Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 12 July 2003

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary...

Q. On doctor's orders, I've recently had to lay off some of my favourite foods – bread, shepherd's pie, spaghetti carbonara, etc. Would it be polite to refuse a dinner invitation, when I know that the food served won't agree with me, especially as it's to a celebratory party for an old friend I used to run around with, who is shortly to come out of prison?

Worried, address withheld

A. Invitations to the party you mention are highly sought after, for a number of reasons. There is no need for you to refuse yours since, given that the new social equation is self-disciplined/neurotic equals A-list, you can guarantee that a good third of your fellow guests will be following weirdo exclusion diets. You can bond with these others as you all brazenly eat just the toppings and the salad and flatter yourselves as you do so by discussing the health advantages.

Q. Last weekend I escorted my 17-year-old god-daughter to a performance of The Barber of Seville performed by Opera Project in the grounds of Doddington Place in Kent. The object was to raise funds for the Kent Association for the Blind, and therefore all age groups were represented in the audience, from well-behaved children aged no more than five to people in their nineties. Many of these were known to me as neighbours and, as I introduced them to my god-daughter, I was startled to see her kiss them on both cheeks. Without wishing to undermine her social confidence, how can I indicate that this sort of 'Cilla Black' behaviour, clearly picked up from the television, is inappropriate?

Name withheld, Sittingbourne, Kent

A. You may be even more startled to learn that kissing on introduction has, for two years or so, been the norm among smarties in statu pupillari at Oxbridge. The girl takes the lead, and the new practice is viewed as Continental and cosmopolitan rather than anything to do with the indiscriminate cheek-bashing of Blind Date. But don't worry – it clearly has a shelf-life. It is one thing to be kissed on introduction by an exquisite nymphette, but the social circuit would grind to a halt if there were a fear of being serially slobbered over by more mature introducees.

Q. My wife and I were disappointed not to be invited to our friends' wedding, as we had spent a lot of quality time with them over the past 18 months or so: holiday, shooting, meals out, golf, etc. Also, the bride had rung up to check our address, and had, on at least one occasion, told us that we were invited. After prompting from the best man, who is one of our mutual friends, the groom rang me two days before the wedding and explained that it was a tiny wedding of l50 (!) but they had had some late dropouts and suggested that we should come along. How should we react?

T.N., London W11

A. You should swallow your pride and accept their invitation. In the grand span of history it will be more important that you attended the wedding of these friends than that you temporarily gained some queeny advantage with a snubbing reprisal for their failure to treat you more respectfully.