Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 13 September 2003

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary...

Q. Like an earlier correspondent this summer, my wife and I find ourselves in the invidious position of being asked, very much as an afterthought, to the wedding of friends to whom we considered ourselves close. Worse, on the grounds that they had 'run out of' the real thing, we have not even been sent a proper invitation, but a photocopy. How can we best express our dismay at having this B-list status so blatantly thrust upon us?

H.R.-T., East Lothian

A. Punish the couple by the following means. Arrange for a third party, posing as a Sloaney factotum service, to ring them to arrange a time for courier delivery of a Minton dinner service or similar luxury wedding present. Ten minutes later she should ring back: 'I'm afraid I actually got you muddled up with some other friends of the R-Ts who are also getting married. And it's they who are receiving the Minton dinner service. Sorry to have troubled you but I won't need to bother you again about delivery of your own present because I understand Ikea will be in touch with you directly.'

Q. My wife and I have an ongoing conflict about entertaining during the summer. She likes to entertain outdoors by the pool and on the patio. While I am not too fond of sitting in the heat, my primary objection is not to the activity itself but the length of time the guests stay. This summer relatives who were invited at 2 p.m. thought nothing of remaining around until 9.30 p.m. or even later. My idea of a compromise would be to reduce the number of hours the guests remain to, say, five. People who are invited to swim in the early afternoon should be quite willing to call it a day by 7 p.m. In fact, I believe it is inconsiderate for a guest to overstay his or her welcome beyond that. My wife feels it would be rude to set a time limit and also asks how she could possibly tell guests that they had to depart at a certain hour without offending them. Next year, Mary, what should we do?

W.A., Oyster Bay, New York

A. It is only natural that, once installed in a congenial poolside setting, guests should find it difficult to stir their stumps. However, if you are mentally prepared that the idyll will be finite, there should be no problem. When issuing invitations your wife need only say something along the lines of 'Do come and swim. Stay all afternoon. I don't need to be alone to get on with my paperwork until seven.'

Q. I have been invited to spend a week on a friend's ...this is the trouble. I don't know whether to say yacht or boat. Can you put me straight, Mary? Or should I write to Taki?

B.P., Wootton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire

A. Let me lighten Taki's load since he is unusually busy at the moment. Strictly speaking, you should say 'boat'. Indeed that is how owners themselves seem to refer to the conveyances. However, your confusion is understandable, because most guests like to use the word 'yacht' in conversation. It is a means of ensuring that their interlocutors 'get the picture'.