Mary Killen

Dear Mary | 22 September 2016

Plus: encouraging phone calls to a woman on chemo, and ice-breaking at the end of a party

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Q. How can I tactfully request that well-meaning old friends stop toasting my (new) husband’s hospitality? It seems ungrateful but, during a week’s stay at our new house in France, these much loved friends did it at least once a day, to the point that the other members of the house-party became irritated. I admit they were slightly out of their depth socially and had obviously read some sort of misinformation that this behaviour was required. My husband tells me he likes them but that I shouldn’t ask them again unless they stop the toasting. I hesitate to tell them this as I know they are insecure enough to take umbrage and may refuse to come again if they fear they may make other gaffes.

— J d L., Bordeaux

A. Why not invent a local superstition about toasting? Casually drawl that though your husband adored their vocal appreciation, he has since been mortified to discover, from a member of his staff, that toasting is considered really bad form in that neck of the woods. Say, ‘It’s apparently because it’s what the Germans did when they occupied that region in the war. He’s going to have to ban his guests from doing it because it spooks the kitchen.’ In this way you can curb their excesses without their feeling paranoid.

Q. A good friend’s wife is having chemo and will probably make it, but her parents are either being super-brave or are so scared they appear dismissive and don’t call her from week to week. How can we sensitively suggest that we think it would help their daughter through this ghastly episode if they called on a daily basis?


A. Ring the parents in an upbeat manner to say you have started ringing their daughter every day to find out how she is. She has just admitted that, far from being annoyed by your incessant queries, she really looks forward to the encouragement they give her. Moreover, when you suggested that you tell her close friends and family that this was the case she very much accepted your offer. Therefore you’re ringing to pass on the news that she finds these calls very helpful.

Q. Any readers who have problems getting guests to leave might like to know my wife’s solution at her recent 50th birthday party. She suddenly ran round the garden without a stitch on, holding a bedroom candlestick. After she had donned a dressing gown, the bemused guests hastened to make their farewells. I should add that she is a non-drinker and a little shy. I was very proud of her.

—G.O., Bath

A. Even though she broke the ice at the end of the party rather than the beginning, this exhibitionism clearly served its purpose since, for whatever reason best known to themselves, the guests left — which was your desired result.