Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 30 July 2005

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary...

Q. I have a six-bedroom house in Thorpeness to which I normally retire during the month of August. My problem is that there is no washing line and no way to dry sheets other than in a tumble-drier which is very noisy and, of course, unecological. With innumerable families proposing themselves to come for one or two nights during the month, would it be acceptable for me to ask people if they would mind sleeping in sheets that have already been slept in once or twice by other people, especially when most of those other people will have been children? I don’t like to ask people to bring their own sleeping bags, not only because they are a nuisance to carry but also because I find they are sweaty and uncomfortable to sleep in and I would not want my guests to be unhappy.

A.O., Thorpeness, Suffolk

A. While it is true that children effluviate less than adults, you must consider that there is a nit epidemic raging in England. Simply ask each of your guests to bring a duvet cover and a couple of pillow cases. Each person can then sleep inside his or her own duvet cover between the existing blankets. What is more, some high-achieving mothers use duvet covers as suitcases for their younger children’s clothes. They fit into a car more easily than suitcases and their pillow-like bulk is also useful to separate squabbling children in the car and to encourage them to sleep.

Q. How does one discreetly establish status when outside home territory and moving in a new milieu? I am going to stay in the south of France with some very new friends who are both famous and mega-rich but who have never been to stay with me. While I admit to being slightly star-struck by them I would like them to realise that I too live in a beautiful house and am already very well-connected in my own right. I just want to set a level playing field but without having to resort to name-dropping. I would not wish to be patronised.

Name withheld, Dorset

A. Load up your digital camera with a selection of prize establishing shots to show you in your most glamorous light. If necessary re-photograph from your own albums. Early on in the holiday ask one of your hosts to take a picture of you with your camera. Hardly anyone can resist the temptation to flick back to the stored images already in someone else’s digital camera and you will find that a discussion on the camera’s efficiency will ensue, preceding a request to view the images.

Q. A friend of mine is married to a soldier who thinks of himself as rather macho. The problem is that he has a very effeminate voice, so when I ring my friend I am never sure if it is him or her as neither of them gives their name when answering the phone. His self-image would not survive being mistaken for a woman, even telephonically. How can I avoid confusing him for her?

K.C., Perth, Western Australia

A. You need only open the call by announcing your own name and then saying, ‘What have you been up to today? Is this a good time for me to ring?’ Your interlocutor’s reply should give you all the clues you need to establish his/her identity.