Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 29 May 2004

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary

Q. In recent weeks I have been the recipient of an unusually large postbag of personal letters. In order to open these with speed and efficiency, and without inflicting repetitive strain injury on thumb and forefinger, I have been forced to employ a paper-knife. The sad upshot of this has been that many of these very welcome letters have had a third slashed off them as the knife did its work in opening the envelopes. Mary, would you please remind readers to fold letters in two, not three, and with the crease at the bottom of the envelope in situations where the recipient is likely to be inundated?

Name and address withheld

A. Thank you for this useful tip.

Q. I am very short of money but do not have much time available in which to work. Have you any tips, Mary, as to how one can generate a bit of pocket money without going to too much trouble?

A.S., London SW8

A. Why not hire a commissioner’s uniform and stand around outside Harrods? Another of Dear Mary’s correspondents, who lives next door to the emporium, reports that while idling some time away outside it the other day, waiting for a friend, he had a £50 note pressed into his hand by a Middle Eastern customer of the store who assumed from his appearance that he enjoyed flunkey status.

Q. As a reasonably successful businessman, from time to time I meet extremely wealthy people who now reside in London. I find it quite surprising that almost all of these mega-wealthy people, having originated abroad, seem now to wish to live in London but also take extreme pleasure in telling me how successful they are at avoiding paying any tax whatsoever. I know that they pose a dilemma for Gordon Brown, who would rather they were here spending their money than risk imposing the punitive measures that would drive them away altogether; but please, Mary, tell me how, when next this happens, I am supposed to respond. These encounters invariably take place at cocktail or dinner parties and I do not wish to offend my hostess.

M.M., London SW3

A. Why not reply without a hint of rancour, but as though introducing a new friend to a great potential source of pleasure in life, ‘Oooh, but personally I love paying tax. One, because it means I must have made a profit, so it’s a concrete sign I’ve been successful. And secondly because it eases one’s conscience about doing one’s bit for the National Health Service and that sort of thing. Don’t you enjoy feeling that way?’ you can ask, with wide eyes and innocent expression.

Q. Please will you inform readers that my initials were mistakenly added to the problem from C.P. of Shepherd’s Bush, who was worried about getting a lift in the private plane of a mutual friend of ours to a house party to which the two of us were invited.

K.L., Wantage

A. I am happy to correct this mistake.