Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 11 December 2004

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

Text settings

Dear Mary...

Q. In Scotland the Celtic tradition favours the female line (hence hereditary titles passing to daughters in the absence of an immediate male heir). In my opinion it would therefore be entirely appropriate for G.C. (4 December) to wear his wife’s tartan at a reeling party, provided (as stated) it is worn with respect. Highland dress and Scottish country dancing make a colourful combination, but if your correspondent has further reservations I suggest he might consider acquiring a pair of tartan trews.

Roddy Martine, Edinburgh

A. There is logic in your argument. However, my straw poll of Scottish noblewomen with English husbands revealed that the majority would be horrified if their husbands dressed in a kilt. Nevertheless the daughter of Lady Saltoun, chief of the Frasers, has an English husband who has embraced the style. No doubt he would take the view, ‘If it’s me it’s “U”.’ Lady Hesketh, herself an expert on tartans, has brothers who wear tartan trews and observes, ‘It all depends on the circs.’

Q. Every morning after I have dropped my son at his nursery school I stop at a local bakery and buy a chocolate croissant to eat as I walk the rest of my way home. Despite the fact that I have been doing this every weekday morning for something like 12 weeks, the assistant behind the counter always asks, ‘Anything else, Sir?’ as she wraps the croissant up. I have tried requesting my croissant by saying, ‘I just want one chocolate croissant as usual’ or ‘Just the one chocolate croissant’, even holding the precise coinage in my outstretched palm as I make the request, but nothing seems to get the message across. I am driven almost mad. Mary, how can I stop her from asking if I want anything else?

A.B., London W8

A. Go up to the counter, look the girl in the eye and enunciate slowly and emphatically, ‘Is it all right if I don’t have anything else other than one chocolate croissant?’ This should put an end to the nuisance.

Q. We have some very good Portuguese friends, whom we like in small doses, who have invited themselves on holiday with us. It went like this. The woman said, via email, ‘What are you doing for the hols?’ I told her of our plans to stay in the only hotel in Goa. She emailed back, ‘How great, can we come?’ Not concentrating and in the middle of writing cards, I emailed back, ‘See you there.’ Now she emails back to say she has booked flights and rooms. I never dreamt she would take me at my word. My husband is furious, not least because they have twins who stay up far too late and will require a lot of our nanny’s precious time. What can I do, Mary?

B.W., London SW3

A. Think of the most obnoxious people you know in common. Email back saying, ‘Feel really guilty did not tell you the Cocklefort Sobberfords may be coming too. Do cancel if you can’t face the thought of them.’ If they do not cancel you must make the best of your mistake and use the already spoilt holiday to work off some other crashers about whom you feel guilty. Indeed, why not invite a whole payload of people you don’t enjoy the company of and work them all off at once? It is the season of goodwill, after all.