Mary Killen Mary Killen

Dear Mary: your problems solved | 19 November 2011

Q. I believe there is a recent trend among very well-brought-up people to attempt to alleviate the impression of elitism that their impeccable manners may provoke by putting their feet in places where they should not be. When I was in London just before the election, I noticed a picture of Mr Cameron sitting in a window, with one Nike-clad foot pulled up next to him on the windowsill. I believe this was deliberate, in order to reassure prospective voters that he was not a stuffy old fogey, but hip and with-it. Now, at my mud hotel in Mali, I have told the staff that feet are not allowed on tables, no matter whose feet we are talking about. There are some loutish people who will arrive, take their shoes and socks off, then order a beer and put their feet on the table! And here we come to the conundrum. The wife of possibly the most influential cultural diplomat in Mali (Madame V for short) is visiting and puts her elegant feet, clad in Chanel trainers, on the table, possibly to indicate that she is relaxed and enjoying herself. The staff glance nervously in my direction. I take courage, I stroll over casually in the direction of Madame V. I clear my throat and I open my mouth, but the amazing thing is that the intended words will not come out. Madame V looks up and smiles and I, instead of uttering ‘Voulez-vous enlever les pieds du table, chère Madame’, find the words coming out as: ‘N’oubliez pas les cocktails au coucher du soleil!’ (don’t forget the cocktails on the roof at sunset!) The fact is that I cannot tell Madame V to remove her feet. It is impossible. I, who am too brave for my own good in all other circumstances, cannot do it.

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