Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 21 May 2005

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary...

My husband and I have been invited to stay for Royal Ascot-at-York this year with an old friend who lives close to the racecourse and with whom we have stayed many times before on non-racing occasions. The invitation was extended some months ago, but I have just received a letter from our hostess saying that she hopes we will understand but, given the considerable expense of hosting a house party, she will be making a charge for our visit. The charge she proposes is not insubstantial and, added to the cost of our travelling to York, along with the Ascot clothes and other expenses, means it is going to be a very pricey outing. I do not approve of chucking at the last minute but, given that I am not that keen on racing, I would not have accepted the invitation had I known we were to be charged. I fear that our friend has noted that many local houses have been rented out for the occasion and suddenly feels she does not wish to be left behind her more entrepreneurially-minded neighbours in this fiscally attractive opportunity. There was no mention of charging at the outset.

C.F., London SW3

A. Ring your friend up, shrieking with good-natured laughter as though you are being a good sport in the face of being teased. Say ‘I tell you what, you can come and stay with us for Chelsea Flower Show for three nights for no charge and then we can call it quits!’ The more she protests that it is not a tease, the more you should laugh and refuse to believe she could be serious. You will find she will back off smartly.

Q. My new boyfriend is wonderful in many ways but now we have moved in together I find that he always leaves wet bath towels lying on the floor. When I ask him to pick them up he always says that he will do it later. Needless to say, it never happens. I do not wish to turn into a nagging harridan but I read last week that the cumulative effect of this kind of repeated domestic annoyance can lead to relationship breakdown, so what should I do?

Name withheld, London SW12

A. You can retrain him by the following means. Secrete some dry towels for your personal use. Meanwhile leave his own wet towels where he drops them, every so often spraying them with a light mist of water to ensure they stay fully damp. You will see him mending his ways in no time.

Q. Further to your response to R. McM. regarding mobile telephone etiquette, I agree with you that differences in behaviour are not racially linked, but they are definitely culturally linked. While I agree completely with you that the behaviour you describe is not that of an (English) gentleman, this does not mean that it is unacceptable all over the world. For example, here in Thailand it is perfectly acceptable not only to receive but also to make calls in the cinema. The same people will always stand in silence for the national anthem when it is played before a film is shown, so they are not ill-mannered; it is simply a cultural difference. As R. McM. says, ‘Remonstration is received with puzzlement, as there is no recognition of any rudeness.’

J.W.B., Bangkok, Thailand

A. Thank you for sending this mind-broadening vignette.