Q. An elderly cousin gave my husband and me a wedding present of two weeks in his villa in the Bahamas. We have just returned from the most fabulous holiday of our lives. His delightful housekeeper came in every day and we bonded with her. However, towards the end of our stay she confided that it had been some months since my cousin, who pays her a monthly retainer in cash, had visited and that she was running short of money. Could we get cash to pay the sum he owed her, and ask my cousin to pay us back? My cousin is much richer than we are and, frankly, we couldn’t afford this extra cost, but felt we couldn’t say no. Now, after a holiday that would have cost thousands had we paid, you will understand why we can’t ask him to reimburse us. I would still like him to see we are not total spongers but can’t think how to do it.
— Name and address withheld
A. You must tell him. If he doesn’t know, your cousin may pay her again himself. Then, rightly assuming you had been too embarrassed to tell him you had already settled up, she may well be tempted to accept this duplicate payment — after which her conscience will trouble her. Now bond with your cousin over a thank-you lunch or dinner. Gush away, then add: ‘By the way please don’t pay us back for your housekeeper’s retainer. It’s only fair that we contribute something after that amazing holiday.’ At this point he will ask for clarification. He will then either say, ‘Absolutely not, I insist on paying you back’, or ‘Oh well, thank you, that would be very kind’. At least you will then get the credit for your own largesse — and the housekeeper will not be led into temptation.
Q. At a book awards event the other day the man beside me introduced me to a pushy young wannabe on his other side as a ‘part-time editor’. ‘That must be nice for you to have something to do in your retirement,’ cooed the young woman. I am 53. I feel that she should have been punished for this tactlessness but I couldn’t think what to say.
— E.B., London W11
A. You should have replied pleasantly: ‘Oh, that’s very sweet that you could think I’m past retirement age. Lucky you. You obviously don’t come into much contact with people outside your own age group.’ The insinuation behind this faint praise would have been proportionately damning.
Q. When a dear (but touchy) friend went white in his late thirties it made him look distinguished. Now he has grown a hideous wispy moustache. He wants a girlfriend, so how should I tactfully suggest he shaves it off?
— Name and address withheld
A. Why not pretend you like the moustache, but add that you have seen some anthropological research which shows that white moustaches are, inexplicably, the biggest turn-off to women.