mark October 23, 2018 11:23 AM

I’m not sure about others, but I’ve long known that real spies do NOT look like James Bond, they look like that tired, slightly overweight, later middle-aged tired person who you just got directions from, and can’t remember what they looked like 2 min later.

vas pup October 23, 2018 12:04 PM

I just curious: is she wife of Antonio Mendez who developed and made those masks? Same last name.
Now, how to discover hidden person’s identity – disguise? There are many types of surveillance cameras working in millimeter, infrared, theraherz range which let you see through all make up and cloth. For face – eye brows should be changed first for disguise. I guess infrared reflection of the best mask is different than skin. And last but not least, follow the subject, get when (s)he touch something, get fingerprints and compare with DB of persons on interest immediately.

chris October 23, 2018 1:32 PM

@vas pup: This person was the CIA Disguise Chief in the first Bush administration which ended in 1992, so a lot of this stuff is probably obsolete. But even now, the world isn’t surveilled by human beings in real time; if the goal is to do something without being immediately recognized, the fact that a camera might know you’re wearing a mask isn’t all that important if no one is watching the feed at that moment. Also, if I don’t want to be recognized by a neighbor or co-worker while meeting a clandestine subject in public, I probably wouldn’t care that the camera in my local Starbucks knows I’m wearing a fake beard.

vinnyG October 23, 2018 3:13 PM

@vas pup re: Antonio & Jonna Mendez: Yes, Mendez’ 2nd wife actually, apparently met at CIA: re: get fingerprints and compare with DB of persons on interest immediately: There may now be functional real-time fingerprint checking, but I’ve not encountered any reference to same. THe batch checking process would be of little use in real-time surveillance.

Jack October 23, 2018 3:14 PM

@chris : What, you think it’s only license-plates that are scanned and checked against databases in real-time ?
Damn, the Chinese must have 600 million people watching the cameras that monitor the other 600 million..

Jack October 23, 2018 3:20 PM

PS: Something has changed since 1992,
passports now contain biometric data, fex I have to let myself get fingerprinted, because the US demanded it..
How the spies get around that one, I haven’t a clue, besides ‘diplomatic immunity” .

echo October 23, 2018 3:36 PM

That was an interesting primer in the subject. I have wanted to break this topic myself but wasn’t sure how it would go down or whether it would be buried in “women’s issues”.

Women are judged heavily by appearance within society and culture and the context of a situation. I tend to dress relatively conservatively while tilting slightly towards glamorous. This is partly for confidence and partly not to attract too much attention. I want to be noticed when engaging with a person but disappear into the grey herd when I’m minding my own business.

On the issue of quick change I disovered a few tricks which could allow me to disappear very quickly. For example: wearing a jacket over a tee shirt with a very short skirt and stockings with heels while carrying a laptop? How would I disappear easily when being so distinctive? This is very simple. The jacket is removed by folding and tying is turned into an over the shouler bag which conceals the laptop and heels. A pair of lightweight flat pumps concealed in the jacket is slipped onto my feet. The long tee shirt is pulled down over my body revealing a sleeveless vest and when the sleeves are folded in forms a long skirt with pockets. An optional hat can then be worn.

Then there is appearance being at odds with reality. If I wore a formal outfit such as a fascinator and smart bolero and sensible dress for a garden party I don’t expect many people would think I was a threat or capable of much physical activity. In reality I have much more physical freedom than appearances indicate and to aid movement my dress can be pulled up and tucked in. A handbag can conceal metres of rope and tools, or survival kits, or lunch and other supplies for extended on-site conealment. I could even carry a complete change of clothes such as a light silk dress and different stockings, or after removing makeup a heavy duty sports bra to compress my top flat and masculine clothes.

As well as clothes make up is a topic all of its own and can be used to vary the perception of attractiveness or even change ethnicity, and add or remove suntan or tattoos in line with backstory. The more money or knowledge of materials or expertise with technique the better the effect.

With situational awareness you can avoid or mitigate not just cameras but individual people in crowds and become another blur. I’m fairly adept at this if for no reason than practice avoiding company I don’t want to keep or the occasional lech staring too much. It’s amazing how pre-occupied alone and out of direct line of sight you can be in a crowded room or shopping centre when you want to be.

What many people don’t realise is people don’t see they perceive and this is governed at a neuro-psycho-social level. Once you are perecieved as X it is very difficult to get a person to perceive you as Y unless you make a major mistake or a run of small noticeable mistakes. The visual-social components of the brain actively fight to maintain the perception which cascades upwards to more concious cognitive and emotional levels. This process is actually very quick – measured in fractions of a second and studies indicate that longer observation doesn’t alter the result.

Luzugas Fenyev-Baixar October 23, 2018 4:45 PM

None of this fools the artist’s trained eye. It sees through the disguise, past the nom, prenom, qualité, to the fundamentals hidden even to the self.

Tatütata October 23, 2018 8:39 PM

That one comes straight from “Spy vs. Spy” department.

In the other camp, a 2013 book presented training material used East German Stasi for disguise. Some teaser pictures were shown in reviews.

East German border patrol had a somewhat peculiar way of checking travel documents, by systematically glancing back and forth between the subject and his ID, checking every anatomical elements in a manifestly predefined order. (Something like: eyes, ears, nose, mouth, chin). Dunno how effective that was, might be worth a dive in the BStU archives.

