Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 22 March 2003

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary...Q. A man and a woman are in a railway carriage either side of the door. Both want to get off at the next station. The train stops. Who gets out first, a) if they are known to each other, b) if not?

B.A.L., Egerton, Kent

A. In both cases the man gets out first and holds the door open for the woman, offering to give her a hand with her bags if appropriate.

Q. I have been going to the same hairdresser for about 15 years and have always been pleased with the cut. However, for one appointment, he was away sick and my hair was cut by another stylist, a girl, who cut it very well, and I had compliments when I returned to work. I managed to get her again when I changed my appointment and my regular stylist was not available, and again she cut it much better than my usual man. The problem is - how can I change to this girl stylist without hurting the feelings of my old stylist? They both work in the same salon on the same days.

M.C., Cambridge

A. Let us call the old hairdresser Leo and the new one Andrea. Ask a male friend to visit the salon and say he wants to give someone a surprise birthday present. Can he pay in advance for six sessions with Andrea? When you walk in for your first of these 'free' six appointments (for which you will have secretly reimbursed your friend), take Leo discreetly aside. Pull a rueful face as you explain the 'muddle'. 'I thought it was a bit odd when he asked me for the name of who had just done my hair. Little did I know that he planned to come in and buy me six appointments as a birthday present. Of course, it would rob him of the satisfaction he's had from thinking he's been so clever in tracking down the very salon and the stylist if I were to switch to you, so that's pretty much that,' you can say in defeatist tones. Having provided Leo with this face-saving mechanism, he will not be overly upset. As the months roll on, he will lose track of how many sessions you have already had with Andrea. What with all the chemicals he inhales in the line of his work, he will soon forget that you were ever his customer.

Q. I need some advice. I am to entertain a colleague at my club in two weeks' time. He simply adores the place and insists on lunching there. He has a very able assistant whom he would like to bring with him. The assistant is charming, but on sight you would think that he was part of a notorious gang. I know that club members would be mortified. Do I simply ignore their prejudices or do you have a clever way to deal with this?

Name and address withheld

A. Simply warn porter and head waiter in advance that you are awaiting the arrival of a guest who is charm and respectability personified but whose physical appearance can create an alarming first impression. Request that they be on alert for any disquiet expressed, and that they should reassure members that all is well.