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Dear Mary

Dear Mary: How can I check if my dentist uncle really meant to charge me?

Plus: The rules on using 'sibling', and Instagram etiquette

8 March 2014

9:00 AM

8 March 2014

9:00 AM

Q. My uncle, who is a brilliant dentist, has looked after my teeth since I was little. He also sees my children and although he runs a private practice, he has never charged me at all. I am now pregnant with my third child and told him this on my last visit. I wonder if this could be the reason why I received a bill in the post for the consultation — my first ever. He has a new secretary. How can I find out whether the secretary has sent me the bill by mistake, or indeed whether my uncle has decided that he has to draw the line somewhere and is now going to start charging? He did not mention anything to me.
— Name withheld, Leeds

A. Send a cheque along with the bill but enclose them within a newsy letter to your uncle so you can write personal on the envelope and thereby bypass the secretary. If the cheque is cashed, you will soon find out if his policy towards charging you has changed.


Q. I recently saw my rather old-fashioned aunt shudder when I used the word sibling. Mary, can you rule? Is the word sibling acceptable?
— K.N., Oxford

A. There is no precise rule about the word sibling but you rarely hear it being used outside educational establishments without the perpetrator instinctively pulling an apologetic face. Hence it is best avoided.

Q. I am not particularly narcissistic but I have joined Instagram because it seems to me a fairly benign form of social media. It means I can stay connected with parents and old friends with minimum effort and there’s no need to write much as the pictures speak for themselves. My problem is that I share a name with somebody well known in the fashion world and often receive follow requests from people who have clearly mistaken me for her. If I just ignore them then I am being rude by proxy — but I don’t want strangers looking at my photographs, for very obvious reasons. It seems very difficult and complicated to communicate with these people and start getting into a dialogue asking if they have muddled me up with the other. What should I do?
— L.G., Wiltshire

A. Instagram is indeed comparatively benign (although certainly slightly narcissistic). If your namesake is in the fashion world she will certainly have an Instagram account of her own. Simply ‘harvest’ the names of your would-be followers and pass them on to your namesake. By placing the ball in her court you will have done your duty, since it can be up to her to send ‘follow requests’ from her Instagram account to theirs. Since it was they who wanted to follow her in the first place, they won’t think twice about accepting.


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