Q. We have recently returned from Provence where we stayed the first night with distant relatives. We woke on a perfect morning to sounds of laughter in the pool, so we happily slipped on our swimsuits and went down. Our host and hostess were in the water but minus swimsuits. My husband, who was clearly taken aback, briefly greeted them, dived in, did a couple of lengths and left. I followed suit, although my inclination was to shed my costume and join our hosts. I think that we were unnecessarily prudish and have told my husband so. He says we invaded their privacy. What should we have done, Mary?
— J.R., Sittingbourne, Kent
A. Your husband’s retention of costume and minimised immersion was not prudish but correct. The essential point of etiquette is that your hosts should have had enough consideration to be clothed on a morning when there was a possibility of guests to whom they given no warning of their preferences joining them at the pool. No host should ever impose an ‘undress code’ for swimming. Should anyone try, reply in equivocal manner: ‘Thank you, but I think, for your sake, I’ll keep my costume on.’
Q. My boyfriend has a colleague, previously a bachelor, who has been coming to dinner with us for years. He never had us back as he can’t cook but he always brought generous quantities of Berry Brothers wine as a contribution. Now this dear friend has got a girlfriend, and she has cooked us two of the most inedible dinners we have ever experienced. We are loath to go to her flat again, but she insists she wants to return ‘all our years of hospitality’. She doesn’t seem to notice that we leave most of what she cooks. They are both very nice but despite the Berry Brothers (which someone else gives him) neither of them has a palate.
—Name and address withheld
A. Take a tip from one celebrated foodie who regularly spends happy evenings at the table of an appalling cook. He sustains the relationship by eating an early dinner in a restaurant before heading to the house, bearing a bottle of good wine. With stomach satiated he arrives in benevolent mood, and can enjoy the company and conversation of his old friend while toying with the inedible nuggets.
Q. Girls of my age group (20) never know whether boys to whom we are introduced are going to double-kiss us (even if we’ve never met before) just shake hands or hug. Is there a way to make things right?
A. If the encounter has been clumsy, say ‘Shall we try that again? Let’s just go for the double kiss.’ Walk two steps back, then re-enact the introduction. In this way you will put the boy at his ease.