Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 10 July 2004

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary...

Q. We have a house in Spain and the parents of one of our daughter’s schoolfriends asked if they could rent it for two weeks. We said, well, we don’t rent it; what we will do is lend it to you and ask you to give a cheque to our favourite charity. We said that people normally give two grand to the charity for each week that they take the house. This figure was agreed.

The day of their departure was dawning and there was no sign of a cheque, so I rang and said that our driver would bring them the keys and could they give him a cheque for £4,000? They handed him an envelope which was found to contain a cheque for only £2,500. Mary, we feel they are pulling a fast one. What should we do?

B. and A.G., Sibbertoft, Leicestershire

A. No doubt, as far as the charity is concerned, £2,500 is better than nothing, but the shortfall should not go unremarked. Why not write kindly to the couple to apologise for having thoughtlessly put pressure on them to overcommit themselves financially? Say they must not think of trying to raise any more money. You will make up the missing £1,500 that the charity was expecting and are very sorry for any embarrassment caused by your lack of sensitivity.

Q. There I was in the Cathedral, pleased as Punch to see my friend enthroned as Bishop of Blackburn. Why, you may ask, was there a group of four people, me included, seated, as compared with the 994 standing throughout the procession of the diocesan and visiting clergy? Simply because I had been told by the chap next to me, a visiting diocesan secretary, that one only stood for the Queen or her representatives. I went along with him for the first procession, but my courage left me thereafter and I duly stood for the mayoral and subsequent processions (dammit, I even stand for the choir in Guernsey). What should we have done?

R.A.P., Guernsey

A. The diocesan secretary must have got the wrong end of the stick. It is correct to stand for clergymen, who are, after all, representing God. To spare the feelings of the diocesan twerp, you could have whispered the explanation that even if the 994 others were doing the wrong thing, it would be more considerate to copy their gaffe — rather in the spirit of the British ambassador who, observing one of his guests drink the contents of his fingerbowl, followed suit, in order to put the chap at his ease.

Q. How does one politely see off new people who have moved in nearby and want to be friends? The wife has already uttered the dreaded phrase ‘Get your diary out.’ It seems arrogant and unfriendly to say ‘Our list is full’, but the truth is that any more friends and we will begin to feel claustrophobic.

Name and address withheld

A. Ring the woman back and say you have had to make a strict rule that you will not accept any more hospitality until you have paid back all the people you already owe. This will give you about 18 months’ leeway, by which time you may wish to reconsider the offer.