Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 19 October 2002

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

Text settings

Dear Mary...

Q. At a party recently we reconnected with a couple we had not seen for a few years. We agreed to have dinner soon, and duly invited them. They then had us back, and we were happy to have re-established the relationship. When we next invited them for dinner, they accepted enthusiastically, saying that they would love to come provided that they did not take a spontaneous holiday. So I sent them a postcard reminder and went on holiday for three weeks. When I returned, having heard nothing to the contrary, I expected them to show up, which they did not. One of our guests said that she had seen Mrs X not three days before and they had said to each other, 'See you Friday night.' Fellow guests said that they might have thought the invitation was for a big 'stand-up' affair and that they wouldn't be missed. One guest who spoke to Mrs X the next day told her that the party had been a sit-down for 12. I certainly expected some explanation, apology or excuse. But there has been nothing, and that was a month ago. Now what? I really do not want a feud, or to embarrass them. How can I salvage the situation and remain friends? Is the ball in their court or in ours? Since the couple involved are 'newsworthy' and have a public profile, I wish to withhold my name from publication.

Name and address withheld

A. The other couple has behaved badly, but bear in mind that the torrent of information and invitations that now bombards 'public-profile' couples has left them with no option but to deal with emergencies only while everything else goes on the backboiler. You must forgive the couple - no doubt their negligence has caused them greater pain than it has caused you. Write them a (sincere) sympathy note - on a postcard, please, or they won't have time to read it - enclosing the number of a headhunting agency that could supply them with a top PA to handle their non-emergency workload.

Q. I have recently formed a strong attachment to an alluring lady, but am unable to tell whether her feelings are as strong as my own. Encouragingly, she has started to address me as 'darling', but I now discover that this is a term of endearment that she applies to all her many friends and admirers, thus debasing this important currency. What other signs of verbal affection should I listen out for to ascertain her true feelings and thus hopefully separate myself from the rest of the herd?

Name and address withheld

A. Next time you see this alluring lady, try the following body-language test. Wait until she is sitting down. Then compliment her on her shoes. Gaze at them as you do so. If she tucks them under her chair, she is not yet ready for you. If she leans forwards to stroke or handle the shoes as she thanks you, you have the green light to fasten your lips on hers.

Q. I have invited some new friends to stay over half-term. Now, neighbours have emailed saying that they know these new friends very well and can they come over, with their house-party, after dinner on the Saturday night. We all share friends up in this neck of the woods, but I do not want a 'herding' scenario at this early stage before I have bonded with my new friends. How can I say 'no' without giving offence?

Name withheld, Inverness

A. Why not take a tip from the new Max Hastings diaries and extend a warm invitation, qualifying it with the stipulation that you will be playing charades after dinner? In this way you can be sure that your neighbours and their party will find an excuse not to attend.