Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 1 May 2004

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary...

Q. My parents, sister and in-laws are all devout Roman Catholics. I myself was raised a Catholic but have been an atheist for over 20 years, a fact of which all my family are aware. Naturally our family life involves attending numerous RC church services (weddings, baptisms, funerals). Joining in with the religious actions (genuflecting, kneeling to pray, taking communion, making the sign of the cross and so on) makes me feel bogus and uncomfortably self-conscious. However, I worry that not joining in would be seen as an ostentatious rejection of beliefs which are dear to people I love. How can I politely attend these Roman Catholic

religious services without taking part in them? Thank you for your help.

Name and address withheld

A. There are worse sins than hypocrisy and there is a fine line between hypocrisy and

priggishness. There is no need to make the sign of the cross or to join in responses, but you should genuflect, stand and sit when others do so — it is only polite and just childish not to — although from the ‘Our Father’ onwards it is fine to sit even when others are kneeling. Since you are no longer a practising Catholic you should not take communion. But the fact that you go along to all these family events must mean that you care about the family and do not want to hurt their feelings and they, no doubt, hope that your faith may return.

Q. Some mega-rich American bankers bought the house opposite and have

outraged the neighbourhood with two solid years of construction work — endless daily noise from a circular mechanical digger gouging out a second basement, thick dust, meaning endless trips to an expensive

carwash, endless window-cleaning, blocked street, lost car parking, and rude and aggressive builders — without a hint of an apology at any time. The traditional form here is to send a charming note apologising in advance or wine (relating to height of inconvenience) in retrospect. How can I show these dreadful vulgar people that they are universally loathed and completely unwelcome while staying within the law? Have you any suggestions for killer insults which would not be actionable (these

people are New Yorkers)?

Name withheld, London Wll

A. As you live in the Notting Hill area you doubtless have a wide circle of friendly neighbours who work in the media, most pertinently people who produce reality television. Simply arrange for the offending neighbours to receive a letter from a production company announcing that they are to be the focus of a forthcoming Neighbours from Hell shockumentary (which is in the very early stages of production) and requesting an interview in which they will have the opportunity to hit back at their critics in the surrounding streets. ‘Please telephone to arrange a suitable time when we can film you outside the property when the diggers are in action.’ Even if you do not see an end to the noise, you will have the satisfaction of having unnerved the offenders and possibly put them to the expense and inconvenience of issuing an injunction. You may even find someone who genuinely wants to make such a documentary. The haves would enjoy feeling outraged as they watched and the have-nots would enjoy for quite different reasons.