Q. What should I say the next time I run into a woman with whom I was at art school but who obviously does not want to be friends with me now? I heard she had moved in round here and I was shopping in the high street when I saw her for the first time in ten years, but she looked very uncomfortable and said, ‘Must dash’, and almost got run over so eager was she to get away from me. Ten minutes later I saw her again, but when she saw me she once again beat a hasty retreat. I can’t think why she is being so unfriendly as we got on well at art school. What do you advise?
—R.B., Fareham, Hampshire
A. You should not have taken the snubbing personally. It may be that the woman’s life has been going badly for many years and, confronted by an old acquaintance, she would be forced to admit the terrible details to herself as well as to the questioner. Therefore on running into someone you haven’t seen for years you should avoid putting them on the spot by asking for precise details of recent news or achievements. The correct opening gambit is ‘How are you? You are looking really well! When did we last meet?’ Then talk fondly about the past until the other volunteers news about the present.
Q. An old friend is a chaotic housekeeper who has passed on the trait to her daughter who lives opposite me in a squalid flat whose interior I can see from the street. I am fond of the girl. She has a new suitor, and he is shortly coming to London to visit her for the first time. They met abroad staying with mutual friends who run a house stiff with staff so he will have no idea of what a slob she really is. I know men, on an atavistic level, go right off a possible mate if they see she cannot keep her ‘cave’ clean. Would it be very bossy of me to tell her this and to offer to send my cleaner across before his visit?
— J.B., London NW3
A. Perhaps it would be more tactful to claim that you are going away for a few days and that you are annoyed that you will have to pay your cleaner even though there will be no work for her to do. Could the girl do you a favour and allow you to send the cleaner across to her flat as this will make you feel much less bitter? Quietly pay your cleaner extra for performing this service.
Q. All the people in my friendship group have been invited to an art gallery opening to which I have not been asked. I rang the gallery but they said the guest list was closed. How can I get around this?
— W.F., London W8
A. Go to the gallery anyway but don’t try to go inside. Instead stand in the street with the smokers. You will be able to do more bonding and chatting outside rather than in. Bring your own drink in a can.