Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 2 July 2005

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary...

Q. My student stepson from my recent

re-marriage and I are very different people. His mother worries that our relationship will suffer if I am too unkind to the boy, but he drives her crackers too! We have an excellent Italian restaurant locally which does a varied, fixed price, early-evening menu. Every time he joins us there, he asks to have the one dish which attracts a supplement, whatever the choices. I am never sure whether this is an immature belief that most expensive is best, or a challenge of some kind. I am unwilling to fall out with my wife or even the boy irretrievably over £2 or £3, but if there were a way to affect this behaviour without lasting damage, I would appreciate your creative input.

C.W., Glasgow

A. Next time you plan to patronise this restaurant, make a private visit a couple of hours beforehand so as to book a table and collude with the waiter who will serve you. Pressing a tenner into his hand, explain that you would like his diplomatic assistance in solving a little family problem. Later, taking orders, the waiter can pretend to be of ebullient character and, turning to your stepson, say teasingly, ‘Now Sir. I done need to aska you. I notice you always like the most expensive dish every tima you comea. Why is that, Sir? Don’ta you trust us to makea alla the dishes agooda?’ The three of you can then wait silently for your stepson to splutter out a reply.

Q. Close friends who have just bought a farmhouse in the South of France have recently been burgled. The problem is that the majority of things stolen were wedding presents and they have been asked by their insurance company to prepare a list of missing items together with their values. They are therefore faced with the prospect of being required to contact all of the guests (us included) whose presents were part of the burglars’ cache in order to find out their values. We are close enough that they asked my advice on an approach that would not embarrass either side, but I am turning to you because, on the one hand, the stolen things were presents, therefore my friends are not as financially inconvenienced as they are by the loss of those things that they bought themselves and for which they have receipts; on the other, the stolen things were presents that their friends bought thinking they would give pleasure, and insurance is taken to cover such an eventuality as this — therefore, they feel entitled to claim for the loss.

W. H-W., Brussels, Belgium

A. I have consulted an expert in the insurance world who tells me that, with the help of their broker, your friends should simply make a list of the items stolen and attribute reasonable

values to them. My expert says, ‘The key thing with insurance is to use a decent broker or a decent insurance company which trusts its clients. A specialist insurer like Hiscox, for example, would find it totally unreasonable to expect an insured person to ask the donors of gifts to give their value. These insurers seem to be behaving in an unreasonable manner — unless they have strong grounds for believing the claim to be fraudulent.’ He concludes that your friends should make that fair and

reasonable list and stand their ground.