Dame Muriel Spark

Dame Muriel Spark

A weeklong electronic journal.
Dec. 13 1996 3:30 AM

Dame Muriel Spark

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       Affectations: Someone has phoned to invite me to dinner, and I have accepted. They follow this up with a card with the date and time of the dinner, and "Pour memoire" written obliquely at the corner of the card. Do these people think I can't understand English? I feel happier, when in an English-speaking country, with "To remind," as sensible people usually put it. When I was very young, in the '30s, French phrases were scattered around everywhere for no apparent reason. Things were de rigueur, some people were de trop. Smart clothes were chic. People who dressed up in their best clothes for Sundays were endimanche (and rather common). You did not merely hurt someone's feelings, you offended their amour propre. And if you couldn't accept an invitation you were désolé. I should have thought we had said adieu to these phrases forever. But no, every wedding invitation still bids us R[épondez] S['il] V[ous] P[laît]; what is wrong with "Please reply"?
       But even the English-using hosts and hostesses can be carried away by the rhetoric of the occasion. Not long ago I had an invitation to "refreshments" at 7:30 p.m. In the left-hand corner was written "Carriages at 9 p.m.," meaning the party was to be over at that hour. Carriages! Are these people for real? All they needed to put was "7:30-9:00 p.m." Sometimes I have known the word "Champagne" to specify on an invitation drinks before dinner, presumably an inducement.
       Another recent affectation that assaulted my mind was contained in the following exchange I had with a man in a hotel lobby. We were discussing our dogs, which he insisted on calling "pets."
       "Is your dog dressed?" he said.
       "Is it what?"
       "Is it dressed?"
       "You don't mean castrated do you?"
       "Well, yes," said the man, looking to right and left, terrified lest someone should have overheard.

Dame Muriel Spark is the author of 19 novels, including The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and Memento Mori. Her autobiography, Curriculum Vitae, was published in 1993. She lives in Italy.