Q. I see a lot of two of our grandchildren because they live in our London house. We are centrally located so we see a lot of their friends, too. Our grand-children are well-mannered but conversation is always stalling because of their refusal to allow me to use shorthand to identify the friend being discussed e.g. ‘the fat one’. I do not intend to offend — they’re just shortcuts that people of my age group (70+) use when we can’t remember anyone’s name, let alone the names of our grandchildren’s friends. If I have to ask, for example, ‘Was Eric the boy in the Star Wars hoodie who ate crumpets last Tuesday?’ — rather than ‘Is Eric the fat boy?’ — dialogue becomes clunky. How can we break this impasse?
A. Why not turn the tables by saying: ‘I can’t picture Eric. What does he look like?’ They’ll soon tire of giving drawn-out descriptions and take shortcuts themselves.
Q. Twenty years ago, I moved from London to a European city much loved by tourists and where I work as a house-letting agent. Because old friends know I do this, they assume I will be delighted to help their child on his or her gap year who is visiting the city. I wouldn’t mind if it was just old friends’ children but it is more often the child of vague acquaintances who contact me asking for advice about the city. None of these want to rent one of the (high end) properties for which I’m responsible — instead they require highly detailed bespoke advice on hotels, transport, restaurants, exhibitions etc. I don’t want to be rude or unfriendly but I simply don’t have time to compile bespoke itineraries two or three times a week. What should I do?
A. Reply in the first instance that you would love to help them but you have signed an exclusivity contract with your employers and the terms of it disallow you from giving bespoke advice to anyone other than rental clients. However, you can quietly supply them with an emailed factsheet which should answer most of their questions. Knock one up in readiness.
Q. I was taken out to an expensive lunch by an old friend who insisted I eat oysters (I have never liked the look of them). I didn’t enjoy swallowing them and, sure enough, I was violently ill afterwards. Nevertheless I do owe him a letter of thanks. However, should I tell him I was ill? It seems ungrateful, but I don’t think he should go unpunished for his bullying.
A. Write and say how much you enjoyed the venue and his company. Then, as a payoff, add ‘but the oyster is obviously your world and not mine’. Leave it to him to follow up what you mean by this cryptic comment.