Manners

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

Why do people make excuses for surly staff?

‘You grab that table, I’ll get the drinks.’ I did as bid. A couple of minutes later, Paul was back, beers in hand, and we started chatting. Soon the member of staff who’d served him appeared. She was stony-faced and holding a card machine. ‘You didn’t pay,’ she said. Paul looked confused for a second, then glanced down at the machine. ‘Oh, it didn’t go through?’ The staff member shook her head. Paul held out his card, she punched the numbers again, we all waited for the beep. Then she handed him his receipt and left. ‘Service with a smile,’ I said. He laughed. And then, a second or two

Dear Mary: what should I do if a fellow passenger is reading porn?

Q. On a recent short-haul flight, I had the misfortune to be seated next to a much older man who read, for the entirety of the flight, an erotic novel on his Kindle. I tried to avert my eyes but the bright screen and lewd language kept catching my eye. I was stunned into silence for the 1.5 hours I was trapped next to him. Should I have said something, and if so, what? – L.R.B., Bristol A. Certain bridge players complain they can see others’ cards – and no doubt they can, but they don’t have to. Equally, lewd language on a next-door Kindle can only be seen with

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 justgiving.com. 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 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 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 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

Dear Mary: what is the perfect response to an awkward discussion?

Q. I recently joined our gardener during his tea break and asked: ‘What news? He replied: ‘We went to see Dad in his coffin yesterday – he looked very smart in his suit. It is amazing what they can do these days.’ I was quite unable to think of a suitable response – and still cannot. Any thoughts, Mary? — R.H., Cheltenham A. One good all-purpose response in these situations is to nod and murmur: ‘So they say… So they say…’ Q. I am a moderately successful journalist and sometimes friends ask me to help their children enter the trade. The problem is: after initial contact, usually by text or

Dear Mary: Should I tell my boss I swiped his champagne?

Q. I have got myself in a pickle. My boss was given a bottle of Louis Roederer Cristal by a client. It came in a very smart presentation box. I thought it would be funny to open it and replace the champagne with a bottle of fizzy water. My boss duly took it home and I waited several days, expecting him to come in one morning laughing and saying: ‘Where is it?’ Alas, silence. So in passing I nudged him with a grin on my face and said: ‘How was the champagne?’ He then told me he had fallen out with a childhood friend and they had not spoken since

Dear Mary: How do I stop fans asking me for selfies?

Q. My wife and I live in a grace-and-favour house with beautiful gardens, of which our landlord is justly proud. He employs a full-time gardener to tend the grounds around the big house and also around our cottage. The gardener has recently developed a habit of using petrol-powered tools, such as strimmers and lawn mowers, at increasingly antisocial hours, including a recent 6.50 a.m. chainsaw attack on some dead trees. We do not pay for his services, which include not only looking after our little garden but also keeping us stocked with firewood and clearing a tennis court for our use, so we are reluctant to appear ungrateful. How can