Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 16 July 2005

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary...

Dear Mary...

Q. I have a six-week-old baby and have been invited to a lunch party by a neighbour. It was going to be my chance to meet all the other mothers in the street and chat about schools and so on. Now another mother has rung to say that she is bringing her 18-month-old son, with chickenpox, to the party, adding, ‘Everyone else’s children will be at school but I thought I should just warn you in case you might prefer not to come if you are worried about your baby possibly catching it.’ Am I right in thinking that this mother should be the one to stay at home, rather than ordering another mother to do so? I was so surprised by her call that I thanked her and said I would probably stay at home, but what should I have said, Mary?

Name and address withheld

A. Babies cannot be inoculated against chickenpox until they are one year old and it would be dangerous for your six-week-old to catch it. You should have thanked the selfish woman for her consideration in warning you and then said you had a brilliant new reference book on childhood diseases, ‘so let me consult it and ring you back in case there is something new in there that can help you.’ Ringing back, you would then read her out a paragraph or two on chickenpox (from the internet if necessary), stumbling as though reading it for the first time and, concluding in the same monotone with a final sentence inserted by yourself: ‘Parents whose children are suffering from chickenpox should not take them to social events. Good Lord,’ you can go on, ‘that must mean that you had better stay at home then, instead of me! What a shame we won’t meet!’

Q. ‘C.W., Glasgow’ — where else? — (2 July) was whining about paying £2 or £3 extra at restaurants and a possible ‘challenge of some kind’ from his, perhaps ‘immature’ stepson (who always chooses the most expensive dish on the menu when his stepfather is paying). But why assume that the stepson’s father is not alive? If the stepson’s father is still alive, why shouldn’t the stepson let his mean, Scotch, adulterous stepfather twist in the wind a little? We are talking about £2 or £3 — for a conceivably abandoned and, therefore, abused youth, whom you too, Mary, have sided too easily against, without condescending first to check the most salient circumstances of the case.

Name and address withheld

A. Thank you for raising this sobering point.

Q. What is the correct procedure to be followed when driving away from a house where one has spent an enjoyable luncheon or perhaps an entire weekend?

Name withheld, Somerset

A. Occupants of a car should roll down all the windows and wave with their arms extended to the elbow as they go on their way. This is so much more friendly than trying to make restricted movements from within the vehicle which may easily be misinterpreted as V signs or gestures of relief. In this way they can take their lead from the late HM Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, who, as her limousine glided away, would personally unwind her own window and fully unfurl her arm to wave an enthusiastic farewell to her hosts.