Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 20 August 2005

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary...

Q. My wife and I have had a number of people to stay at our seaside house this summer. We are writers and since most of our friends are what would be called ‘arty types’ we are usually a very relaxed party. Nevertheless I still feel ill at ease when hosting breakfast in pyjamas, which is usually the case, because of the insecure aperture of the traditional pyjama trouser. Should one inadvertently give offence, what is the correct apology? How do other men manage to keep the aperture from gaping when in mixed company?

C.B., Aldeburgh, Suffolk

A. It is almost impossible for a pyjama-wearer to avoid giving offence when helping guests with breakfast, stretching up to get things off the top of dressers, or squatting down to load croissants into the bottom oven of an Aga. The solution is not to wear men’s pyjamas but to purchase women’s pyjamas in extra-large size. In this way the male wearer has an elasticated waist which allows easy manual access to the area in question when nature calls, and allows free movement about a kitchen without any danger of unintended exhibitionism. The Toast catalogue does a good pair in a manly pattern.

Q. At the theatre a few nights ago with a group of friends, I was seated directly behind one friend’s 19-year-old daughter. She had a plastic water bottle from which she proceeded to drink throughout the first act. I found the continual jerky movements in front of me somewhat distracting, and politely requested her to to keep still. Alas she refused, and continued to drink her water. This inconsiderate behaviour was upsetting, and I would much appreciate your view on how best to deal with this situation.

B.M.F, Australia

A. Nineteen-year-olds do not necessarily mean to annoy — new research shows that their developing brains make them particularly inconsiderate at this age and their egocentricity is more a biological than a moral problem. Someone behind them is out of sight and therefore out of mind. Someone facing them is a different story. Since there is no doubt that those on stage would find the jerky movements amid the sea of faces even more distracting that you did, a better policy, therefore, would be to lean forward and hiss, ‘I’m afraid the performers are finding your movements with the bottle very distracting.’ The Batemanesque response from other theatre-goers nearby would see to it that she stopped the nonsense straight away.

Q. The other night I went to dinner with a new friend. We stayed up talking until 6 a.m. at which point my friend showed me into a double-bedded guest room where I lay like a log between cool linen sheets for all of two hours before getting up again. I was unsure how to leave this bed on which I had made so little impression so I remade it neatly. Was I right, Mary?

M.B., Boar’s Hill, Oxford

A. This was downstairs, rather than upstairs thinking. It was not up to you to decide whether to change the sheets or not. On aesthetic grounds, it was considerate of you to remake the bed but in any case your £5 tip on the dressing table would have alerted housekeeping that the bed had been slept in.