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Dear Mary

Dear Mary: Do men really have worse table manners when they’re on their own?

Plus: the rules on turning down an invitation you’ve accepted, and etiquette for WhatsApp

5 July 2014

9:00 AM

5 July 2014

9:00 AM

Q.  My 16-year-old son, who has recently had his first experiences of Clubland, has observed to me, his mother, that men’s table manners degenerate inside men-only clubs. Is this true?
— A.D.M., London SW1

A.  Allegedly so. Men seem hard-wired to let standards slip when the civilising influence of women is absent. According to the late sage Hugh Massingberd, the seating protocol of man/woman/man/woman originated in the early days of chivalry, when it was noted that a more courtly pace of consumption would characterise the round tables when knights were faced and sandwiched by females. Then as now, a courtly pace was much less disruptive to the digestive system and therefore desirable.


Q. Can it ever be permissible to withdraw an acceptance to a party? Eighteen months ago I helped a friend at university to plan her 21st, which is happening this September, but now it turns out it’s on the exact same night as the 21st of a much better friend who has only just got around to sending out his invitations. In a situation like this, do I really have to honour my (verbal) acceptance for the first party given by someone who, though I like her, is not nearly as close a friend as the person giving the second party, who is also actually my godmother’s son?
— Name and address withheld

A. In theory you should always stick to the first invitation accepted, but to require an answer 18 months before an event (unless it is for shooting) is a breach of etiquette in its own right. Invitations to 21sts should be issued around, but no later than, six weeks before the event and replies should be given no later than two weeks before. Since you are well within the time limit, you can legitimately explain to Friend One that there has been a ‘three-line whip’ and you have had no choice but to accept the invitation to your godmother’s son’s party.

Q. I use WhatsApp and find it very useful. However, I now have a problem since my brother has recently set up a group for his new granddaughter and along with the rest of his family he has begun to send various baby photos on a regular basis. I feel I do not need to see updates of my great-niece more than twice a year, yet these are coming in on an almost daily basis. If I choose to leave the group, everyone in it will be notified, which is sure to cause great offence. Mary, What should I do?
— A.G., Hampshire

A. There is no need to cause offence. Simply go to the settings page of WhatsApp and turn off the alerts for group chats. This means that you can bulk-view the postings once a fortnight when it suits you. You can reduce the nuisance without the perpetrators having any idea that you have gagged them.


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