Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 26 July 2003

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Q. A colleague who sits next to me at work has a propensity to break wind violently whenever he feels inclined to do so. Far from being embarrassed by these eructations, as I imagine most people would be, he seems to see it as a social indelicacy on a par with coughing or slurping coffee; that is to say, not necessarily polite but certainly nothing to apologise for. Needless to say, I feel rather differently. How do I broach the subject without awkwardness? I have tried getting up and walking away every time the malodorous offences are committed, but he doesn't take the hint. Whether this has anything to do with the fact that he is American, and unaware of British standards of office etiquette, I couldn't say, but I am reaching the end of my tether.

Name and address withheld

A. You surprise me in reporting that this colleague is American. It is very unusual for anyone outside the English upper classes to revel in the sort of gaseous discharges you mention. Perhaps you are trying to conceal the identity of the true offender. In any case, the solution is readily available. With the assistance of standard-issue stink bombs, available from any joke shop, you can create an atmosphere of perma-nausea in the vicinity of your colleague's desk. Once the offence 'impacts' upon more workers than the man's immediate neighbours, an investigation will be triggered at the highest level and you should soon see an end to the nuisance.

Q. My mother-in-law is getting on a bit now, and is not the woman she was. On recent visits to her house, she has served my husband and me with only partly defrosted chicken (which we then had discreetly to dispose of without eating it). Now she has agreed to have our four children, aged four to ten, to stay for a few days while we are both away on business. How can I prevent her from giving them food-poisoning in our absence without hurting her feelings?

Name and address withheld

A. The elderly are less susceptible to food-poisoning than the young, their stomachs having been strengthened in early life by multiple exposure to slightly 'off' food, which explains why your mother-in-law does not regularly go down herself. Your children will simply have to pretend to have become vegetarian for the duration of the visit to their grandmother. Even the insensate will find it very difficult to poison their guests with vegetables.

Q. I am about to have a novel published but am not famous enough to merit a string of profiles in the press. How do you suggest I go about getting some publicity?

J.M., London NW3

A. Go to the tabloids purporting to be suffering from some kind of unusual medical condition such as double bladder disorder (read up on it first). Spill the graphic beans in exchange for a plug for your book. You will find the editors all too eager to co-operate.

If you have a problem, please write to Dear Mary, c/o 56 Doughty Street, London WC1N 2LL.