Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 14 June 2003

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary...

Q. An adored friend, with whom I regularly have lunch, always insists on 'supporting' his club. These lunches are deeply enjoyable but, as the member, my friend is the only one allowed to settle the bill. I have tried pressing cash on him when off the premises but, although he knows I have more funds at my disposal than he does, he always refuses outright. As he simply won't go elsewhere, I have no opportunity of returning the hospitality. I know I am not the only beneficiary of this largesse (which he can ill-afford) and that, frankly, his wife feels rather tight-lipped about the whole business. What can I do?

S.H., London SW1

A. You could access the details of your dear friend's bank account number and branch, if necessary, by asking him to give you a cheque for a tenner for some charity or other. Then pay cash over the counter anonymously into the account. Alternatively, did you know that you can transfer air miles? Ring up the wife to announce that you find yourself with a surplus of air miles that you cannot possibly use in the foreseeable future and ask if she would like them passed on to her. Thus, you can discreetly counter his irresponsibility.

Q. I have just received a wedding invitation to which is attached a note that reads, 'Wedding list ...After thinking about whether to have a wedding gift list, we decided not to. If you would like to give a gift, then a contribution towards our house fund would be greatly appreciated.' I think this is a great idea; bricks and mortar in which to raise a family being much more important than any amount of household junk, which can be purchased as and when. A cheque they shall certainly have, with a decent bottle of champagne by way of a gift. Others I have spoken to, however, seem to think this kind of thing a bit 'off'. What do you think? The couple are idealistic public-sector workers and do not have much money, as they cheerfully admit.

H.S., Cambridge

A. Most couples marrying in Britain today are at an age to have already assembled their batterie de cuisine and so on. No doubt they too would secretly prefer a contribution towards the most important wedding present of all – accommodation. Yet logical though this couple's request may be, it does slightly strike the wrong note. The donor envisages the counting-up procedure and the too bald spelling-out of the precise monetary worth their contribution indicates they have put on the relationship. It would be better for the couple to offer an alternative present for the discreet and/or impoverished. For example, 'any white bed linen, antique or modern' to allow something of indeterminate cost to be presented. Meanwhile, they should invite those who do wish to contribute to the 'house fund' to make their cheques payable to the building society in question. In this way, donors get extra satisfaction from knowing their gift has definitely gone to bricks and mortar rather than being frittered away on grocery bills.