Mary Killen

Dear Mary | 2 March 2017

Plus: what to do when you’ve invited the wrong friend to dinner, and smoking-jacket etiquette

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My partner has become a recycling fascist. She checks everything I put into the bin. I received two bollockings today alone — the first at breakfast because I did not make a distinction between the top of my small bottle of Actimel (non-recyclable) and the bottle (recyclable). I do try to do my best, but is it time for her to be recycled? I can’t go on like this.

— Name withheld, Hampshire

A. First bear in mind that your best will never be good enough. The booby-trap potential is too great for anyone who hasn’t had the time or inclination to mug up on all the complex requirements for correct recycling. Then be aware that your partner is almost certainly secretly dependent on your inevitable blunders as they give her the opportunity to let off steam. Don’t deprive her of these little displays of moral superiority. Let them wash harmlessly over you when they come, safe in the knowledge that they are helping to make your partner feel more secure in herself.

Q. I sent an email asking a friend (let’s call her Anna) to dinner in three weeks. I told her I knew she would get on with everyone else as one of the guests, a newspaper editor, has heard all about her and has been looking forward to meeting her. But I have just received a hugely enthusiastic reply from a very old classmate from school who teaches yoga and aromatherapy in Sussex saying how lovely it was to hear from me and how she’d love to come and has always wanted to meet this editor. This Anna won’t fit in at all. What can I do to put it right?

— Name and address withheld

A. First invite the ‘right’ Anna and enough fellow guests to dilute the company of the wrong one. Then confide in the other guests about the William Boot-style mix-up and ask for their help in making the unintended Anna feel less out of place. The others will enjoy the joke and the challenge. Moreover they are bound to also enjoy the opportunity, while making conversation with the ‘wrong’ Anna, to breach normal dinner-party etiquette by talking about their health and wellbeing.

Q. What is the right thing on wearing smoking jackets if invited to a country house weekend? Is it true that only the host should wear one? Most extant smoking jackets are either riddled with moth holes, as my father’s is, or cost the same as a trip to Vladivostok, which makes it easier to hope one doesn’t have to wear one. But one has to wear something. What might it be?

— Stumped of Dorset

A. Moth holes are a nuanced indicator of class and should not be denigrated. There are some very pompous rules about asking your host if you can wear a smoking jacket and, equally pompously, some hosts will give the instruction ‘smoking jacket, no tie’. The true gentleman will pay no attention to any of this.