Dear Mary

Dear Mary: unacceptable behaviour at a book signing

Plus: our friend who licks his knife; and how to stop your children from getting tattoos

18 July 2015

9:00 AM

18 July 2015

9:00 AM

Q. At a recent literary festival I attended a talk with a high-profile octogenarian writer. I had already bought her book, so I obediently queued with the others lining up to get it signed. When I reached the writer, she was exchanging a few polite words with me while signing her book (I know several members of her family) when suddenly we were interrupted by another woman coming in from the side, barging the queue and not even holding a copy of the book. She was clearly determined to show everyone that she knew the writer socially and didn’t seem to realise that her behaviour was vulgar and out of order. How, without being heavy-handed, might I have suggested to her that there is an etiquette for behaviour at literary festivals and that, by her actions, she was breaching it?
— E.S., Sussex

A. You might have prompted the writer to deliver the etiquette lesson herself. This you could have done by murmuring to her: ‘Bad moment? Would it be more tactful if we all (gesturing at the queue behind you) leave you alone now and let you chat with your friend?’ 


Q. The husband of a couple with whom we’ve been friends for years has a bad habit of embarrassing us whenever we eat out together. Between mouthfuls, with elbows resting on the table, he grabs both knife and fork to point them vertically into the air. And to resume eating, his knife often receives a deliberate lick. This seriously detracts from our choosing respectable eating venues, as the sight of it is open to all viewers. In conversation we have made oblique references to the problem, but the issue has not registered with the offender. What can you suggest?
— Name and address withheld

A. By now the man must be aware of the upsets his behaviour is causing. Only arrogance or cruelty could therefore explain its persistence and it’s time he was tackled. Invite to your own house someone who you know he would desperately like to meet. Then say ‘We’ve got the So-and-sos on Friday night. Will you come at about ten? Sorry not to ask you to the dinner itself but I know they are very squeamish about table manners.’ Elaborate no further.

Q. Your readers may be interested in my so-far successful deterrent to tattoos on my older offspring. I have told mine — and they believe me — that I will photograph any tattoos I find on them and will have the same part of my own body defaced with an identical image. The deterrent effect would derive from them having to explain the matching tattoos to friends on family holidays.
— R.B., by email

A. Thank you for your tip. Tattoos would appear to be the new self-harm.

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  • bionde

    I was interested in the table manners letter as we have friends from The former USSR who, whilst highly educated, have similar table manners. When we go out to restaurant with them as our guests her table manners are excruciatingly emabarassing. I have tried making a joke about “I eat my peas with honey, I’ve done it all my life, it makes them taste so funny but it keeps them on the knife” But behaviour does not change. The above suggestion would not work in this context.

  • Linguistician

    Whoever wrote all of the Qs are complete Cs.

    • person of gender

      (they’re all made up)

  • Callipygian

    I hate old people’s hands. Their faces shock, as well. At the last Thanksgiving dinner (I so wish we could skip it!), I looked at Near-Death-Husband’s Grandma and Near-Death-Husband’s Granduncle and by golly you could hardly tell that they were different sexes. And they had hooked noses and chins and red veins like witches. I think I’d rather be dead than look like that.

    Gorillas look handsome in old age. Why are humans so grotesquely ugly, even with our own prejudice to judge ourselves favourably?

  • Teacher

    To ‘Name and address witheld’, you should take a photo of the offending diner displaying his awful manners (borrow a phone to do this from a younger person) and place it on a popular social media website. The comments which will be attached to it within seconds of the posting will do the job for you of making him see his inappropriate behaviour.

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