Mary Killen Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 29 March 2003

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

Dear Mary…

Q. At a party the other day a friend of mine took a canapZ off a loaded plate that was being carried by someone she thought was one of the catering staff, only to realise, on account of the woman’s astonished look, that she was a guest and the plate a private one, as it were. What should my friend have said?
L.B., London W8

A. The normal response from the woman carrying the plate would have been to laugh pleasantly at the mistake and use it as an opening gambit in conversation. However, since the woman’s body language was clearly giving off waitress signals, she might well have been suffering from low self-esteem, a condition which would only have been compounded by your friend’s error. There is nothing wrong with waitresses – indeed, many glamorous youths work for catering agencies, even run their own, these days. Your friend could have redressed the balance and boosted the woman’s self-esteem by quipping, ‘Oh, sorry! You look so young that I assumed you must be a gap-year waitress.’

Q. An acquaintance of mine has a penchant for sticking things ‘where the sun don’t shine’ in a vain attempt to gain attention at weekend country gatherings. His original prop was a cigar, which he used in a presidential if unconvincing manner to imitate our great wartime leader. More recently, he has resorted to a fellow-guest’s toothbrush, and unfortunately encouraged amateur paparazzi to record the incident for posterity. He is clearly in need of help, but his friends are uncertain from which angle to approach him. Can you give us some advice, please?
Name and address withheld

A.

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