Mary Killen

Your problems solved | 14 May 2015

Plus: Kissing elderly ladies, and avoiding annoying phone calls

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Q. I have a friend who can be shy and inhibited. Recently, he was invited to stay on a Caribbean island by a generous and rich host, so wanted to take the host and his wife and the other members of the house party out to dinner. The host suggested a beach restaurant which, despite its informal appearance, then produced a bill for £700, with no facility for credit cards. My friend had £600 in cash but had to borrow £100 from the host. Unfortunately, this resulted in the other members of the party thinking that the host had paid for dinner. How could my friend, without appearing vulgar, have conveyed that in fact he had been astoundingly generous?

— E.S., London W11

A. Ideally, the following day your friend would have made a song and dance about his need to get to a cashpoint machine so he could repay the host the £100. Should he now be back in this country, perhaps he could ask one of the house party members if they happened to have their host’s bank account details, saying: ‘I really want to pay back that £100 he lent me in the restaurant because they didn’t take cards and I only had £600 in cash. I fear that if I send him a cheque he won’t pay it in. But I want it to have been entirely my treat, so I reckon the best way round it is to just pay it directly into his account.’ News will quickly spread to the other members of the house party.

Q. What is the etiquette regarding the social kissing of aristocratic ladies in their eighties and nineties? I have some friends in this category but I notice they tend to cringe or duck when I kiss them by way of greeting. I understand that this is because social kissing was just not done in their day and they have never got used to it, but I also feel it seems so standoffish to leave them out when one is kissing everyone else in a room. What do you recommend?

— H.C., London W12

A. The correct protocol is to take the older woman’s hands and beam warmly and respectfully as you say how lovely it is to see her. Hang on to her hands for slightly longer than necessary. In this way you will not have ‘left her out’ since she will perceive your clear enthusiasm for her and, should she feel a kiss is in order, she can then draw you towards her.

Q. I am a writer, working from home. A friend who doesn’t work rings me up each morning and wants to chat at length. I don’t want to hurt her feelings by saying I don’t have time for this disruption. What do you recommend, Mary?

— Name and address withheld

A. Why not ask her to ring you at a set time each morning so you can plan your ten-minute coffee break around her call? Say it would be such a treat for you to be able to look forward to her ringing at this moment.