Q. May I pass on a tip to anyone facing large family house parties at Christmas? I always used to find Christmas exhausting as we are joined by approximately 14 children and grandchildren every year for lunch and dinner over five days. Last year, however, my son devised a rota system. He drew up the rota and paired up individuals so that each pair took on the full responsibility for a lunch or dinner, including menu planning, shopping, cooking and washing up. It was great fun and the element of competition meant that the standards were ridiculously high as well.
— L.G., Fosbury, Wiltshire
A. Thank you for sharing this genuinely useful tip.
Q. We have just had a wedding and quite a few of the thank-you letters have said ‘we know it is not the thing to do to thank for weddings…’ Is this true? If so, I have obviously been doing the wrong thing all my life by writing.
— Confused, Wiltshire
A. There is a common misconception in what might be called borderline sections of society that it is a breach of etiquette to thank for a wedding. These are the same sort of people who avoided saying mirror and mantelpiece for years because Nancy Mitford had prankily said that those words were non-U. All etiquette issues are instantly clarified, however, when you bear in mind that the point of etiquette is never to make anyone feel uncomfortable. Ask yourself whether you would feel uncomfortable if you had put huge effort and planning and poured cash into the biggest and most emotionally important event you will probably ever organise in your life and you received no feedback, only radio silence. The answer will be yes. Therefore common sense will dictate that of course you should thank the host of such a celebration.
Q. Many of my female friends don’t work and are therefore up for chatting at length during the day. I do work — but from home. I do need to ring friends to make arrangements about children and riding etc, but how can I keep these telephone conversations as brief and to the point as possible without offending them, when they always want to settle in for 20 minutes or more of gossip? I have tried saying ‘I’ll let you get on’, but that doesn’t seem to work. If I say ‘well I must get on myself’, they feel snubbed, as they just don’t understand what it’s like to be under pressure.
— A.C., Alton, Hampshire
A. You can get around this problem by ringing from a mobile. Even 30 years after the technology first came into being, one is always cut off. Your friends will have no idea where you are, so make your points and then say ‘well that’s settled, if we are cut off’. Shortly afterwards cut them off and do not answer if they ring back except to text ‘Bad signal.’