Q. Further to your advice about how to refuse invitations, I had a friend, who sadly died young, who disliked many social events and conventions. At dinner parties he dreaded hearing the words: ‘Shall we move to somewhere more comfortable?’ He devised a universal response to unspecified invitations. It was: ‘I am taking a suitcase to Highgate that night’. He found this would prompt the host to give more details — for example: ‘Oh, what a shame because the So-and-Sos are coming and we thought we’d take a picnic on the heath.’ If he liked the sound of the event he could say: ‘I’ll be back by then.’
— P.M., Lewes, East Sussex
A. Thank you for sharing this genuinely useful tip with readers.
Q. How should one react when someone invites you to an expensive restaurant and then lets you pay the bill? I invited two old friends and a third person, who I didn’t really know, let’s call him John, to a kitchen supper. John told me that as he would be working late he couldn’t get to my house, which admittedly is a 50-minute journey from central London, before 9.30 p.m. He suggested he take everyone to a restaurant near his flat in Mayfair instead. ‘It’s on me,’ he clearly said. Had he not said this I would have admitted this restaurant was beyond my price range. Nor could the other two have afforded it, but I admit we were all pleased at the thought of going there at someone else’s expense — John is extremely successful in business and the sort of person who would prefer not to have to travel to the suburbs when he could go to a restaurant on his doorstep. The four of us assembled in Mayfair at 8.30 and had a pleasant dinner, but 20 minutes after we had finished our coffee John had still not asked for the bill. My eye contact with the waiter was misinterpreted and the bill was handed to me. Out of embarrassment I paid it. My two friends later insisted on paying me back their share. I believe that John, who has perfectly good manners, had simply forgotten his offer. The trouble is that none of us knew him well enough to feel comfortable reminding him of it. What should I have done?
—Name and address withheld
A. When the bill arrived, you should have simply said to him: ‘Is this still your dinner, John?’
Q. Although I say it myself, I have had something of a reputation as a raconteur, but I feel I may have started to repeat myself. I want to contribute conversationally, so what do you suggest?
— E.D.G., address withheld
A. When an anecdote springs to mind, you can test it on your audience by saying: ‘Of course I’ve told you the story of Lord Dawson of Penn (for instance)?’ Alternatively, try Quentin Crisp’s line: ‘Don’t stop me if I’ve told you this before, because I’d like to hear it again myself.’