the first female politician to be flattered into posing for a glossy magazine. In another Spanish magazine earlier this year, her Popular Party colleague Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría was even more flamboyant in a glamorous black, off-the-shoulder gown that showed far too much thigh for a parliamentary spokeswoman. Some years ago in the UK, the MP Edwina Currie made herself look ridiculous by dressing up in leathers and straddling a motorbike - but then her political career was going nowhere and we later learnt from her autobiography just what her extra-curricular activities were.

The former Europe minister Caroline Flint made a complete fool of herself by accusing the government of using women as "window dressing" and then doing a magazine fashion shoot. In France, Rachida Dati posed for Paris Match when she was justice minister, a monumental blunder at a time when a number of prisoners had committed suicide and judges were up in arms about her high-handed management style.

Most women long for at least one beautiful photograph of themselves to put on the mantlepiece, but if you are trying to carve out a serious career in the cut-throat world of politics it has to be done privately. Otherwise it's simply handing your enemies a stick with which to beat you. It's just too easy to dismiss a woman as lightweight when she is clearly so taken with her looks. Already, the press has branded potential Conservative female candidates for the next UK general election as "Cameron's Cuties". They should take care not to live up to such a deliberately belittling nickname and refuse to line up for a photograph with the Conservative Party leader David Cameron. There may well be an element of show business in politics but it has to be subtle. Female politicians can be elegantly dressed, even glamorous, but if they are photographed it must be doing their job, not pretending they're fashion models. Even for a day.

Suri Cruise is one of the most photographed youngsters in the world right now. The three-year-old daughter of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes is adorable and looks like a miniature version of her mother. She is said to have a wardrobe worth a million dollars and is seldom pictured twice in the same outfit - except for the shoes, that is.

Her favourite pair seem to be silver high heels. Holmes says she tried to interest her in a pair of trainers only to be told that they were "boys' shoes". "She has a mind of her own," Cruise sighs. Isn't she cute?, echoes the world. How utterly stupid and short-sighted, I say. Whatever happened to the word "no"? Where is parental control here? The child's bones are still growing and can be pushed out of shape by ill-fitting footwear. High heels force a woman of any age to stand and walk in a way that nature never intended and no matter how expensive and beautiful the shoes are, her hips and spine are out of alignment when she wears them. The Cruises are being indulgent and irresponsible by letting Suri wear them. She loves dressing up, they say. Well, let her dress up at home for an hour or two.

All the money in the world doesn't seem to come with a dollop of good sense. It can't be beyond the skills of the hundreds of designers who clamour for Suri to wear their creations to make a pair of pretty and fashionable shoes that aren't going to cripple her. If they're looking for a tip, they need to offer good service Tipping for good service in a restaurant is a personal thing, or at least it should be. If the waiter has been pleasant and efficient, they deserve their 10 or 15 per cent, but if they haven't, then we should have the right not to leave a penny.

A case in America where a young couple were arrested and charged with theft for failing to leave a restaurant's mandatory 18 per cent gratuity, which in this case amounted to $16 (Dh60), is likely to interest diners all over the world when it goes to trial next month. Leslie Pope, 22, and John Wagner, 24, both students, claimed they had to wait an hour for their meal to arrive and had to get their own knives, forks and napkins. They also had to ask repeatedly for their glasses to be refilled because their waitress was outside the Pennsylvania restaurant smoking.

Aside from the fact that Dh60 is a considerable sum of money for most students, I always thought that tipping was supposed to be at your discretion and as a reward for being looked after well. Hopefully lawyers fighting the case will establish the principle once and for all. If restaurants want to hike their prices and incorporate gratuities, they should do so and take the consequences. But to decide that service is mandatory and call the police when their customers disagree isn't the best public relations.

If restaurants add between 10 and 20 per cent to the bill for service and it has been good, I usually don't object. But I'm unlikely to add any more, although I know many people feel they should. One of my favourite restaurants, Nobu at Atlantis, has some of the best service in this part of the world. It's also one of the most expensive places to eat, so it jolly well should. When it opened, they imported staff from Los Angeles who were knowledgeable about the food and looked cool. They are efficient, pleasant, unobtrusive and not overly effusive. I was glad to see that those standards have not dropped and I happily paid the added gratuity. I hate the nonsensical "Is everything all right with your meal?" that you often get at other restaurants. Recently, when I answered one such query recently with "Well, actually no; the meal is cold", I got a beaming smile from the waitress. Off she went, clearly not understanding a word I said. It meant nothing for a tip.

When people hit the jackpot in life, one of the first things they do is buy a big house in a smart area. Not so Susan Boyle, the dumpy middle-aged woman who became an internet sensation after her appearance on Britain's Got Talent. With her debut CD, I Dreamed a Dream, set to top the Christmas charts, she can expect a six-figure cheque to brighten her festive season. Yet she is staying put, merely deciding to buy the unprepossessing council house in Blackburn, East Lothian, that she has lived in for years.

She says she won't move because her beloved cat, Pebbles, wouldn't want to live in a "posh" part of town, and Boyle prefers to stay close to her family. Part of Boyle's appeal is that she is a very ordinary woman with an extraordinary voice. At one point the whole fame thing threatened to derail her. She's clearly more grounded than many a younger person who gets carried away by their early success.