Josh October 23, 2018 11:34 PM

I knew real spies were like that well before I ever watched James Bond. I know I saw Get Smart before that, and whenever he wanted to not be seen he wore a disguise. Made sense that the only reason he didn’t wear a disguise was to be recognized on camera, i.e. because it was a show and not real life. I was a smart kid I guess.

Rach El October 24, 2018 1:21 AM

Bear with me. The following website discusses how Paul McCartney really did die and was replaced with a look alike, who underwent plastic surgery. There is a very
detailed comparison of facial images before and after below. It indicates all the differences in the later Paul McCartney that simply could not be corrected – distances between ears and eyes, eyes and mouth – etc. Even the scars from surgery are apparent. Height. The stopped touring at this time.

Moving off topic are the number of things Mr McCartney has said in interviews over the decades that indicate he hasn’t completely learned his legend – a story for another time

Rach El October 24, 2018 1:24 AM

Before you write it off, the website opens by comparing photos of someone we do know to be the same person – Mr John Lennon. As a control this is most illustrative.

Put aside all ‘cover up’ ‘conspiracies’ , in context of disguise, just for the sake of hypothetical, scientific open mindedness it’s very interesting.

echo October 24, 2018 1:56 AM

The best guide to the human body is the book (I forget the title) which is a worldwide survey every 10-20 years which contains everyone possible measurement. Factoring out ethnicity to simplify height and age alone are identifiers to which country you were born and lived in. I’m not sure if there is an equivalent for men but women’s breast size is another country of origin indicator. All of this is caused by different diets including nutrition and fat content during development and into adulthood. In other respects it can also be a social class identifier.

Voices age too and can develop a timbre which can date a person even over the telephone to within five to ten years of their actual age.

I don’t know if this level of detail is me being pendantic but the data exists and can be used.

anon October 24, 2018 3:32 AM

@echo: your comment wasn’t buried in “women’s issues”, it was very interesting to read your thoughts on the subject.

just me October 24, 2018 5:41 AM

“How the spies get around that one, I haven’t a clue, besides ‘diplomatic immunity” .”

It’s simple, give them real passports and keep their identity secret. Biometric camera can detect spy only if you already know he’s a spy.

Petre Peter October 24, 2018 7:41 AM

Great video. Disguises have a lot in common with fashion-hold on to a configuration for long enough and you might just be able to wear it again.

echo October 24, 2018 7:52 AM

A students’ union has been forced to introduce fancy dress guidelines after a student society held a homelessness-themed party.

The trampolining society at Liverpool John Moores University was criticised after photographs of its annual “tramps’ night out” event were published in the student paper the Liverpool Tab.

The pictures showed the students wearing ripped clothes, with their faces painted to appear dirty. Some wore signs reading “Spare change? Meet me at the bar” and “give me your change and I’ll change your night”.

The society apologised in a statement. “We realise now that our annual choice of costume could cause offence and are sorry for any upset this may have caused – it was never our intention,” it said.

“We will of course be changing our annual fancy dress theme and once again apologise to anyone who may have found this inappropriate.”

This is an example of how not to a disguise. It is also as tasteless as public schoolboys dressing up in hunting pink on horseback staging a “chav hunt”.

echo October 24, 2018 10:11 PM


That review was a very good primer in itself! Watching the video and reading the review give anyone almost all they know to get started with this topic from my experience.

I joke that I’m all Hollywood FX and nobody ever seems to get this.

I forgot to mention earlier there is a very good video on Youtube explaining practical effects for one of the Terinator movies. It steps through the creation of prosthetics from taking a full mold of the actors head through making and curing prosthetics to their application. There is also another video somewhere explaining how to make a Batman mask for cosplay similar to the Christopher Nolan movies.

Wael October 25, 2018 12:58 AM

Former CIA Chief Explains How Spies Use Disguises | WIRED

She can’t talk about classified tactics and technologies. The assumption is she’s talking about 75 year-old technology. Fascinating a video as it is, I’m pretty sure that’s Richard Nixon presenting incognito, with a botched makeup job trying to look like Angela Merkel,

Nobody’s more of an expert in disguise than Steve Bridge’s makeup artist, I say.

echo October 25, 2018 2:39 AM


This book was available for cheap on a big name brand e-book platform so I bought it. I’m find a lot of the cross-cultural and pscyhological and some historical elements interesting. Not so much the well trod rehash of Cold War history and operations.

If the Soviets had made a pen which could detect documents aged by tea similar to the pens used to detect fake banknotes I suspect Western humint operations would have been busted wide open from the beginning.


This book says a lot if you have any appreciation of the craft. A lot of old techniques are eqally valid today even if they have been sobsumed by popular culture or fallen out of obvious use. The beauty and fashion industry as well as the movie industry may apply things differently but the techniques are universal only the goal changes.

The world has changed so perhaps the value of thinsg changes which means things are about a different set of problems which won’t be advertised.

Wael October 25, 2018 3:03 AM


This book says a lot

Which book, this one?

I forget the title

Okay, a blind shot in the dark: do you happen to remember the ISBN?

