Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 19 February 2005

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary...

Q. I like to attend parties if I am invited but, despite the fact that most of my friends are in their forties, they seem to have an unfortunate tendency to want loud music to be playing during these parties, even when there is no dancing opportunity. I find that this means I come away with a sore throat from shouting to make myself heard. What do you suggest, Mary?

R.C., London W2

A. The best way around this is to trigger a verbal torrent from your interlocutor so you don’t have to use your own voice. There are various subjects which will encourage a decent outflow. Why not inquire, ‘You look so healthy. How do you do it?’ Or, with regard to your host or hostess, ‘How did you first meet so-and-so?’ Even, ‘Have you been clamped recently?’ In this way you can sit back, only nodding occasionally to prompt further outpourings, and thereby spare your own voice-box.

Q. My daughter has a boyfriend — she is 23, he is 27. They have been going out for six months or so and he comes to stay in the country with us quite a lot. He is very casual and laid-back, but his hair is really matted and dirty and sticks out at all angles. I have people to lunch or to stay of my husband’s and my own age — we are pensioners — and he comes in looking like an unmade bed. Finally I suggested to him he might brush his hair and wash it, in what I hoped was a playful tone. He replied, ‘Oh, I like it like this. I might cut it soon, though.’ My daughter was furious and says we are out of date etcetera and he may not come any more. What should I do? I don’t want to upset my daughter, but I don’t want to make her even keener on him by bringing out her protective side. He is a bass guitarist.

Name and address withheld

A. Dirty matted hair is fashionable among the young. It is a tribute, usually to Bob Marley who had ‘dreadlocks’. It is important for the young to feel that they are not just clones of their parents, and no doubt your daughter and her boyfriend are just going through phases which they should grow out of by the time they are 30 and forced to face the real world. Your daughter was probably projecting her insecurity about the relationship onto you when she snapped at you. Since the appearance is probably part of the 27-year-old’s stage appeal to those who like to annoy their parents, it is probably professionally necessary for him. Incidentally, you should not allow your daughter to intimidate you. Chadults like to receive criticism from their parents. It gives them boundaries and makes them feel secure.

Q. I have a dear friend who suffers from needless bouts of self-pity. How can I cure her of this problem?

A.B., London W8

A. Why not encourage your friend to pick up pen and paper and put her problem in writing and address it to this very column. This may help to put things in perspective.

If you have a problem, write to Dear Mary, c/o The Spectator, 56 Doughty Street, London WC1N 2LL.