Q. Over New Year I stayed with a man who combines being a generous and exciting host with a punctilious need for swift, hand-written appreciation. I had every intention of writing as soon as I got home, but my parents said an email wouldn’t do. However, since we were collected from the airport I didn’t have the address and postcode (he lives abroad); also, I didn’t know what his correct title was for the envelope, and I didn’t know what stamp to put on. Then, when I finally had the information, I was told, ‘He gets even more enraged by late letters than by no letters at all.’ I am sure you will understand how the letter just didn’t get written. I am about to meet my host again at a dinner in London. How can I explain that my failure to write was no reflection on how much I enjoyed the house party and that I would dearly love to be invited again?
— Name and address withheld
A. You can’t. Society of this sort is self-filtering. Other young guests will have managed to measure up to the meticulous conditions of the hospitality received, but your failure to do so means you have effectively culled yourself from the guest list. For future reference, it would have been perfectly in order to have emailed him asking for his ‘full name’ and address.
Q. To cheer up a friend, I took him to lunch at a smart restaurant of his choice. The bill (curiously un-itemised) arrived, but was for around double what I calculated. I didn’t query it as my friend’s morale was already low and I didn’t want to seem to resent the cost. Is there an elegant way of dealing with overcharging in restaurants, Mary?
— T.S., Great Bookham, Surrey
A. Yes. You grandly pay the bill immediately without quibbling. Later you telephone the restaurant and explain that you need an itemised copy for accountancy reasons. Will they post or email it? If a mistake is revealed, they can then refund your card directly. In humbler premises you approach the counter saying — ‘May I pay? I was given a bill but I seem to have dropped it. But I can tell you exactly what we had and you can ring it in.’
Q. On a London bus, I noted a man sitting in the very back row had his muddy shoes up on the seats. How could I have asked him to take them down without risking an abusive response?
— A.B., London W8
A. You might have smiled encouragingly as you said, ‘You’re obviously better informed than I am. I heard there’s a huge fine now for putting your feet on the seats and the security camera somehow links to your Oyster card and docks the fine directly. But obviously it’s not true?’ By unnerving him in this way, you would have achieved the result you required.
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