Mary Killen Mary Killen

Dear Mary | 10 January 2009

Your problems solved

Q. A friend from university invited my boyfriend and me to stay with her parents in a very grand house over New Year. We were made very welcome, but my boyfriend felt out of his depth in at least one instance and wonders what you would have advised. On New Year’s Day there was a large number of people for lunch. The butler went round the table with a tray of roast beef, offering it to each person in turn to help themselves. The piece my boyfriend tried to take was attached by gristle to a sort of concertina of other slices and when he tried to cut through the gristle the butler did not respond by exerting resistant pressure from underneath the tray but instead slackened his grip so my boyfriend could not cut through. He ended up trying to save face by taking all the attached slices — which was far too big a helping. Mary, please tell us, what on earth should have been done in this very embarrassing situation with my boyfriend’s neighbour pausing his conversation as he waited to serve himself?

Name and address withheld

A. Your boyfriend should have simply put the ball back into the butler’s court, saying pleasantly, ‘Shall I let you take this away and deal with it?’ before resuming conversation with his neighbour.

Q. My family and I have been invited to lunch with my boss in the country. I foresee a difficult situation since my boss takes a derring-do attitude to life and his children are allowed to drive around the estate on a quad bike. They are similar in age to my own and no doubt mine will be invited to jump aboard as soon as we arrive. How can I say ‘No,’ without seeming like a spoilsport or to be distrusting the judgment of my boss’s son?


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