A book lying around at Winchester hospital was Modern Manners Defined
which is a collection of essays by various comedians. One of Giles Coren's behavioural rules is "Don't reach, ask. Or, better still, wait to be offered." His mother told him not to ask for anything, for example, salt and pepper, when he was dining at other people's houses but to wait until it was offered. "But what if nobody offers?" he asked. "Then they are very rude," she replied. In extreme circumstances, he might say to the person next to him, "May I pass you anything?" They should then reply, "No thank you. May I pass you
anything?" Then he might ask if it wasn't too much trouble to pass the water jug.
Coren observes that this system only works if others know of it. At a recent Christmas lunch for 12 people, he heard his mother ask, "May I pass anybody anything?" Everybody just carried on eating, elbows on table, mouths open, one or two muttering, "No I'm fine thanks." He remembered her old advice and said, "No thank you, Mummy. May I pass you anything?" It turned out she wanted the sprouts.