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Dear Mary

Dear Mary: How long must I wait to tuck in?

Plus: A definitive ruling on phone etiquette

22 March 2014

9:00 AM

22 March 2014

9:00 AM

Q. I am always making or receiving phone calls which get cut off. When I ring the person back their line is engaged as they are trying to ring me too. Mary, whose responsibility is it to ring back when a call has been disturbed in this way? Can you use your immense authority to rule, once and for all?
— A.B., London W8

A. The person who initiated the call is duty bound to ring back. It was they who made the overture in the first place and they who presumably have something to say to you. There is no implied hostility in your failure to ring them back. Although you can assume it was convenient for them to make a call just a few moments beforehand, it may well, for every sort of reason, be inconvenient for them to receive one. However, it is your solemn duty to keep your line free for the next few minutes.


Q. It has become the habit at table to wait until everyone is served to begin eating, and usually ladies are served first, which means they are going to get lukewarm food. I am a lady who likes her food hot — do I tuck in or wait?
— R.H., Wilts

A. It is correct to start eating immediately. At royal occasions and grand banquets, all guests are served simultaneously so no waiting is necessary nor, in any case, expected. In less formal scenarios and in the absence of sufficient handers-round, new thinking decrees that the protocol of serving ladies first can be abandoned. Guests may be served in clusters of proximity rather than by gender so a whole tranche of the table can begin eating at roughly the same time. Thus the self-consciousness of the single eater can be avoided.

Q. Our much-loved daily, who came every weekday morning for 20 years, retired last year. Now, once a fortnight, I go round to her bungalow for a couple of hours to visit. She is 78 and has always been garrulous, but her husband sits with earphones on all day listening to sport, so she misses all the chatting she had when she worked for us. My problem is that when I ring, usually the day before, to firm up the time of my visit, she starts a long story and keeps me on the line for hours. If I say, ‘Why don’t you tell me all about it tomorrow?’ she says, ‘Oh, but there’ll be plenty more to talk about then.’ How can I keep these calls short without hurting her feelings?
— Name withheld, Malvern, Worcs

A. Always ring to arrange the visits from a pay-as-you-go mobile. You can buy them for only £10 and make a minimum top-up. This will allow you to say, in all honesty, that you are running out of credit and that, since the cost of ringing a mobile from a landline is known to be prohibitive, she shouldn’t ring you back. But you will look forward to seeing her the next day.


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