Sed Contra October 25, 2018 3:35 AM

Maybe my above was overstated. Politicians assume a rhetorical stance to convince, whereas a disguise, although it should be convincing, has the intention to mislead. There is often myth promulgated by politicians, but not necessarily deception.

Clive Robinson October 25, 2018 4:16 AM

@ echo, Wael,

If the Soviets had made a pen which could detect documents aged by tea similar to the pens used to detect fake banknotes I suspect Western humint operations would have been busted wide open from the beginning.

There are indeed devices that detect “tannin” from “tea” for help in detecting art work fakes.

It’s not known when “art forgers” first started using tea to age/distress things like fake water colours but it was certainly long prior to WWII where the technique was sufficiently well known that Allied POW escape committiee document forgers not only knew about it but used it.

There are stories that it was also used during WWI but I’ve not found any reliable primary or secondary sources.

Speaking of interesting books, you might be aware that James Bond 007 author Ian Fleming was involved during WWII with the “active / offensive intelligence” side of things and his gadget inventing character Q was bassed on a real person.

Well actually a couple… The one who actually was the gadget inventor who did interesting things like make plastic explosive charges that looked like horse or dog “poo” is still “officially” unknown.

However as originally envisaged by Flemming Q was an Armour, and the choice of weapon upset a real armourer who worked at ICI Geoffrey Bootbroyd who wrote to Fleming.

You asked the other day about the wellrod well Mr Boothroyd was involved with it and it’s amunition.

As for the other Q person apparently it is currently a woman, though some have said the department she runs is a compleate out of date waste of money,

However the SOE gadgets dept during WWII was the real home of inventiveness and some of the gadgets have been talked about but not all. The making of the gadgets were also things like survival equipment and maps hidden in pilot and other air crew clothing we know that Courtolds sourced the silk for the maps and also where they were printed. We also know about the false heals and compasses hidden in uniform buttons (one of which I have in my collection of bits).

However we also know there was other stuff that is apparently still used today for escape and evasion for not just pilots but others who end up behind opposing force lines (which yes I did some training for when wareing the green).

So atleast in spirit the original “Q” still marches on.

Rach El October 25, 2018 4:27 AM

Clive Robinson

The one who actually was the gadget inventor who did interesting things like make plastic explosive charges that looked like horse or dog “poo” is still “officially” unknown.

Isn’t this a ‘mad genius inventor’ who was responsible for inventing all kinds of devices, limpet mines, so absolutely brilliant the Allies success in dirty tactics methods entirely depending upon him? He was based not too far from Oxford and the crypto huts village. I read a whole book about him. Churchill championed him and his work as he realised very quickly that the British could not afford to be ‘Gentlemen’ and had to fight dirty all the way

Clive Robinson October 25, 2018 4:35 AM

@ echo, Wael,

As for the real SOE Q-gadget inventor whilst his identity is “officially” still secret (due to archive rules) publically we know who he was,

Obvioulsy provided the skeleton for,

I hope that helps you track down any of the books the “real Qs” wrote of which there are several.

echo October 25, 2018 6:21 AM


The book @bbt recommended. It’s not a huge amount but if you know enough about make up and practical effects and behaviours and clutter of cultural background it’s very easy to understand the depth behind it. A lot of it is stating the obvious but things most people don’t routinely consider.

I could write loads on these topics but most would come out as babble.


I understand UK and US intelligence and most governance structures are organised differently. US is more corporate all in-house. UK intelligence seems to be more a directing force with real work involving humint and other operations including possibly technical work actually conducted by ad-hoc resources such as universities, private sector, or other similar assets.

While researching I discovered a Ruger MK II .22 LR (?) with oversized sealed silencer works very well. Stopping power of various calibres versus target hostility is another barrel of laughs.

My view of UK state sector is not very high. By and large I have discovered state sector are not “problem solvers” and management and human resources is very weak. The book @bttb recommended contains a few snippets on office politics and breaking rice bowels. This is the last priority in the UK.


I have collected a handful of educational links on crafting of prosthetics, appearance change, and materials and manufacture.

Making of Terminator Genisys: Old, Not Obsolete
Direct link to prosthetics segment

Impressive Makeup Transformations [Pure Magic!]

Racechange make up

Black to white transformation (race change make up)
Scenes from the French TV show ‘Dans la peau d’un Noir” A black family’s transformation into a white family by professional make up.

History Inspired Makeup Tutorial – Elizabeth I | Feat. Amber Butchart and Rebecca Butterworth

The History of Lipstick

Clive Robinson October 25, 2018 8:31 AM

@ Rach El,

Isn’t this a ‘mad genius inventor’ who was responsible for inventing all kinds of devices, limpet mines, so absolutely brilliant the Allies success in dirty tactics methods entirely depending upon him?

That was one of the others…

There were several of the “gadget-inventors” doing different things at different times.

Whilst we know who some of them are we won’t know all of them for another 27 years under the “100 year rule” that the UK national Archives at Kew operate under.

However there were some real weird ones…

Have a look at one I’ve mentioned in the past, Geoffrey Pyke and Pykrete,

In some ways it was the fore runner of fiber glass reinforced plastic (GRP) that god alone knows how many ship, boat, dinghy, and canoe hulls have been made from.

