Mary Killen

Dear Mary | 14 September 2017

Also: how to deal with a neighbour who parks outside your home and friends who answer their phone over dinner

Dear Mary | 14 September 2017
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Q. My partner and I recently had two close friends — one a Peer, the other a former Member of the Scottish Parliament — over for lunch. During the course of an otherwise splendid meal, our friend from the House of Lords took a ten-minute call from a former prime minister, remaining at the table for the duration of the somewhat banal exchange. Should we be honoured to mix in such lofty circles, or should we be offended by such a breach of etiquette?

— C.W.H., East Lothian

A. This was undoubtedly a breach of etiquette, made worse by the Peer’s assumption that others present would be flattered by being privy to a call between grandees. Yet you were no more having greatness thrust upon you than had you had to sit through a call between the peer and Ernie, Benny Hill’s milkman. It was a double breach, since the Peer should have immediately informed the former PM that he was at a lunch table and with whom. No call should be taken at the lunch table. If an urgent interruption is expected and cannot be avoided, then this must be announced with apologies prior to sitting down and the recipient of the call should leave the room to take it.

Q. I recently took a friend to tea with my mother. Seated facing the window, he noticed a rat making its way along her patio. He did not allude to this in conversation with his hostess but wondered afterwards what the correct social response might be in such a situation. To tell or not to tell? What would you advise?

— B.W., London W6

A. Some people, wrongly, have shame issues about hosting rats. They attack even the most hygienic properties. The considerate response is to wait until eating has stopped, then remark that you have just noticed ‘a very speedy hedgehog on the patio — oh! It’s already gone’. The host will get the message without being humiliated.

Q. Having moved into an affluent Home Counties town, I am perturbed that my neighbour insists on parking on the road outside my house, though the road outside his — and his drive — are empty. I’m not sure whether this odd behaviour is the start of a new turf war, but I’d like to head it off without confrontation. What do you suggest?

— R.M., by email.

A. One in five Britons is alleged to be involved in a dispute with a neighbour. It could be that yours feels psychologically comfortable if he has an ongoing tension close to home, and is unconsciously trying to provoke one. Or he may be concealing from someone that he owns a car. Put a postcard on his windscreen inviting him for a glass of champagne. In this way you might tweak out of him the reason for the mystery parking. Since feuds are more easily perpetuated with strangers, you should see an end to the nuisance.