Your problems solved | 1 November 2003

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary...

Q. My husband and I are planning to celebrate our 55th (emerald) wedding anniversary with a modest family party. We have verbally accepted a quotation for a finger buffet from a local caterer, but our grandson, who with his wife runs a small catering business in Birmingham, has expressed a wish to do the catering. Delighted as we are with this offer, we find ourselves in a bit of a quandary: we were hoping that this couple would be among our guests, and we don’t want them to be occupied in the menial task of preparing the buffet and clearing up afterwards. On the other hand, we don’t want to deprive them of the opportunity to promote their business and make a profit. What do you suggest, Mary?

P.G.H., Colchester, Essex<

A. You must be firm with your grandson, whose expectations are clearly unrealistic. Unless most of the other guests are also coming from Birmingham, he is unlikely to attract any business from the event. What is more, women famously resent other women being in their kitchen: they can just about stomach a professional caterer, but a family member breeds an atavistic resentment. You can compromise by allowing your grandson’s firm to create the final ‘course’ of the finger buffet, something that he could bring as a plat accompli, which would require no faffing in the kitchen. Since this would be the last lingering taste on people’s palates, it would be the perfect moment for your grandson to bring out his business cards and distribute them.

Q. I regularly take the bus from Oxford to London. Incredible as it sounds, on two separate occasions the person in the seat in front of me has produced a pair of scissors and cut their toenails, allowing pieces of toenail to land all over their seat and the floor around them. Should I encounter such behaviour again, how can I reprimand the offender without seeming like a bus fascist to all the other passengers?

V.W., Oxford

A. Next time this happens, stand up theatrically and address the bus: ‘Can anyone give our friend here a plastic or a paper bag?’ People will forage, and when one is produced you can present it to the offender saying noisily, ‘Sorry we didn’t notice earlier that you needed a bag. How incredibly rude of us.’ In this way he/she will either have to crawl about collecting his/her clippings, or will have to inquire why you think they need a bag. Either way you will have meted out your punishment.

Q. A very dear daughter of a friend of mine, aged 29, regularly comes to stay. I have reason to believe she may have a certain venereal disease, namely chlamydia. She has resisted my suggestion that she be tested on the grounds that ‘it’s something only very young people get’. Although very lovable, my friend is not that bright. I would hate her to be infertile. How can I force her into having a test?

Name and address withheld

A. Why not look on the website which organises same-day testings of postally delivered urine samples? Or ring them on 0808 100 3133. You will find that while many idiotic people cannot be bothered to go to a doctor, very few will resist a passive consultation if set up by somebody else.