Whilst Pykrete never saw service it has been tried a couple of times by Myth Busting TV shows. Further studies have shown that there are ways to turn it into a viable building material at the poles, and research from that has given rise to the design of habitats on both the moon and mars using local materials.

Then there were floating / swiming tanks and the other “funnies” of Major General Sir Percy Cleghorn Stanley Hobart KBE, CB, DSO, MC. Known as “Hobart’s Funnies” without which D-Day almost certainly would not have gone as well as it did, nor later actions in the Allied Invasion of Europe. Arguably if he had not come up with his ideas, much more of Europe would have become Russian occupied territory, certainly all of Northwestern Europe.

The “Hobart Funnies” bridged anti-tank ditches with bundles of copice cuttings (fasciens) rivers with bridge segments, mine fields with flails and even flame throwers and other strange projectile weapons (peyards / flying dustbins). Most were not Hobart’s designs, but he championed them against much opposition having been froced into retirment by Wavil, and brought back by Churchill. Many people are alive today who would not have been but for his will not just to succeed with tanks but to make them the friend of the infantryman in just about all conditions.'s_Funnies

We know there are others who designed all sorts of interesting devices, and I hope that eventually all their names will become known.

But there were others who from WWII served the greater good. The rudiments of plastic surgery came of age during WWII and due to eye surgeons treating pilots with shards of perspex from aircraft canopies in their eyes we got contact lenses. Other medical discoveries from WWII are still with us. Also various bone repair techniques used in reconstructive surgery, thus saving people from amputations or deformaties.

Even the gadgets have gone on for the greater good with self inflating life vests many sailboat sailors wear. Likewise the bags of dye and shark repelent. Also modern survival equipment comes from some of the gadgets.

Trying to track it all down could easily become a full time job or even a lifetimes work.

chris October 25, 2018 1:14 PM

@Jack — I’ve been in places covered by surveillance cameras which had signage indicating that the goings on in the area were “recorded but not monitored.” Every time authorities release a video of surveillance camera footage of a crime asking for the public’s help in identifying the criminals, it’s a tacit admission that either no one was watching the camera’s feed in real time or the authorities couldn’t respond quickly enough. Either way, a disguise is a pretty decent foil in this situation.

As for license plate readers and real-time database queries, automation doesn’t equal monitoring. Just because the authorities know a suspect was in a a certain place at a certain time doesn’t mean that they successfully arrested that person or even know their whereabouts after the fact. But this isn’t an apples to apples comparison with disguises because if I am, say, a wanted felon who is foolish enough to drive my own, registered car past a LPR, it doesn’t matter that I’m in disguise; I have already identified myself and rendered the disguise useless.

And, if you watched the video, the Chief of Disguise actually said that CIA staff were identified before they arrived at an overseas embassy and were continuously trailed by actual human beings — tactics the disguises mitigated. If masks, make up and quick changes can evade other people, they should still be at least somewhat effective against cameras.

Jon (fD) October 25, 2018 4:21 PM

Trivial aside:

The video mentioned using forks, but omitted another detail that you can see if you watch carefully. The grip on the fork changes as well – and that’s one way of detecting European vs. American. In countries that typically use chopsticks I imagine there are other identifiers.

Jon (fD)

chum8 October 25, 2018 5:21 PM

@Rach El re: McCartney conspiracy theory…

I share your fascination with the conspiracy theory, and I realize your main point was about disguise, not the theory itself. But I can’t help but notice that…

(gets out soap box)

…conspiracy theories use rhetorical techniques that excite the senses so that we blow unimportant details out of proportion. To put it in security terms, the conspiracy theorist is a first class social engineer who hides that fact by pretending to expose a case of first class social engineering. In this case, we’re hooked by suspense so that when the final photo comparison between Paul and “Fake Paul” is made, we’ve already bought in. We drool over the subtle photographic difference, forgetting how many photos of ourselves we’ve thrown away because the likeness was awful and how many photographers we’ve paid to capture our “true self.” When it comes to learning the truth, my money is on the thousands of people who know Paul and could expose a fake, rather than on a few photos.

echo October 25, 2018 6:26 PM

@Jon (fD)

Yes there are loads of identifiers to distinguish people from different countries and professional and social backgrounds. WHile Sherlock Holmes was fiction and it’s much harder today given changes in society and wealth the basic principles apply. Some are obvious and some take a while to discover. In a lot of respects it depends on the expertise of an individual. This can itself be problematic as instititional and social structures get in the way. The book ‘ The Master of Disguise’ covers this indirectly when referring to “hire and fire” CIA policy and polygraph tests being founded on subjective expertise which is not admissible by courts. You also have to be aware of the neuro-psycho-social issues that once identified as a familiar pattern people naturally will accept this and dismiss things which don’t fit with this narrative. Like the book suggests it is more about persuasion than force. Sometimes you have to keep people talking. I do this myself a lot when filtering people and keep talking again so they never know specifically what it was which triggered and they either lose interest or think I’m stupid.

One basic identifier is make up and clothes. There is a difference in European and American and Middle Eastern make up, and differences on a regional and local level. There are obvious and not so obvious differences with clothes. The way people walk and move and gesture is a cultural habit too.

Different people are atuned to different markers depending on factors such as race, gender, and age.


There is also the trick of wearing a mask and “accidentially” removing it in front of a camera before disappearing. The disguise is removed off camera.

