Mary Killen

Dear Mary: How do I cope with colleagues’ bad habits now I’m back in the office?

Dear Mary: How do I cope with colleagues’ bad habits now I’m back in the office?
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Q. I am placed in a social dilemma due to a proposed visit on the last weekend of June by an American friend who has been hospitable to me. She is great fun. However, it is also the weekend (planned far ahead) when I have staying a recent widow who has been even more hospitable, having had me to visit three times overseas at her seaside house, providing there delicious meals, tourist attractions and delightful company in the form of her other house guests. She is bringing to me a mutual friend, a charming elderly widower. She and he are taking me out to dinner on the Saturday night. But what do I do about the unexpected American? I don’t want to put them in the position of paying for her, too. I could offer to treat her but this will ruin their generous gesture to me and I feel sure they will refuse. Mary, do I tell the American of this planned outing?

— E.S., Ripe, Sussex

A. You have confided in me the high-profile dramatis personae involved in this house party, and the knowledge makes your dilemma more interesting. Your responsibility as host gives you two options: one — cancel the restaurant booking on the Saturday night and give a dinner for everyone in your own house. Two — since the American is known to be in huge social demand, why not tentatively enquire whether it might actually suit her to host a dinner party in your home on the Saturday night, in your absence, in order to ‘work off’ some of her UK-based friends whom you do not know.

Q. I have made a new friend of a neighbour with whom I did a lot of walking over lockdown. On the handful of occasions when her husband joined us, I found him to be in the habit of asking me intrusive questions such as ‘Have you paid your mortgage off yet?’ or ‘How much does your son earn?’. I was able to brush these questions aside and change the subject, but we are soon to spend a weekend together and I don’t know how to say ‘Mind your own business’ without creating a bad atmosphere.

— J.R., London SW18

A. Assume a mysterious expression as you say: ‘Ask me that again in four weeks’ time and I’ll be able to satisfy your curiosity better.’

Q. I have returned to the office after several months away. While working from home is tedious, it had the benefit of meaning I did not encounter colleagues with irritating habits. How can I subtly encourage a colleague to blow their nose rather than sniffle every five seconds (which is distracting me from my work)?

— Johnny, London

A. Buy a packet of antihistamines. Pretend to punch one out of the foil, then offer a strip to your colleague saying: ‘Can I recommend these? I was sniffling non-stop until I was driving my wife/partner/flatmate mad. Then I discovered this miracle cure.’