Q. My husband is a retired scientist but still much in demand. Recently he was part of a small committee organising a world congress in Brisbane, judged to have been very successful, thanks in no small part to him. Every time we now meet one of the other committee members, a businessman, he teases my husband, mainly in regard to his age (75). I am finding this increasingly irritating, particularly since this man has little else to say to my husband apart from the teasing. He is a perfectly pleasant chap, whom we must meet socially occasionally, and I don’t want to make too strong a retort, but I am fed up with the tone. What would you say to him, Mary, to make him realise he needs to find something more pleasant to say?
A. You should not take the nuisance personally. While working on the committee your husband probably displayed a savoir-faire befitting his age. The businessman is clearly a competitive sort who probably felt that his own comparative lack of expertise was serially highlighted during the meetings. Consequently, each time he now sees your husband, he feels a mild rush of inadequacy as he remembers this. It prompts him to make a belated bid for a level playing-field. Next time he makes the quip, put matters to rest by saying pleasantly, ‘Don’t keep worrying about his age. He doesn’t hold your lack of it against you.’
Q. When I was hiring a car in Cape Town a few days ago I had a similar experience to your South African correspondent last week. Neither pronouncing my surname (Cecil) correctly or as it is spelt achieved clarity, so I tried ‘as in Cecil Rhodes’. I was told politely but firmly that the great man’s name is pronounced ‘Sissil’ Rhodes.