One unfortunate black man in America was arrested because he bore a strong resemblance to a full face silicon mask available on the internet. It took some time before the police eventually believed he was not the man on the poor quality CCTV.

Brian Cranston famously disguised himself at San Diego Comic Con by wearing a mask of himself as Hiesenberg.

@chum8 @Rach El

I took one look at the link and couldn’t read it. I found the conspiracy theory social engineering pseudo-science too intellectually offensive. I had some bad experiences a long time ago so am very wary of people who pull these kinds of tricks and variations such as right wing populist politicians the media seem addicted to.

Jon (fD) October 25, 2018 7:07 PM

@echo – Never read the book. But a few remarks anyhow…

After being informed of the difference, I learned how to flip my fork around in one hand from one grip to the other. It’s cute… “Oh, you mean like this? flip“.

Polygraph tests are largely horsepucky. There’s a darn good reason the courts won’t accept them anymore.

And it didn’t take me long to learn to wave my hands a lot while shouting at Italian drivers while in Italy… 🙂

Jon (fD)

echo October 25, 2018 8:16 PM

@Jon (fD)

The video and book review say almost everything. The book is front loaded with most of the interesting stuff and for the remainder tends to ramble on about Cold War history and office politics. There’s nothing really new here. Almost all the information is already public in one form or another and if you have an interest you’ll pick it up as you go along. The big advantage an organisation or professional has is motivation and access to networks and resources but this is no more than a shortcut. I’ve basically done a Clive and not sure he spotted it.

As for the rest of what you said you’re already learning!

Typical English presentation for women is different to French and Italian. French is definately more towards quality and organising for a smaller mix and match chic wardrobe. Italian women tend to be more formally smarter and don’t swear. Given the assymetric nature of things you can guess that men are different too. The same can be said for American styling and social attitudes.

Just follow your nose, really.

I’m not saying I can appear and disappear at will or fit into a given situation or have a fully equipped bag of tricks. I have a naughty streak. I just haven’t found a legitimate outlet for it and the UK isn’t a land of opportunity. You can’t fart without filling in a form.

Watching Youtube videos yesterday of people involved with FX discussing the outfits made for “First Man” I felt like I had died and gone to heaven. There’s also a very slight deviation from the high degree of accuracy wanted by the producers. The woman in charge of these wanted “texture” so the X-15 uniform even though they had access to the original material they a different material to createa little extra shiny wrinkling. The guy making the Apollo 11 gloves gave them a very good texture too which replicated the originals very closely.

One of my tricks is wearing a conservative dark tailored skirt suit and a satin top because of the low key subconcious eyecatching shiny smooth wrinkling, or a dress with a good texture. Most men draw a blank when discussing this if they even notice it. This is why I said I was all Hollywood FX.

wcho October 25, 2018 8:45 PM

There are two kinds of Queen. There is the version immortalised in their 1985 Live Aid performance, when frontman Freddie Mercury’s soaring, sustained call of “ayo!” managed to sound like a proclamation from Mount Olympus. This Queen proved that every musical barrier could be broken, from stadium anthems to disco, as long as the audience were kept entertained.

I’m really disappointed this movie didn’t reach its potential according to reviews. I was really looking forward to it. Rami Malek’s “disguise” seemed very good from what I had seen and read. It’s just a shame the making of the movie was riddled with disagreements and over-management. I am left wondering if the CIA might have produced a better movie! The CIA certainly sponsored the modern art movement as part of a war of cultural attrition against the Soviet Union and a fair few works of art and artists from this time became iconic.

One almost unnoticeable detail about the Live Aid concert you can observe in videos is how Freddie Mercury resonated with the crowd so intimately you could watch how the crowd responded to him. You can see the ripple of the crowd as his voice connected with them at the speed of sound. This is a detail I believe from watching trailers wasn’t captured by the movie.

Given Freddie Mercury’s famed reclusiveness it could be argued that when in public he was in disguise all the time.

Clive Robinson October 25, 2018 10:50 PM

@ Jon (fD), echo,

After being informed of the difference, I learned how to flip my fork around in one hand from one grip to the other. It’s cute… “Oh, you mean like this? *flip*”.

There are nine basic ways to hold a fork… Much the same as there are for pencils/pens/paint brushes.

You have the three closed fist holds “shovel, stab-in, stab-out” the later two has the fork come out of the bottom of the fist.

The two “palm to under extended index finger” holds giving the “cut” tines down and “scoop” tines up.

The two “cut” and “scoop” with the fork handle going between the thumb and index finger.

And the two “cut” and “scoop” with the fork handle going between the index finger and middle finger.

In “acceptable English decorum” you are supposed to use the closed fist stab-in for holding and using to carving fork. For eating starters you can use either of the two palm to extended index finger depending on what the starter is. For eating a main course you are expected to always use the palm to extended index finger “cut” never ever any kind of scoop, oh and you are not supposed to squash your peas onto the back of the fork, you are supposed to first put a more solid piece of food onto the ends of the tines, then lift a small quantity of peas/beans etc onto the back of the fork using the more solid piece of food as an end stop to stop them rolling off. Long items of food should be first pierced with the fork then cut to be at most twice the width of the back of the fork. Desert is where it gets interesting you get a spoon and a fork, as a general rule the spoon does not go near or in your mouth, unless the desert is from a liquid thus icecream / sorbet / yogurt / pouring custard. For all others the palm to extended index finger cut or scoop, this includes whipped cream and non pouring custard “Creme Anglaise” / “Creme Patisserie”[1] and any sauces etc based on them.

