Mary Killen

Dear Mary | 23 November 2017

Also: why you must acknowledge the wave of thanks when you pull over for another motorist

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Q. I was recently at an informal dinner given by two dear friends, but returned home seething with rage against one of their two guests. The odd thing was that for at least half of the dinner I had liked her; she had seemed soothing and articulate and had a pretty face. Her true colours emerged only when our warm-hearted hostess suddenly remembered that both of our mothers (like thousands of others) had worked at Bletchley Park during the war. She kindly tried to find the book I wrote about my mother but I reminded her that she had lent it to a friend. I had not said a word about my mother but the guest then started boasting that her mother had been in the most important hut with Alan Turing et al. She claimed her mum had inside knowledge of the bombing of Coventry and had been round 35 Women’s Institutes talking about her Bletchley experience. She did not ask a single question about my mother. I was gobsmacked by her lack of curiosity. What should I have done?

— E.S., Sussex

A. This is a valid grievance but your irritation should be directed at your hostess, who ought to have seized on the narrator when she drew breath, said ‘Very interesting’ and, turning to you with her hand up like a traffic policeman towards the offender, asked: ‘Now about your mother?’

Q. What is the etiquette regarding acknowledging the thanks of someone you have pulled over to let pass while driving?

— A.B., London W8

A. It is imperative that the puller-over acknowledges the wave of thanks. Failure to do so can result in anxiety for the accommodated over whether the accommodator feels resentment.

Q. Re: coping with large party lists. Surely it’s better to use a spreadsheet? You can see the numbers directly, sort alphabetically and even add gender, grumpiness and Brexit view to help with the seating arrangements.

— K.J., Kenilworth, Warwickshire

A. Thank you for this suggestion, which would indeed be helpful at Stage 2 of planning more elaborate events. But many hosts feel an A4-sized overview is more mentally manageable during Stage 1 of planning.

Q. Is there a tactful way of getting rid of a drunk from a small drinks party? The other night one of my younger friends had too much to drink but when I suggested it was time he went home he protested that nobody else was leaving.

— Name and address withheld

A. Why not confide in the drunk that you are feeling sick as a dog and hoping your guests will leave before you collapse. Would he do you a favour by spearheading the leaving so others will follow his example? Seal the deal by calling him a taxi on account.