Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 24 May 2003

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary...

Q. I am shortly to take the stage at a certain literary festival. I always enjoy talking afterwards to those readers who have brought along their copies of my book for me to sign. One thing which grates, however, is the inevitable presence, always at the very top of the queue, of a book dealer with an armload of copies which will soar in value with the addition of my signature. How can I overcome the uncharitable feelings I experience on these occasions and sign the books with good grace?

Name and address withheld

A. You could emulate the stance of another top author who takes satisfaction, as he signs, in reflecting how each new signature eats away at the dealer value of other signed copies already on the market. Indeed, this man even teases dealers as he is adding the very signatures, saying, 'Not much rarity value, I'm afraid. This is about the hundredth one I've signed today.'

Q. I often have to take business trips abroad where I am accompanied by a colleague for up to two weeks. While my colleague is charming and easy to get along with, I value my privacy greatly and find the constant companionship very testing. During the evenings in a strange city, I long to explore the streets at my leisure or to sit in the cinema and see a film of my choosing rather than his. I am by no means anti-social but I feel that having been removed from my home for longish periods entitles me to have a couple of hours to myself each day. I have used the jet-lagged/sick/got-work-to-do excuses too often, and I wish to get the point across that I just want to be alone for a while without causing offence to this kind man who is seemingly unable to fill a few hours with self-amusement. I do hope you can help.

Name and address withheld

A. You may have no inclination to write a book, but now is the time to consider knocking one up with a working title of Private Peregrinations. 'I'm going to let you go off on your own today,' you can then explain to your colleague, 'because I wouldn't want to hold you up while I'm standing for an hour at a time just looking in a café window or something.' If pressed for details about the format of your book, reply, 'I'm not going to talk too much about it, because that might become a substitute for actually doing it.'

Q. Someone I have known for 20 years, and whose mother, brother and sister are all friends of mine, is now too grand to say hello to me at parties. She always cuts me dead and I am fed up with it. How can I teach her a lesson?

H.R., London W8

A. Please do not waste any further time worrying about this matter. People, especially grand people, are very rarely cutting other people dead deliberately; they are usually short-sighted and too vain to wear glasses, or are worried that their breath smells and are hoping no one will try to talk to them. I know for a fact that this is the case with the woman to whom you refer.