Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 7 December 2002

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary...

Q. I rarely shoot, since I have always been a hopeless shot. However, I recently went out for a day and was rather pleased to shoot a woodcock. At the end of the day, as the keeper was loading my car, I was surprised to see only pheasants in the boot. 'What happened to my woodcock?' I asked. He replied, 'Oh, Lady X [my hostess] is rather partial to woodcock. She's kept that back for herself.' This seemed to me rather unjust, and I wondered if I had been 'abused', in today's parlance. Was I wrong to have assumed that he who shoots it gets it, so to speak?

A.C., London W12

A. Yes, you were wrong. The correct etiquette on a shoot is that everything belongs to the host. However, despite the fact that most shoots are wildly uneconomical, the hosts are normally generous enough to give each guest at least a brace of whatever has been shot. Incidentally, pheasants are fairly thick on the ground, but with grouse or partridge, if you want an extra brace, you may have to ask the keeper if you can buy one off him.

Q. A dear old friend has recently been causing upset by her behaviour at parties. People have complained to me that her manner towards them varies between being friendly and effusive, if there is a shortage of grandees and celebrities in the room, and downright cutting them dead if there is an abundance. Indeed, I have personally observed her making a beeline for some bigwig and sailing straight past people she knows and loves as if they did not exist. As my dear old friend is now acquiring something of a reputation for this sort of thing, how can I tactfully suggest to her that, as Lord Falconer should have said, ordinary people matter just as much as VIPs?

B. H.-D., London SW1

A. Next time you attend a smart party at which your friend is likely to be present, bring along your camera. Follow her around the room snapping her in the process of meeting and greeting. Take additional shots of non-smarties whom she is not greeting, even though she is normally friendly with them. You will then be in a position to mount all the prints in a mini-album in order of precedence, with the non-smarties, standing alone, at the back. Present this album to your friend at a later date saying, 'You were enjoying the party so much I thought you would like to have these to gloat over in your old age. Such a shame that I couldn't get pictures of you together with X, Y and Z - you never went near them - but I know they are old friends, and I thought you would like to see them in there too, just for sentimental reasons.'

Q. As a long-standing customer of Peter Jones, I was astonished by the rudeness of the response I received from a sales assistant in the fabric department the other day when I asked for help. He actually snapped, 'Wait your turn, please, madam, I'm busy.' I was lost for words. What should I have said to him to put him in his place?

M.D., London SW3

A. You should have replied in kindly manner, 'Oh, poor you. Are you finding it hard to cope? Perhaps you are in the wrong job.'

If you have a problem, please write to Dear Mary, c/o 56 Doughty Street, London WC1N 2LL.