Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 19 March 2005

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary...

Q. May I humbly correct the advice you gave about the life-long friend who has developed an ‘unfortunate strain of body odour’? She is suffering from trimethylaminuria, a rare metabolic defect which causes a fish-like smell due to abnormal breakdown of choline. Simple blood and urine tests are available to confirm the diagnosis, often triggered by a fishy meal. Appropriate dietary modification can cure the problem.

M.A.M. (consultant nephrologist), London Wl

A. Despite the fact that my correspondent of 4 March gave no indication of the body odour in question being ‘fish-like’, readers will join me in being delighted by your learned advice. Knowledge that this condition exists provides an invaluable opening gambit for tackling the tricky topic when offensive smells are being given off, e.g. ‘Good Lord! There’s a faint smell of fish from you — no, no, no, it’s not offensive — it’s rather pleasant. But could it be that rare disease trimethylaminuria?! Perhaps you should have a blood test.’

Q. At a party I was giving my neighbour — a local lady professor of fine arts — observing that I needed to lose a few pounds, kindly gave me 12 sessions at the local hotel fitness centre (swimming pool, sauna, weights room etc). There is an open men’s changing room like an old-fashioned public school one, but with one cubicle. Could you possibly tell me what the etiquette is as regards changing for men? I have noticed that the older and flabbier the man, the less likely he is to use the cubicle, and the more likely he is to be quite happy about his nudity. There are lockers, but in a private club should one lock up one’s clothes or hang them on the open hooks?

H.A., Oxford

A. Many male members of private clubs are only too pleased not to have to go about coyly holding towels over their trouble spots as is expected in public swimming pool changing rooms and the like. ‘The whole point of a club,’ says one, ‘is that you don’t have to worry about putting your stuff in lockers and you don’t have to worry about being naked.’ Indeed it has been widely observed that the greater the pendulosities — including ‘man breasts’ — the more brazen the displays of these body parts. Brazenness is not compulsory, however, and the strutting peacocks will barely notice if you slip discreetly into the only cubicle.

Q. I have recently returned from a hiking holiday in La Palma where I stayed with two elderly vulcanologists. Everything went well until I had to share a lunchtime picnic of smoked Serrano ham, when the male vulcanologist became petulant and accused me of taking more than my fair share. I was taken aback by his impersonation of a caveman. How can this problem be avoided in the future?

G.W., Wilts

A. It is well known that male territorialism comes to the fore at barbecues, bonfires and picnics. Males do not like sharing from communal piles of food. The problem of clashing antlers can be avoided if each male is presented with a separately packed and labelled picnic. In future the female vulcanologist should ensure that this provision has been made.