Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 8 January 2005

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary...

Q. My parents own a house in Cornwall which they normally rent out at New Year for a huge sum of money. This year they very kindly allowed me to have it and to invite ten friends from uni. It all went really well and everyone had a brilliant time. My problem is that although my guests all thanked me — mostly orally, in some cases by texting — I am worried that none of them will get round to thanking my parents in writing. It may not even occur to them to do so. How can I tactfully remind them to get on with these bread-and-butter letters? My parents are old-fashioned about these things and my friends’ idleness would certainly impact on my opportunity to take the house again.

S.G., Exeter

A. Do not bother being tactful. As soon as term begins, set up a reunion party. As the slackers stroll in, issue them with pen, paper and writing surfaces and explain that drinks will be served shortly but first you are going to do them a small favour. You want to be able to invite them to Cornwall again, so consequently you are going to make it easy for them to produce the requisite thank-you letters so difficult to get around to under one’s own steam but a doddle when classroom conditions are replicated. Stand over them, schoolmistress-style, while they eke out their two or three hundred words of gratitude. They will be only too pleased to take on this simple challenge with its delightful contrast to the brain strain of essay-writing. When bullying is billed as a form of life-coaching, co-operation comes easily and you will soon have generated an impressive postbag to reassure your parents.

Q. I was told off over Christmas when, at a dinner party, some unusual cheeses came round and I took (tiny) helpings of about five different varieties, none of which I had tried before. My neighbour told me that when one is being offered a selection of cheeses on a plate it is a breach of etiquette to try more than three cheeses, no matter how many are on offer. Was she teasing me, Mary, or is this really the case?

M.K., Mildenhall, Wiltshire

A. There are certain rules concerning the cutting of cheese — for example, one should never cut off the ‘nose’ of a triangular section, but there are no sanctions on quota.

Q. May I pass on a tip to country-dwelling readers who currently have ‘builders in’? Ask the builders to plumb in a hot water tap along with powerful sprayhead hose to run into a ground-level sink near your back door. You will find it makes all the difference when returning from walks with muddy dogs and boots. One can simply stand in the sink and hose all the mud straight down a drain with glorious steaming hot water instead of tramping it through the house.

M.W., London W8

A. Thank you for your seasonal reminder. Readers who already have such a facility will attest that dogs are more than happy to submit to these heated hose-downs too. Walkers are equally gratified to see their wellies gleaming as new — particularly if someone else has wielded the hose to replicate hydro-massage as available at health farms.