Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 5 April 2003

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary...

Q. My parents-in-law have taken to dropping round uninvited. While I do not dislike them, they always seem to appear at an inconvenient time, when either the house is looking horribly dishevelled or I am. My husband doesn't see anything wrong with this and gets very offended when I mention it. How can I ensure that they come by invitation only? They're driving me mad!

M.P., Colchester, Essex

A. Teach yourself the yoga position 'the corpse'. Read a few paragraphs about the benefits of yoga. Then you will be well equipped to reply, when next they ask how you are, 'Really well. I've started doing yoga. It's very soothing, especially the corpse position where you turn off all the telephones and just lie really flat and relax every single muscle in your body by turn. Then you lie there listening to your own breath.' Then add, as though you have just thought of it, 'By the way, apparently people should ring me up if they are going to drop in, so I'm not jolted out of a deep state of relaxation by a doorbell. That can be quite bad for you.' In this way you will see an end to the nuisance without having given offence.

Q. This may seem a very self-indulgent thing to write in about, but when I was lying in the sun last week I couldn't get comfortable because the arm of my sunglasses seemed to be driving into the side of my face whenever I tried to nod off on the sun-lounger. It was too bright to try to nod off without sunglasses. It has been so long since we had any good weather in this country that I have quite forgotten how to sunbathe. What do the rich and famous do about this problem, Mary?

S.G., East Chisenbury, Wiltshire

A. If someone is considering nodding off during sunbathing, it makes much more sense to remove sunglasses and don an airline eye mask, ideally one of the silk ones given out in business or first class, or sold at airports. In this way you will have no discomfort from jabbing sunglass arms, and you will also screen off the sunlight almost more efficiently than you would do with even the darkest of sunglass lenses.

Q. How can I stop people sending me flowers I do not like? I have just received a bunch of gaudy carnations and gypsophila through the post from Jersey. This is not the first time.

Name and address withheld

A. You must just be grateful that you have received anything at all and that somebody wanted to make you happy. It is bad luck on the kind well-wisher that the florist sent stuff in bad taste, but florists, ironically, often seem to lack taste and, as you say, it was not the first time and it will not be the last. People who receive floral tributes that are not to their liking must also be grateful that they were not sent a hideous 'ornament' which the donor would then expect to see displayed in perpetuity on a central surface in their living quarters. At least the floral tribute runs its course in a week or so and can then be disposed off on the compost heap, where finally it will serve a useful purpose.