Dear Mary

Dear Mary: How can I tell her that her table manners are disgusting?

10 August 2013

9:00 AM

10 August 2013

9:00 AM

Q. My mainly male colleagues and I were happy to learn that an attractive young woman would be joining the staff of the boarding prep school where we work. Yet, unfathomably, and despite having gone to the Dragon and grown up in north Oxford, this new colleague’s table manners turned out to be truly revolting. She eats very quickly, with both elbows on the table, head down and lifting the food in via her knife, hardly using her fork at all. This has turned us all off — most notably me at whom she has made a series of unsubtle passes — and as a result we have cancelled the tradition of Sunday staff suppers as no one can stomach sitting at a table with her. The headmaster’s wife is clearly paralysed by the size of the task involved and has no idea how to tackle this young woman (who is a competent teacher). What do you suggest for next term?
— Name and address withheld

A. You should use this crisis as an opportunity. Table manners are no longer taught in schools, yet there is a huge demand for instruction. Witness this year’s heavily oversubscribed summer school for 11-year-olds in Wiltshire at which table manners formed the core of the curriculum. When asked ‘Why are table manners important?’ the children spontaneously chorused: ‘So you can get a boyfriend/girlfriend.’ Offer to run a table-manners club at the school yourself and ask this female colleague to assist you with its administration, though none of the teaching. As she finds you attractive, she will certainly agree. Once she listens to you lecturing on the topic, the gravity of her own failings will become clear to her, as well as their consequences (no boyfriend). You should find she mends her ways in no time.


Q. During a recent house party in baking-hot Puglia, one guest, a keen nudist, announced his preference but took care to always sunbathe alone behind a nearby bush, donning a pair of minuscule Speedos only when he entered the pool. Although the nudist was out of sight, he was not out of mind, since those of us lying in our bathing costumes only a few feet away were all too aware of his presence and his naked body spread-eagled there. I wondered if this sort of mental intrusion could be said to have constituted, in fact, a breach of etiquette, and that he would have been less antisocial had he joined us on our loungers at the poolside in a conventional costume?
— Name and address withheld

A. Nudists make a huge contribution to the gaiety and cohesion of a house party as they provide topics of conversation, a justification for the discussion of sexual and body-image anxieties and a means of promoting bonding between other guests who can unite together in their disapproval or enthusiasm. In smaller measure, Speedos provide the same service.

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