Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 28 June 2003

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary...

Q. I understand that, even though my husband and I are reasonably well paid (our joint income is £65,000), we may still be entitled to something called child tax credit for our new baby – this on top of child benefit. How do I find out if this is true with the minimum of annoyance, Mary?

T.St.A., Cornwall

A. I am glad that you brought this matter up. Astonishingly, you are probably eligible for some monies, since apparently anyone with an income of less than £66,000 and a child under one can benefit. Those couples with joint incomes of less than £50,000 are entitled to credit worth £545 annually at the very minimum. However, you must submit your claim before 5 July, and for once it is easy to compute how much you will be entitled to receive because you can fill in a detailed 12-page form online to see how much it is. The site is Act swiftly to avoid losing monies due. Take the opportunity, while you are there, to see if there are any benefits available to low-paid old women or men among your staff whose personal details you are acquainted with, and who may be too old-fashioned to go to the social security office but may be in line for some takings themselves from the Working Tax Credit department. Or you may telephone 0845 300 3900 to ask for forms to be sent to you.

Q. I have been going out with my new girlfriend for almost three months and she is totally delightful in every way, but, when I pay the bill in restaurants, it is never less than £85 and, although this could be just extremely good manners, she never shows the slightest interest when I sign the debit-card slip. Without wishing to appear mean, how can I gently draw her attention to the amounts I am spending? I would not dream of allowing her to contribute or 'go Dutch', but I just feel it might make her happy, or flattered, to know how much I am delighted to spend on her.

P.W., London SW7

A. Continue your pleasurable restaurant-going habits, but just once in a while say, 'Oh dear, I have left my credit cards behind,' and produce a neat stack of £20, £10 and £5 notes. Don a rubber thimble – available from all branches of Rymans – and flick through the stash until you have extracted the correct denominations. Then double check. Your girlfriend will then be more clearly in the picture as to the levels of your generosity.

Q. There is a well-known woman in London society whom I naturally lean forward to kiss, as I have known her for more than 25 years. However, my friend quickly gets in a smacking sound before I get close to her face and performs a simulation of kissing from some feet away, telling me, 'Don't come closer, darling. I am very sweaty.' I find this very off-putting. What other form of greeting could I use?

A.Q., Piccadilly, London W1

A. Adopt the 'fond embrace of farewell' technique when you see this self-important woman coming towards you. Turn your body as though you are on your way out of the room in a hurry and blow a kiss in her direction as you go.