Q. A friend regularly hires a stall at a general neighbourhood market in order to sell surplus second-hand clothes and women’s accessories. She recently sold one of her handbags to a regular customer whom she knows quite well. Subsequently she realised that she had left her day’s takings in the handbag (quite a sum of cash). The customer has since been back a number of times but never mentioned the contents of the bag. My friend is now too embarrassed to ask outright, partly because she is only 99 per cent sure that she left the cash in the handbag. What should she do?
— J.W., Sydney
A. Why not assume the woman’s innocence and say, next time she appears at the stall, ‘I have a terrible feeling I put the day’s takings into that handbag you bought a few weeks ago. Could you just check?’ While the customer would have been within her legal rights to keep the money, the woman who owns the stall is giving her the chance to do the right thing. In any case she will at least set both their consciences at rest.
Q. How should you answer when someone asks you directly what you earn? It almost never happens but recently sharing a drink with a group of like-minded (I thought) colleagues with good senses of humour, I spoke frankly. (I earn a lot.) The atmosphere completely changed and I regretted having been honest. But how can you decline to answer without seeming annoyingly coy?
— Name and address withheld
A. Everyone knows that salaries are random and unlinked to ability or effort yet no one likes to have the truth rubbed in their faces. Never answer this question. Simply say, ‘I don’t want to say. It makes me feel too guilty.’ Such an answer would be truthful — either you feel guilty because you earn too much or because you are inefficient and earn too little. Either way, it is best to let your audience interpret it as they wish to.
Q. Regarding gagging bores at dinner parties, my father’s professional life involved much home entertaining during the l970s and 1980s. Winnie, our Jack Russell, sat up on her hind legs and begged perpetually through every dinner party even if no titbits resulted, and was impossible to ignore. She became an almost essential guest, because no one could bang on for too long when another guest always had a chance to halt the flow by cooing, ‘Oh, do look at the dog.’
– F.W., Suffolk
A. Thank you for this excellent tip.