Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 19 April 2003

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary...

Q. I am a consultant to, and former partner of, a professional firm in the suburbs of London, where I do four days a week working in an extraordinarily happy and democratic environment with political incorrectness to the fore. A problem has arisen of a very delicate nature, where it has been alleged that a newly employed secretary – who is extremely popular, hardworking and efficient – suffers from the dreaded BO. How on earth does one address this issue, if at all?

M.W., Gillingham, Dorset

A. To deal with this problem, you must recruit two volunteers without ego problems from within the office. Ask these two to set aside a day to arrive at the office, having eaten onions and garlic and then exercised furiously, or whatever it takes to ensure that they are 'basting in their own juices'. An appropriate superior can then ask these two, plus the genuine offender, to come to his office for a discreet chat. Sitting them down, he should announce, 'You probably don't know this about me, but I have a very heightened sensitivity to smell. In fact, I almost considered a career in the wine trade or as a perfumier. I would just like to say that I am afraid I can detect very, very small amounts of body odour from all of you three. Perhaps no one else can pick it up, but – I am sorry to have to say this – I feel it is important to ask you all to be more vigilant, just in case any clients have the same sort of sensitivity as I do.' In this way, the secretary, feeling she is one of a gang who may or may not have given offence, will attend to the problem without feeling victimised or humiliated.

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