Dear Mary: how do I stop our cousins’ dog peeing on the curtains?

Q. I have a friend whom I see quite often who keeps asking me if I will ‘get her invited’ for a weekend to the beautiful and luxurious country house of another friend. The country-house host is a long-standing friend and she barely knows the friend who wants to be invited. I wouldn’t dream of suggesting they invite her but am under constant pressure to do so. I am very fond of this first friend but am really embarrassed that she cannot see how pushy she is being and I don’t know how to get her to stop going on about this. What should I do? – F.G., Bath A. Next

Dear Mary: how should I thank a friend for dead flowers?

Q. I left fashion school last year and since then I’ve spent most of my time applying for jobs and being rejected. (That’s only if they’re kind enough to send a rejection – most simply ghost me.) I finally have a job (the company does fast fashion) but when I tell my friends, who are all recent graduates, they mostly say: ‘Well I’m happy if you’re happy but I could never work for such an unethical brand.’ How should I reply without sounding unethical myself? – C.P., London SW18 A. Next time you meet with this response you can test the naysayers’ pomposity by replying: ‘Oh that’s a shame. Because

Dear Mary: how can I help pay for an expensive lunch without seeming rude?

Q. My husband and I (both in our eighties) recently visited a carpet shop with a view to replacing the stair carpet in our four-storey house. The salesman showed us various carpets and we discussed their relative merits. When I asked him how hard-wearing a particular carpet was, he looked at us carefully and said: ‘Well, it is not going to need to be very long-lasting is it?’ We were a bit surprised and will be taking our business elsewhere. But can you suggest how we might have been able to indicate to him politely that this particular form of words was unlikely to secure a sale? – R.H., Cheltenham

Dear Mary: how can I get restaurants to turn off loud music?

Q. My husband never wants to go out to lunch on a day when he could be gardening but he has grudgingly accepted a wonderful forthcoming local event that I’m very keen to attend myself. Now I find from a fellow guest that our host is planning on seating him next to a woman who (she says) is ‘one of his biggest fans’. The feeling is not mutual – in fact, if my husband found out about this seating plan, he would definitely refuse to come. Yet now that I know about this, it would be disloyal and deceitful of me not to tell him. How can I resolve this

Dear Mary: How do I choose who to sponsor for the London Marathon?

Q. For the past couple of years, many of my sons’ friends have been gamely running the London Marathon for good causes. I received more than 15 emails this year, all asking for sponsorship. As much as I’d like to respond in the affirmative, I am not in a financial position to sponsor more than two at the most. They all know each other, so how do I go about choosing which ones to sponsor? – R.B., London SW9 A. Send out a group email saying that, as you aren’t able to give generously to each one of them, you will put all their names into a hat and the

Dear Mary: should I encourage guests to strip their beds? 

Q. Our son, 17, who is generally a credit to us, has started eating with his mouth open. It’s the only thing we don’t love about him. It’s not to do with sinuses and we don’t know if it’s a peer-pressure thing, but when we beg him to stop he always just laughs and insists that: ‘Eating with your mouth shut isn’t a thing any more.’ We are fretting because we have some very fastidious Americans coming to lunch who are important potential clients (and snobs). They are bringing their daughter, also 17, and have specifically asked that our son be there too. Help.  – Name and address withheld A.

Dear Mary: how can I unmask anonymous marathon sponsors?

Q. My son-in-law is running the Paris marathon to raise money for cystic fibrosis research and has sent out a mail shot to friends and family asking to be sponsored via He has had a fabulous response. Some people have posted supportive messages alongside their names but have chosen to conceal the amount of money they are donating. Yet two supporters, who have been spectacularly generous, have anonymised their names –although not the giant sums of money that they have pledged. My son-in-law would like to know who these people are – what do you suggest he do? – A.E., Pewsey A. For practical reasons certain people make a

Dear Mary: how do I politely ditch my hairdresser?

Q. I have just returned from a holiday where I was the guest of someone extremely rich. She was emphatic that everything would be covered and I must not even think of bringing a present. However, after one lunch in a restaurant, I felt driven to make a gesture and quietly asked the waiter for the bill. The sum involved was the equivalent of two months’ rent for me, but worse, no one noticed I had paid.  When the time came, everyone just got up to leave and I realised our host has an account with the restaurant, so she would not have noticed either. How, without being vulgar, can

Don’t tell them but the French didn’t in fact invent etiquette

When dining in France, it is considered rude to finish the bread before the main course has been served, and ruder still to slice the bread with a knife, lest the crumbs land in a lady’s décolletage. In China, you should never place your chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice, and in Bangladesh you may eat with your fingers, but should avoid getting sauce above the knuckles. If you are guilty of any of the above, may I direct you, politely, to a new documentary on the World Service. The programme takes aim at many outdated traditions (including those that resign women to the kitchen), but the conversation is

Dear Mary: how do I stop a nosy acquaintance from snooping in my house?

Q. I’m very fond of a neighbour in our village and we see a lot of each other. She has told me she has got X, an acquaintance of mine, coming to stay and wants to bring her over for a drink before lunch on the Sunday. The trouble is X is a decorator and will ask if she can look around the house. I happen to know that she’s very nosy and indiscreet – but how can I say no? – Name and address withheld A. Why not pretend to be enthusiastic about the visit and then, on the day before, ring to say you are longing to see

Dear Mary: Is it rude for guests to ask for my wifi code?

