Mary Killen

Your problems solved | 11 October 2003

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary...

Q. In their light-headed enthusiasm, some of the disciples of the late Dr Atkins seem to have lost their social judgment as well as their weight. Last week, whilst dabbing at her crocodile tears on having to discard so many of her wonderful clothes, a very good friend offered me first choice. Unusually for me I was stricken dumb. Mary, how should I have responded?

A.C., Galway

A. If you were feeling chippy you could have replied, ‘Poor you. Shouldn’t you keep them for when you put it all back on again as you inevitably will?’ But I see no call for chippiness. Unless your friend is suffering from projected body dysmorphia, there is no reason for her to think you are fatter than you actually are. Either you are still carrying the same amount of bulk as she has shed, or you are taller than her and therefore take the same dress size without necessarily being fatter. In which case, lucky you to be in receipt of free ‘wonderful’ clothes. Yet perhaps you imagine there is a stigma or whiff of patronage attaching to second-hand clothes. I assure you that these days the reverse is the case. With every style icon from Kate Moss to Emily Mortimer preferring vintage/secondhand, people will soon be coining a new insult: ‘She’s the kind of woman who has to buy her own clothes.’

Q. My beloved wife is of aristocratic origins. This may possibly account for the fact that at breakfast time she leaves the lids off Marmite, marmalade and honey jars for someone else to attend to, as I suppose they would have done in olden times. Like the great Lady Thatcher, I myself come from grocer stock and this flamboyant behaviour is beginning to get on my nerves. How can I retrain my wife so that she becomes less wantonly wasteful in her ways?

A.B., London W8

A. Teach her a lesson by starting to throw away some of these favourite condiments, leaving only the telltale lids as admonishment. When she inquires as to the jars’ whereabouts, wear a blank expression and say, ‘Oh, I thought you must have finished with them as you left the lids off.’ Stick to this policy and your wife will soon learn the error of her ways.

Q. How can one avoid the ‘Esq’ on an envelope when writing to inappropriate people? I have a new friend (in his fifties) who does not hail from the Esquire classes but who is very aware of these things. He is a single man and I suspect he will see it as a social slight if I don’t add the honorific when writing to thank him for the dinner he has invited me to in a couple of weeks. It may seem a Pooterish question, Mary, and I don’t want to hurt his feelings, but it is a matter of principle at stake.

Name and address withheld

A. Simply write the name close to the top right-hand corner of the envelope. Then stick on a stamp large enough to obscure the ‘Esq’ as if it had been there in the first place.