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Dear Mary

Dear Mary: What to do when a dinner guest won’t turn and chat

Plus: Dealing with intrusive Americans; a snoring guest’s dilemma; teaching with a nicotine addiction

30 May 2015

9:00 AM

30 May 2015

9:00 AM

Q. I felt uncomfortable during a dinner for 20 in a private house. The young man on my left had failed to turn to the woman on his left when it was time to do so and instead stared vaguely down the table with his back slightly turned to her. She looked devastated. I wonder what I could have said, without sounding nanny-like, to remind this youth of his manners and his special duty, as one of those staying in the house, to make those locals who had been invited in feel particularly welcome. I know the man’s parents vaguely and they know how to behave, but I had never seen him in this context before.
— Name and address withheld

A. You might have broken his narcissistic spell by whispering, ‘Is it true that the woman on your left is the second richest person in Europe?’ Such a thought would electrify most slackers. By the time he had elicited enough details to back up or discredit the theory, it would have been time for him to turn again to you.

Q. My brother-in-law’s new American girlfriend puts me on the spot with questions I consider intrusive — especially since we have only met fairly recently. I’m not in the market for giving a synopsis of my life story and blow-by-blows of any traumas or illnesses, but trying to avoid it leaves me exhausted. How can I, without seeming unfriendly, persuade her to back off?
— Name and address withheld


A. Smile sweetly as you serially respond to her questions with, ‘Oh, why do you ask?’ She will begin to dread the words, ‘Why do you ask?’ Moreover, she will be forced to ponder why indeed she is trying to collate such data. She will soon realise that the Oprah method is not an Englishman’s favoured way to bond.

Q. My husband has begun snoring, but when we go to stay with people we are inevitably put in the same room. Sometimes we can manage it and sometimes one of us has to find an overspill single room. My question is — do we tip for two rooms even if only the bed has been used, and not the bathroom, towels and so on?|
— S.G., London SW3

A. Yes you must tip for two rooms — half as much as for the snoring room. You have still created work.

Q. I teach at a prep school and am ashamed to say I’m a heavy smoker. Between lessons, I can have a quick cigarette in my cottage on-site, but I cannot last through a double lesson without becoming highly irritable. My headmaster is drawing up the timetable for next term and has scheduled four of these a week for me.
—M.S., Shrivenham,Wilts

A. Stock up on nicotine replacement lozenges or micropellets. Park one in your gum during the double periods.


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