Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 27 November 2004

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

Text settings

Dear Mary...

Q. Last week I went to a private view of Craigie Aitchison’s new pictures. I have always been a fan of his and having had a windfall I was looking forward to purchasing one of his compositions. I asked a gallery assistant for a price list — a reasonable request, one might think, but her response was, ‘We don’t do price lists. However, if you were interested in a particular picture we might be able to help.’ I was left feeling snubbed and so pursued the matter no further. How should I have replied?

Name and address withheld

A. You could have pulled a sympathetic face and said, ‘Oh sorry, I didn’t mean to put you on the spot. Poor you, not having a price list. Do you find it puts a lot of buyers off?’

Q. Although I say it myself, I am a reasonably accomplished photographer, and lately I have increasingly found myself being asked to photograph the weddings of friends, colleagues and acquaintances. For some reason, most of these people expect me to photograph their wedding for a small sum or even nothing. I don’t particularly enjoy taking these pictures, but how can I discourage these approaches? I find it difficult to say no.

M.S., Weston Village, Bath

A. Since even the cheapest professional wedding photographer costs £1,000, and so much is at stake if anything goes wrong with such a commission, your reluctance to co-operate is understandable. Why not respond to these requests by saying, ‘That’s so kind of you to ask me, but I’ve decided to do only weddings of people I don’t know from now on. It’s too difficult to be professional and herd people into formal line-ups when you’re slightly drunk.’ In this way you not only make the point that you are usually paid but also leave the door open for them to offer to pay you to stay sober and do a ‘professional job’.

Q. A friend recently persuaded me to help her organise a large table for a charity dinner; it soon emerged that my job was to be secretary and hon. treasurer, as I had to pay for all the expensive tickets in advance. Two weeks later, some of her friends have still not paid their share, but I hesitate to ask them because, though my bank manager is getting nasty, I find the whole business very embarrassing, as I am sure you will understand.

Name withheld, London W11

A. Money is an increasing cause of social anxiety as this week’s mailbag testifies. Owed monies are particularly difficult since the widespread modern plague of ‘last-minute-itis’ means that every chore except the madly urgent gets pushed to the bottom of the pending pile. Let’s say the price of the tickets was £200 per head. Ring the slackers up and say, ‘I think I may owe you a huge apology. I hope I didn’t ask you for £210 a head for your tickets, because I’ve just been looking at my bank statement and they were only £200 each.’ The slackers are bound to reply, ‘I don’t remember what you said but I’m glad you rang up. I’m writing the cheque now.’ Far from being offended at being chased they will be grateful for the secretarial service you supply in nudging them.