Q. A friend, who is very careful with his money, occasionally invites a group of six to eight out to lunch. At one such gathering, as we were reading the menus, he announced that he and his wife would just be having an omelette. A palpable silence ensued while all present tried to work out the implications of this statement. Unfortunately I was the first to be asked what I would like to order. I asked for what I wanted and everyone else followed suit. What else should I have done?
— Name and address withheld
A. Having been invited to lunch, not to an omelette, the implication was that you could order freely. On the other hand, some of the very best (and best-off) people find parting with money painful and we wouldn’t want to cause them pain. To clarify, you might have gasped with fake enthusiasm: ‘Omelette! Should we all have omelettes?’ Thus prompted, your host could have replied with words to the effect of either ‘To be honest, the price is right’ or ‘Oh no! We love omelette but order whatever you would like.’I must add that two of the best-bred advisers on my panel say they would have instantly taken their lead from their host and also ordered omelette ‘out of politeness’.
Q. When staying, and gratefully so, with friends and relations all over the country, there seems always to be one person who insists on cooking elaborate meals. This increases with the youth of the host: the young seem to insist on strange ingredients and things that take forever to cook. This means that somebody (and Mary, it’s usually me) ends up spending two nights and two days knee-deep in washing up. I’m always, wherever I stay, the person who starts doing it; if I don’t, it gets later and later until somebody else bothers to make some kind of token effort and I take over. I am at a loss: I love staying with people and I don’t want to seem ungrateful, but I don’t want to spend my precious weekends scrubbing pans.
— Name and address withheld
A. You are clearly invited to a lot of house parties. Has it occurred to you that this is partly because you are known to pull your weight and your presence has come to be conflated with order and therefore the feel-good factor? Carry on with the washing up. Boast as you do so that it is no drudgery but has surprising therapeutic value. Invite specific others to help you so they can see what you mean. Put on the spot like this, they can hardly refuse.
Q. A woman two away from me at lunch asked if I had a Freedom Pass for London Transport. Mary, I am 54 and it quite spoilt my day. How could I have replied to her insult without seeming aggressive?
— M.W., London W8
A. You should have replied: ‘Roll on the day. Another decade to go, I’m afraid. And you?’