Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 4 December 2004

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Q. At 50, I was entitled to retirement which left me free to start an easier career and I got a job as a driver/valet to a young Saudi Arabian who owns a racing stud. I enjoy the work and we get on well. As is correct, I call him ‘Sir’ and he addresses me by my surname. Trouble is, so does his personal assistant, who is posh but a slip of a girl. She does so in front of my daughter, who is older than her. How can I get her to see that I resent her calling me by my surname without upsetting the applecart? Perhaps I sound petty and ridiculous, but you have no idea how it riles me; I suppose because it makes me feel inferior and reminds me of the change in status I should have come to terms with by now.

G.M., Derbyshire

A. Next time you are alone with the slip of a girl and she addresses you by your surname, turn round pleasantly and say, ‘Look, we’ve got to know each other pretty well by now, can’t we be on Christian-name terms?’ She will be hard pushed to justify a negative response.

Q. My wife and I have been invited to a reeling party. I am of wholly English extraction but my wife is a Scot. Is it appropriate for me to wear a kilt of her tartan or would that be a fearful gaffe?

G.C., by email

A. There is no protocol laid down on this matter. The unpompous, such as Roddy Martine, an authority on kilt-wearing, feel that the more kilts worn the better since ‘it is good for Scotland’. He even welcomes the likes of Madonna and Robbie Williams beating a path to the door of 21st-Century Kilts and stocking up on leather and pin-striped kilts. Meanwhile Alastair Campbell, Unicorn Pursuivant of Arms at the Lyon Court, asserts that ‘while women take their husbands’ identity it is not usual for a husband to take a wife’s identity — but no one would care two hoots’ [were G.C. to wear a kilt at the reeling party]. Both men agree, however, that the kilt must be worn with respect and not confused with fancy dress. Since I suspect there is the spectre of fancy dress hovering over your own query, I advise you simply to wear a cummerbund in your wife’s tartan to supplement your black or white tie at the party in question.

Q. Perhaps I can assist ‘J’ from the North of England with his little Australian ‘problem’ (20 November). As someone whose legal career has spanned both Australian immigration and criminal law (yes, they are discrete areas of law), I am happy to advise that the solution is easy. ‘J’ simply needs to phone the ‘Outstanding Warrants’ section of the State or Territory police service in which he was charged and ask if there are any warrants in his name. If not, then ‘J’ is in the clear. If yes, then New Zealand is nice at this time of year.

M.G., Edgecliff, NSW, Australia

A. Thank you so much for your considerate letter.

You can write to Dear Mary c/o The Spectator, 56 Doughty Street, London WC1 2LL.