Q. Some years ago, on holiday in Egypt, we found ourselves in the company of a couple who wanted to see us when we got home. Out of politeness we agreed and we have now fallen into a rut of reciprocal dinners. It has become a bore — perhaps for them as well. How can we stop it without seeming rude?
— B.K., address withheld
A. Next time provide entertainment as well as dinner. A talk, concert or play would give new shared references to discuss, just like in the days when you had Egypt in common. It would also halt a slide into cultural complacency. In London, for example, a 5 x 15 event would fit most bills. Five writers each speak for 15 minutes to a wine-drinking audience who can then eat dinner downstairs. Forthcoming speakers include Ruby Wax, Malcolm Gladwell and Eric Schlosser. By choosing future entertainments with dates set in stone you can also tailor the gaps between your meetings to suit the degree of apathy you feel.
Q. Is there a dignified way of prompting your host to pour you a drink? There were three of us at dinner, two of us thirsty for some of the open bottle of wine which had been plonked on the table by the cousin who was putting us up after a family occasion. He is a teetotaller and an inexperienced host but we did not know him well enough to ask.
—Name and address withheld
A. To effect the prompt, one of you need only have said, ‘Can I do anything to help? Can I pour some wine?’
Q. What is the best way of dealing with a wardrobe malfunction? I had a real disaster just as a country dance demonstration ended and, as I struggled to get everything back in, I tried to make a joke of it to cover my embarrassment — something awful like ‘Sorry I’ve boobed’, which raised only a few uncomfortable laughs. When a similar thing happened to me some 20 years ago, as a 17-year-old hauling myself out of the pool at a swimming gala, I just blushed and kept silent as I sorted things out. I have a feeling that would have been better on this occasion.
—J.P. Headington, Oxford
A. You are right but there would be no need to blush. Nudity is not what it was in the days of Benny Hill. Far from being embarrassed by it, most Britons now have nudity fatigue and the only offence you will cause by involuntary self-exposure is aesthetic. Just play it down, and say, ‘Oh, excuse me. Look away now everybody!’ as you tidy back the bosom or other in question. Such malfunctions may be humiliating for the person they happen to but upon onlookers the effect is generally positive, serving either as a stimulant or as a way of putting them at their ease.