For elegant eating you are supposed to bring the fork to the center of your mouth square on, and to close your mouth around the food but not the fork. Also you are expected to be facing and looking at your “table partner” when doing so, and chew elegantly with lips closed and not talk. When you have swallowed you then have the conversation passed to you such that you may talk and get more food on your fork, which you keep down at plate level untill you have finished talking, the lifting of your fork signifies to your table partner it’s their turn to talk… If you try doing this, and get it right your eating hand becomes as elegant as a swan, it also quickly becomes clear why there is a “no elbows on the table” rule. Oh and elbows are to be kept at your side and lifted forward not outward.

You used to be expected to know all this before you went to primary school. Whilst my son was taught this by me and his mum and ate correctly at nursery, it needed less than two months at primary school for him to revert to closed fist scooping 🙁

[1] Yes there are three basic types of “propper” custard and you are expected to know which is which at a glance…

echo October 26, 2018 2:09 AM

Ignore Clive. He’s just toeing the advertising line we spin foreigners. I have half a dozen cocktail dresses going to rot because nobody bothers anymore and what is it with men today wearing jeans with everything?

Clive Robinson October 26, 2018 6:18 AM

@ echo,

He’s just toeing the advertising line we spin foreigners.

Oh if that were only the case… People genuinely do judge other people by how they use their eating utensils[1]. You can hear the “WMC” types doing the “chatering class” bit outside the schools “dishing the dirt” on other peoples children. Their children pick up on it and use it as a form of bullying…

There is a whole raft of social research on people and their perception of others, and how they also affect differences in speach, vocabulary, behaviours, and moors as tribal distinguishers.

The clasic is the vocabulary of the upper middle classes that are not “proffesional” but “trade” in origin often self refering as “aspiring” who have started to cross the earned / unearned income divide. Which gave rise in the 1950’s to the U non-U distinction which even today is still alive and well,

One problem with U non-U is “chameleon speakers” that is those who modify their vocabulary, pronounciation, accent etc to fit in with an existing group, most often to effectively pander to the groups tribal behaviours. So much so that some do it entirely subconsciously

Another issue is those who use words not for U non-U resons but for correctness. Take the U “jam” and the non-U “preserves”, jams like cheeses are a subset of preserves. Likewise the U “pudding” and non-U “dessert” a pudding is actually something that is suet based that is cooked slowly by simmering or steaming. In effect U is a form of traditional vocabulary used by both the upper and working classes and quite often many of the middle classes. Thus the non-U word usage whilst more accurate is seen as being “aspiring” or “pretentious”.

Not far from where I live is the town of Wimbledon allegedly famed world wide for grass court tennis. Another close town is Epsom again allegedly famed world wide for it’s turf horse race. Royalty regularly visit them both and in both places the you will find the full spread of classes and sub-classes. However you will find rather more non-U speak in Wimbledon than you will in Epsom. The reason there are rather more foreigners who care not a jot for U non-U differentiation but for correctness in speech. Thus you will hear them say they are going for refreshment rather than “coffee” or some version of coffee such as a “latte”…

Such are the joys of social tribalism, but they do act along with certain types of colloquialisms such as jargon to unmask outsiders so are just as much part of an effective disguise as clothes and deportmant.

It’s why some people don’t have “friends” but “groups of acquaintances” that they are carefull not to alow the different groups to meet.

[1] No I’m not talking about the “gross out” effect of closed fist shoveling then picking up the plate to pour the gravy into your mouth. Likewise not quite the type behaviour as seen in the famous “how much for your women” Ches Paul restaurant scene from the Blues Brothers ( ). But the pretension of upper middle class fine dining.

echo October 26, 2018 7:42 AM


You’re an easy tease, Clive. You write things up better, which is a joy, because it’s all jumbled up in my head like a cat has being playing with a ball of wool. It’s a right mess up there.

I was going to mention that reading Jame’s Clavell’s “Shogun” was an awakening of historical perspective (much like the very different Anne Rice story “The Vampire Armand”. The English were very uncouth from the perspectiveof the Japanese characters in the story. This reminded me of when the English wore half a dozen smelly blankets called “clothes” and ate off a plate of bread with the knife they stabbed their best friends with in the back. This was before the invention of the modern knife and fork. Of course, even this attracted xenophobic snobbery when, I forgetwho, said “the English language is superior because the English call a knife a knife whereas the French call it a couteau”.

According to your list I’m mostly posh but posh people don’t use the word “posh” so this is me rumbled.

That video was terrible. What extremes! Can you imagine the clash of bullet hair and a Laura Asheley summer dress?

I don’t know if it’s my imagination but don’t right wing Americans tend to part their hair and the more right wing the lower the parting? It’s just something I noticed. Newt Gingrich’s parting is almost horizontal. I started giving them numbers like on the Richter scale.

There’s lots of little things people never notice until you point them out such as American light switches are different. There’s lots of more obvious differences between American and English, and other cultures too but this is something which passes most people by when watching a show.

