Mary Killen

Dear Mary: Must we tip other people’s servants in London, too?

Plus: Dealing with rude old acquaintances, and the tactful way to turn down a giant plateful

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Q. What is the etiquette on tipping in London houses? I have been in the habit of staying with friends who don’t have cleaners and live fairly dishevelled lives so the question hasn’t come up before. But the other night my husband and I stayed for the first time with someone new. In the morning when we offered to strip the bed we were told she had someone coming in to do it. As we drove away it suddenly occurred to me that I should have left a tenner, but my husband says you only leave tips in the country as London dailies are overpaid and don’t have the same loyalty as country dailies. Please clarify.

— Name and address withheld

A. Correctly brought up people leave tips in London as well and are wary of stripping beds without permission. It is not necessarily helpful to your host for a number of reasons to do with recycling of pillows that have not been slept on, or even of sheets if, for example, only a child has slept in the bed and the next incumbent will be a savage male youth. Incidentally, a straw poll suggests that dailies are currently paid the same in the country as in London (between £8 and £12 an hour).

Q. I have recently launched a new business and have been exhibiting at charity Christmas fairs. At one such event I spotted close and old friends of my parents-in-law approaching and went forward to say hello. The only response I got from each of them was a vehement indication of how much they disliked my product. I assumed that they hadn’t recognised me and when I told them who I was they merely said that they knew who I was before walking away. My husband says that they are known to have their ‘moments’ but, Mary, when, inevitably, I meet them again socially, what should be the appropriate response?

— Name and address withheld

A. Rudeness is often a precursor to dementia. Could this be the explanation? Either way, why not simply settle for unnerving the couple by being especially sympathetic when you next meet them?

Q. I have a close and generous friend who often invites me for meals. The trouble is that he always gives me huge portions and expects me to finish them. I can’t cope with the amounts but no excuse is acceptable. He is always upset, saying, ‘Don’t you like my food any more?’ Please help: I am in danger of ruining my digestion.

— P.G., London SW2

A. Clearly your friend has the problem, not you. But if you enjoy his company, phone your doctor before your next visit and elicit from him the opinion that you should not overload your stomach. You can then get in touch with your friend a day or two before your next visit to quite truthfully announce that your doctor has issued a decree that you should eat lightly.