Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 2 August 2003

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary...

Q. A few days ago I was in a flat belonging to one of my sister's friends, whom I do not know very well. On visiting the bathroom, I discovered a lavatory, no paper, a bidet and a neat pile of clean fluffy towels. Never mind what I actually did; what would have been the proper course of action?

Name withheld, London SW8

A. As a female, you were correct to be wary. This situation was less straightforward than it seemed. The first course of action open to you was to use the bidet and a clean fluffy towel, but the result would have been a 'used' towel with no obvious receptacle wherein to dispose of it. What if the person before you, equally embarrassed by the lack of a disposal option, had folded their used towel neatly back into the pile, complete with DNA samples? The second and better course would have been to exit the bathroom and discreetly search for some tissue or the like before re-entering. But if it was already too late, then you should have used the 'lettuce-drying method' on the affected body parts, simply whirling them hula-hoop style until all excess moisture had dissipated.

Q. In anticipation of the long, hot summer ahead, I have just purchased a very smart (and expensive) aluminium and glass outdoor dining suite, which now furnishes a cool garden area of my home. I also have a friend whose once attractive plumpness has now descended into gross obesity. My friend is aware of my purchase and has indicated that once the warmer weather arrives, she is looking forward to spending many happy hours in the secluded spot away from the exigencies of her family. However, I have now realised that the chairs belonging to my new suite have mesh backs and seats which, although capable of taking the weight of a normal person, will not support someone of her avoirdupois. Mary, how can I tactfully steer her away from this area which she is so longing to use? The area is not large enough to introduce more substantial chairs.

C.S., Queensland, Australia

A. Your most enjoyable letter could not be quoted in full, but clearly your sensitivity arises out of childhood embarrassments when witnessing oversized people rising for the National Anthem at your local cinema in Queensland, 'one of them bringing with her a whole row of chairs as her own was jammed to her bottom, and the other, who was disappearing through her chair, still clutching a box of chocolates as the canvas split like the Red Sea'. However, you are fortunate in that a mesh bar-stool has just been unmasked as the culprit in the Jerry Hall cellulite mystery of last summer. Make a joke of this with your friend: 'Guess what! Only size- six people are going to be able to lie on that expensive suite, after all – everyone else is going to look as though they've got really bad cellulite all over their bodies.' If she says, 'I don't care,' you can reply, 'Well, I care about you, and apparently, if any flesh is bulging through the mesh, it's a sign that it may give way, so I won't let you.' If you still crave her company, supply a roll-out futon for her to lie on like a beached whale.