I just bought magnetic lashes to try. I was stuck yesterday with ludicrously long nightclub lashes all day. They were so long my glasses were half way down my nose. Nobody at the shops said anything but even so. I have no idea if these will work out as a timesaver or deal with changedmyminditis but certainly a possible contender for a quick change which fits in with the disguise and disappear aspect of this topic.

Clive Robinson October 26, 2018 8:33 AM

@ echo,

You’re an easy tease, Clive

Maybe maybe not, buy me a cocktail if you are in town, it will give you a chance to get out the little black or even scarlet number 😉

Speaking of “what is it with men today wearing jeans with everything?” it’s part of the lad / laddet culture more specifically known as “The Clarkson Effect”…

He might be off of the beeb screens and they are certainly the poorer for it (financialy) but he still hangs around like the ghost of xmas past making not just the DG but their legal team excecively nervous and down right twitchy.

I’m told Clarkson’s new endevors are not what they once were, but as the DG of the Beeb has found Clarkson left behind a very large pair of penny loafers to fill and the Beeb “don’t take a risk” crowd in TV Center are nowhere close to doing it. So like many other shows the “don’t take a risk crowd” stage manage Top Gear is heading through ignominy to some distant elephants grave yard.

The thing is that inefectual men with bald spots and middle age pots, kind of lived vicariously through the old Top Gear team, hence the clothing styles have stuck with them like the straw a drowning man reaches out for…

Who is to blaim for this sorry state is hard to say but we appear stuck with it for now 🙁

Jack October 26, 2018 10:39 AM

@Chris : So, the Chinese are wasting their time and money with their automated jay-walking fines system ?
I don’t think so, “technically possible” and “politically possible” are not the same thing.

chris October 26, 2018 2:00 PM

@Jack: The Chinese jaywalking system is meant to combat “over 200,000” yearly jaywalking violations a year in Shenzhen. Like you said, it’s automated and relies on facial recognition — it wouldn’t work otherwise. It captures the faces of jaywalkers and electronically fines them. It seems to me that a mask or other disguise could be effective against this system precisely because it’s designed to eliminate active human intervention. Don’t forget, Juggalo makeup has defeated facial recognition systems.
Also, Shenzhen’s current system (as of last March) only displays someone’s name and face on a nearby LED screen in order to shame them without a fine. This means that you can test the effectiveness of your disguise in real time with no penalty.

Jon (fD) October 26, 2018 8:07 PM

Far be it from me to interrupt a budding romance here, but I ate my last meal with my fingers and while typing about forks was wearing pajamas.

I inherited a bit of British from my parents (Papa from Dundee, Mum from London) while growing up in the USA. People tell me my ‘hoity-toity’ is very badly mixed up.

Have fun, J.

echo October 26, 2018 9:40 PM

@Jon (fD)

Knock yourself out. The Queen eats breakfast from a tupperware bowl.

One comment I read a few weeks ago about making breakfast with the radio switched on was followed by their question of how wealthy would you have to be a century ago to make breakfast while accompanied by music?

The history of drink is very interesting whether wine or saki. The strength and quality were all appalling even for the elite compared to the average which is on a supermarket shelf today.

God knows how rich I would have to be to have bought a Laura Ashley dark purple silk dress in the medieval ages.

I watched a Youtube where an anecdote of Christopher Hitchens was shared. While visiting a restaurant he and a friend sat down. A few tables away was a badly behaved crowd of self-entitled sitting around another table. What happened next is a very arrogant young man wandered over. For all the world knew his great grandfather was a small pig farmer of no note who made his wealth simply because he owned a tiny plot of land in what later became Knightsbridge, and the title and trust fund which owned 10% of a tower block lease which paid for Eton and Swiss holidays this was based upon. This young man crouched and steepled his fingers and said “You’re going to hate me for saying this…” Christopher Hitchen’s interrupted him and said “We hate you already.”

I daresay this was the kind of inspiration for Hazel O’Connor’s song “Monsters in Disguise”.

Clive Robinson October 27, 2018 4:34 AM

@ echo,

question of how wealthy would you have to be a century ago to make breakfast while accompanied by music?

That would have been the last month or so of the “Great War” we later called the First World War.

Making breakfast for single people or people without children in most cases would probably not have happened due to being conscripted labour. As for musicians they would have been few and far between as well due to both lack of employment and heavy conscription even of men in their fifties.

But back then most middle class homes had a piano which the children would have been taught to play and family communual singing was still a hang over from the Victorian era.

So getting your children to play would not have been that expensive, and most likely the only option.

Three sets of flu pandemic waves over 1917-19 wiped out not the young or the old but the “economically active” soldiers and pregnant women and their babies, which exacerbated the change of life styles. The worst or deadliest month of which was exactly 100 years ago in Oct 18. The total death estimates for the three waves vary between 3 and 7% of the worlds population. In Britain alone a quater of a million died killing far more than the Great War it’s self.

The “wealthy landed” nolonger realy existed because several sets of “death duties” bankrupted the “landed gentry” who had sent their menfolk off to war as junior officers, who were Kitchener’s Cannon Fodder. Thus the great houses remained vacant and fell into disrepair, there would have been no work for fine musicians. But it was not just them, entire villages that had been built over the previous centuries to serve the landed gentry likewise went through very bad economic times, their young leaving for better lives else where.

