Q. I am having a drinks party to celebrate the publication of my latest book. I sent out invitations (to mainly long-standing friends) by email. The invitation PDF clearly signals an informal party. Half of the respondents asked their secretaries to send formal replies, which is fair enough, although self-important. But a few secretaries sent pompous replies from the personal email accounts of their bosses. So I sent emails back and discovered the secretaries have taken control of their bosses’ accounts from within. This is unnerving. Mary, what do you say?
— R.J., London W11
A. It’s the impersonality which causes the subtle offence. People with secretaries and PAs should tread carefully when a social, rather than a professional, RSVP is called for.
Q. Regarding the mother-in-law and her habit of putting a newspaper on a chair seat before sitting down (Dear Mary, 25 January) I wondered: is she elderly and Roman Catholic? I’m 83 and CofE but at Catholic school, when we were about 12, we were told that if a gentleman gave up his seat, and had been sitting there a long time, we should put a paper there to save us from impure thoughts.
— J.B.C., Creyssac, France
A. Thank you for sharing this recherché nugget. On the same theme, an 18th-century etiquette guide for gentlemen advises that those giving up chairs to ladies at dances should engage the lady in brief conversation before steering her towards the vacated seat. This was to allow the man’s ‘personal atmosphere’ time to evaporate. For the lady to be immersed in such an ‘atmosphere’ was judged to be too intimate. This would be a biological rather than a spiritual type of impurity.
Q. What is the etiquette about kissing during the coronavirus scare? I don’t want to come across as a hypochondriac by suddenly stopping greeting people in the conventional way. On the other hand, people may not want me to kiss them. After all, my own saliva, deposited on another person’s cheek, will come into microscopic but still potent contact, inevitably, with the mucus membranes of the next person who plants a kiss on that cheek. What is your view, Mary? —
A.S., London W11
A. Air-kissing and hugging are preferable during the current scare. Make your verbal greeting more enthusiastic to compensate.
Q. May I pass on a tip to readers? In this cold weather I usually have gloves on when out, and one panics trying to take them off to answer an incoming call on one’s iPhone. No need. Simply use your nose to tap the ‘accept’ button. It is also flesh and the telephone will respond accordingly.
— L.B., London SW6
A. Thank you for sharing this tip.