Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 20 September 2003

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary...

Q. While staying in Provence recently, as the guest of some friends from Suffolk, my host, albeit an Englishman to his core, appeared every evening in a different pair of monogrammed velvet slippers (stags rampant on coronets, HS entwined with stags rampant, etc., etc.). Knowing that his wife (who, incidentally, is a very close friend of mine and was away in New York at the time) does not allow him to wear his monogrammed velvet slipper collection outside Suffolk environs, and certainly not out of the shooting season, I found myself somewhat forced to comment on this fact. I subsequently told his wife, who was quite apoplectic with rage at her husband's excess of bad taste. How can I ease my way around this marital tiff and ensure my place on their guest list next summer?

J.M., Wootton Rivers, Wiltshire

A. The wife is right. Not only is it a major solecism to wear initialled slippers in hot weather, it is also inappropriate to wear them 'on the Continent'. You may have alienated the husband, but the wife is usually the dominant authority in arranging who comes to stay. You need not worry. Seeing you as an ally, she will be keener than ever to have you next summer.

Q. Can you define the space that my theatre ticket reserves for my personal use? I'd say that it extends from the back of the seat in front to the back of my own seat in one direction, and to half of the arm-rest in the other. If the auditorium rises in steps, the level defines one's space. Am I right? If so, am I also right to resent the way in which some women wriggle out of their coats after sitting down and throw them over both arm-rests and over the back of the seat so that a part hangs down into what I regard as the territory of the person behind? And, if you agree that this amounts to invasion of territory, what can be done about it?

K.N., Oxford

A. Your definition is perfectly correct, but you can turn these invasions to your advantage. Lean forward and pleasantly encourage the miscreant to distribute even more of her coat into your space. Assure her that it would be welcome on the grounds that your knees could do with the cushioning. She may withdraw the coat altogether out of chagrin or disgust at the thought of your knees. But if she takes you at your word and affords them some further protection from the typical theatre seat's hard back, so much the better.

Q. I have been virtually forbidden to touch alcohol on medical grounds. I am rather at a loss as to which direction to turn since I intensely dislike Coca-Cola and allied high-caffeine concoctions. What should I do?

Name and address withheld

A. Why not take a tip from E.D.G., of Lostwithiel, Cornwall, who, after 60 years of steady imbibing, has been told to call a halt to his 20-units-a-day habit. E.D.G. has hit on tea as a substitute. He tells me, 'One suddenly realises why tea has been such an integral part of the lives of the middle- and lower-income groups. The ritual of preparing it is soothing and, in default of alcohol for either medical or other personal reasons, an addiction to tea can go some way towards providing an adequate substitute.'