But there was more to come as a blood sacrafice had been asked of all men, the majority working class, they inturn demanded a blood sacrafice of the ruling elite. The “Liberal Party” effectively disapeared and was replaced by the “Labour Party”. Women as many as a million had worked in “mens proffesions” due to necesity, some at decent factory wages had to a certain extent become franchised by the Representation of the Peoples Act of early 1918. But they did not want to go back to being servants and wives, they demanded more and they started to get it, then lost it. Due to the closure of munitions factories and returning men being given their jobs back women were not just “not needed” but “not wanted” thus within a few years a little over a quater of working women were back in domestic service, that was harder and more grueling than before the war.

But the problem that was building was what to do with the disabled, the limbless, the sightless, those who had damaged lungs. It has been said that WWI was the first of the scientific wars. But the War disabled not just conscripted soldiers, there were also those now mainly forgotton who had been conscripted into the mines, where there was a higher risk of death and injury than the trenches.

There were not the men to be husbands for single women, nor the jobs in big houses as servants, and the men who had come back had demanded and got their jobs back.

Occupation had to be found for both women and the disabled soldiers but those who suffered the most were the civilian disabled, those who had fought were seen as “diserving” but those diabled by work or from birth were if seen at all were seen as “undeserving”.

But worst treated of all were those who had been conscious objectors, having been put in prison with worse conditions than many can imagine they were in effect Britains first homeland concentration camps, following on from the ideas developed in the Boar War. Having been released they were treated as pariahs by nearly all. Friendless, jobless and quickly homeless they were pushed out of society they effectively were “disappeared” and what became of many is unknown, as they did not appear again in official records, even in the death register.

But perhaps the biggest imposition on society of all and relates strongly to this blog was that of the state. What the state had taken by force from the people, it was unwilling to give back. The UK Surveillance State realy started with WWI and the Defence of the Realm Act (DORA) that within four days of War gave the State near unlimited powers. Which along with women’s rights are, WWI’s lasting legacy, as it has now passed from living memory.

Jon (fD) October 27, 2018 10:45 AM

@ echo, Clive

As historical curiosities go, I want to blow my own horn about something I made about twenty years ago, my ‘geek wallpaper’.

I was given an old (old even then) wide-carriage dot-matrix printer. I was tinkering with self-teaching a programming language at the same time, and one of the exercises was making a Sieve of Eratosthenes prime number finder. So I wrote one, and in a matter of seconds all the prime numbers from 2 to 1,000,121 scrolled up the screen. After a bit of formatting silliness, I dumped about 58,000 prime numbers to the printer (to …121 to fill out the last line on the last page).

It took about a week to print, mostly because the printer liked to eat its own outfeed and jam. Then I stapled the printout to the wall, covering most of one wall of my apartment.

Fortunately, my landlord was a wonderful chap, and he looked at this vast printout of numbers stapled to the wall, and he looked at me, and when I asked him if he could tell me anything about them, he said, “They’re all odd.” I replied, “No, but to tell you that gives the game away…” and he shot back “They’re all prime!”. Yep, there’s one even one, and it’s waaaay up in the left corner.

Anyhow, the point of that whole anecdote was that later I wondered what that would have been like fifty (expensive computer time for no purpose), a hundred (the work of a serious eccentric with not enough to do), and two hundred (a mathematical monument learned people would travel to see) years ago.

It took my Pentium III less time to calculate them than it did to display them on the screen.

Jon (fD)

echo October 27, 2018 10:26 PM

Another issue is when a disguise has become so routine or commonplace that when removed the undisguised is a disguise in itself.

Some celebrities are total chameleons when it comes to their appearance, and others have created a signature look that’s hard to miss. Which is why Pamela Anderson’s makeunder caught us so off guard today. […] She was recently spotted at the Best Award Gala 40th Edition in Paris last week, and TBH if it wasn’t for the tip from, we probably wouldn’t have even recognized her.

echo October 29, 2018 9:42 PM

Mind-bending optical illusion of cat that looks like a crow sweeps the internet

While not necessarily practical reconfiguration and outline can play a role in disguise. A photograph reveals a cat appearing to be a crow. Similar phenomena, as Clive may have experienced in an earlier career, is at night the landscape can appearverydifferent with shallow dips in the ground and hedges appearing to be huge canyons or walls, or people appearing to be trees.

My personnal occasional hobby is exploring psychological and perceptual blind spots as per the book ‘Masters of Disguise’ to walk an elephant through a a room and havenobody notice.

Why is bullying so vicious in Japanese schools? In Japan, a student standing out from the rest of the class is a recipe for trauma, with the child more likely to become a victim of intense bullying by the classmates. Bullying cases have now hit a record high.

Japan is the worst visible example of “the nail which stands up gets hammered down” but similar pressures exist within the UK. State sector instititions are well known for a certain kind of box ticking don’t rock the boat jobsworth culture. Men in senior positions tend to adopt a certain uniformity of view even if extremely dated. While a local regional cultural issue women especially are guilty of adopting a standard “inforum” reflecting the “canteen cultural” aspects of the organisation which becomes a clique by proxy.

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