Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 26 June 2004

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary...

Q. Living as we do far from the motherland, a particular problem arises with what are best described as ‘professional Englishmen’. These men, of often dubious past, make a living out of pretending to be ‘top-drawer’ English. They sport an old school tie and the appropriate accent and wind up being appointed to company boards and invited to the best parties. The recent cost-of-living increases in central London have meant that their arrivals on our shores have reached plague proportions. I myself was recently fooled into inviting one of the ersatz gentlemen to my own dinner table with disastrous results which need not concern your readers. Mary, please help. Surely in the use of cutlery or the choice of footwear there lies a quick and reliable way of telling the fakes from the real top-drawer?

A.W., Adelaide, South Australia

A. One sure method of detecting impostors is to see whether their behaviour corresponds closely to toffs as depicted on screen. If it does, then you can be sure they are not the real thing. Where the authentic portrayal of top-drawer is concerned, the camera has rarely been known to get it right — not even in the carefully researched Gosford Park.

Q. I am going to stay with smart friends in Austria this summer. I normally bring luxury handmade chocolates or books to people with whom I stay, but this schloss has an in-house cook creating handmade chocolates while my hostess runs a bookshop herself. I hate waste and would want to give something my hosts could not conceivably already have, so what do you recommend as a house-present, Mary?

S.G., London W6

A. A most welcome present in any summer household would be one or more of the electronic insect-killing tennis rackets available from the Presents for Men website. The device kills the irritants on contact with its mesh. Ease of extermination allows racket-wielders to experience a huge sense of personal achievement. Should you arrive at the schloss to find it fully equipped with electronic rackets, there is no problem. Non-perishable goods of this kind are always welcome since they are useful as ‘wanderpreisen’ — wandering presents — items which suit most tastes and are never wasted since they can be handed on to the next person who needs a present.

Q. I am leaving school in the next few weeks and really would like to get into journalism when I leave university. I have lots of good ideas and would like to start writing freelance articles immediately but none of the newspaper features editors I have written to with some brilliant ideas has responded to my emails or even acknowledged them. Where could I be going wrong, Mary?

W.P., Oxford

A. Do not take the silence personally. Thanks to emails the lives of most features editors have been made intolerable — bombarded with an average of 200 ideas or PR mailshots per day to which they physically cannot reply. Your only hope of making an impact is presenteeism. May I suggest you take holiday work as an office cleaner or as catering staff in one of the relevant newspaper buildings. If you are personable you will have a better chance of putting your ideas across.