Q. Do you agree with me that it is very bad manners to ask for a wifi code as soon as you walk into a lunch in someone else’s house? I have a centrally located, although cramped, flat in Soho and am very happy to cook for friends and friends of friends, but it is a tough act to pull off single-handedly and it throws me when people ask for the wifi code as if supplying this is no more time-consuming than telling them where the loo is. Moreover, surely you should not even think of checking your emails and WhatsApps when invited to a non-professional lunch? – P.R., London

Dear Mary: why don’t my guests thank my husband for hosting too? 

Q. When people come to stay for house parties, my husband – who already works a 60-hour week – does a lot of the unseen chores. He’s in charge of fires, drinks, seating plans, arranging outings, and he pays for everything. We are in our sixties and I know it is traditional etiquette to write and thank the ‘lady of the house’, but my husband really feels rather miffed that no one ever mentions him in their thank-you letters. How should I most tactfully encourage people to address their thank-you letters to both of us, rather than just to me, without seeming bossy? – G.M., West Sussex A. It may

Dear Mary: does eating meat count as a dietary requirement? 

Q. My friend and I are being driven mad by a woman at our church who, after Mass, buttonholes us in the car park and goes on about a small airfield she is in a dispute with. In church she appears devout but I can’t help noticing she never asks how we are. I once stood for 30 minutes outside Aldi while she told me about the deaths of her parents in Covid lockdowns. Naturally I was sympathetic but a couple who had let me go ahead to pay as I had only three items must have been surprised I was still there. How can we avoid her without being

Dear Mary: how do I make sure I look popular at a book signing?

Q. A central London bookshop has kindly invited me to be one of 30 authors signing copies of our books at its Christmas customer evening. I feel it would be rude to say no, so I’ve said yes. But I went to last year’s event at that same shop, and saw the excruciating sight of some of my favourite authors sitting alone and unvisited at their signing tables, while crowds were queueing round the shop for Gyles Brandreth. This would bring back my worst childhood nightmares of not being picked for games teams. What occupation could you recommend to pass the time as I sit there from six till eight,

Dear Mary: How can I stop dinner guests squabbling about politics?

Q. How can I prevent my guests from arguing over politics at the dinner table? I have been working abroad for far too long so have taken a house in London next month to give a few dinners to catch up with friends. To one of these I want to invite two couples in particular. Both are good friends of mine, although they have never met each other. I know they would get on extremely well and probably even work together as they are in the same fields – but they have very different politics and are bound to start discussing these as soon as they walk through the door.

Dear Mary: how do I get talking to a pretty woman on WhatsApp?

Q. Scrolling through my WhatsApp contacts, I have found a name I don’t recognise but when I click on the profile I can see it is a very pretty girl. I suspect I may have met her on a night out when I might have had too much to drink which would account for me not remembering who she is. Because I don’t know how long ago this meeting was, or even where it was, I’m not sure if I can now send her a message and start a conversation. What do you think, Mary? – E.L., London SW11 A. Send a lunchtime WhatsApp saying, ‘I’m standing outside the Wolseley

Dear Mary: how do I teach my grandchildren better table manners?

Q. We frequently have our very young grandchildren to visit. However it reduces us to teeth-grinding, stony silence when the parents allow their children to spend fleeting milliseconds at the table before galloping off around the room while we try to eat food which has taken time, effort and love to prepare. Trying to correct the children evokes defensive retaliation from their parents. We love having the family round. How can we tackle this diplomatically? – Name and address withheld A. Say nothing. The grandparent role is to love unconditionally and effect corrective behaviour by more subtle means than criticism. Tackle this with a two-pronged attack. Introduce them to food

Dear Mary: how should a newly single, fiftysomething man make a pass?

Q. My friend kindly arranged for me to use her freelance gardener and, despite the gardener working only four hours a week, she has transformed my garden. Today I asked if she could do any more hours and she said only on an ad hoc basis. This evening I received a message from another friend asking for the gardener’s number, as hers has left. She has a superior garden to mine and I am terrified this wonderful gardener will give the ad hoc hours she has promised me to this potential new employer. I have tried to prevaricate but I can’t lie to this lady. Mary, what to do? –

Dear Mary: how to leave a boring book club

Q. I am organising a funeral for a close relative and am puzzled that some people wish to attend the wake but not the service of committal at the crematorium. My view is that if you want to enjoy the wake, which will be a good party in a perfect country pub, then you should be willing to pay your respects first. Should I simply not inform these people in advance of the wake venue, since it is usual for this to be revealed only at the funeral on the order of service sheet? – Name and address withheld A. You could reply: ‘We haven’t quite sorted out the wake

Dear Mary: how can I make my untidy twin look better? 

Q. I have a public profile and have always looked after my personal presentation, but my identical twin has never bothered with hers. She wouldn’t dream of covering up the broken veins on her cheeks and her hair is quite grey and frizzy. Now I’m getting married and worry that my sister’s appearance could cause some of the clients I’ve invited to rethink my ‘relevance’. What should I do, Mary? – Name and address withheld A. Explain to your twin that after you had paid for a hair and make-up artist for the wedding, you came under pressure from a colleague whose hair and make-up-artist daughter could get urgently needed publicity