Mary Killen

Dear Mary... | 29 July 2006

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Q. I wonder what is the correct etiquette when one notices that a friend has something unattractive and highly visible in their nostril? I have a bit of a phobia about this. Obviously, one can be straightforward if it is a close friend, but I am shortly taking a house in Trebetherick for the John Betjeman centenary celebrations, and we’ll be with a gang of people I don’t know very well. I have noticed that the problem is always much worse when people are in and out of the sea.

T.M., London W8

A. You are correct. Incompletely evacuated sea-water seems to promote the generation of veritable bouquets of nasal detritus. The best way to deal with this phobia is to carry a TweezerMate 12 times magnification pocket mirror, available from Boots for £12. Brandish the mirror openly while you make a personal inspection. ‘Just doing Nostril Watch’, you can laugh good-naturedly. ‘Have you noticed how much stuff gets collected there on a beach holiday? Anyone else?’ You will find your housemates only too keen to join in the vigilance and shortly the inquiry ‘Can I do Nostril Watch?’ will become something of a catchphrase.

Q. My family is devoted to our housekeeper, and she to us. She has just given me a huge refuse sack of second-hand clothes from her own child who is two years older than our twins. Sadly, there is not one thing in the whole collection that my image-conscious twins would consider wearing. My housekeeper lives out, but is with us five days a week. What can I do?

Name and address withheld

A. If you have a second home, announce that you are taking the collection there so you need not pack anything for the girls each time you go there. If not, simply run off a roll of film showing the girls posing in five different outfits each, in five different locations around your house at five different times of the day. Blow up one of these, frame it, and place it on a prominent surface. Meanwhile, trickle the release of the other photos over time, randomly placing them on dressers and chimney-pieces for a couple of days at a time. Even if she never sees the girls actually wearing the clothes, this virtual display will give her the emotional reassurance she needs that her gift of love has been accepted.

Q. I am staying in Cornwall for the summer and last week my parents and I visited the Tate Gallery, St Ives, where we had lunch in the excellent restaurant. I spotted a waiter there who is the most beautiful boy I have ever seen. He did not serve us, but we had a lot of eye contact. I cannot afford to eat there again myself, as I only have £10 per week allowance. What should I do?

F.W., Marlborough, Wiltshire

A. Return to the restaurant. Hover as though waiting for a friend until you have determined which tables your favourite waiter is serving. Then sit down alone saying you are waiting for someone but you will go ahead and order anyway. Bond while he is serving you. When the bill comes, announce that, since your friend has not turned up, you have insufficient funds and inquire whether, in time-honoured restaurant fashion, you can redeem your debt by washing up. Further bonding can then take place over the suds.