Dear Mary

The question that Dear Mary refuses to answer

Plus: Bridging the class divide on a train, and the cure for ‘Reply all’ blunders

1 March 2014

9:00 AM

1 March 2014

9:00 AM

Q. One of my best friends, who knows I don’t have a great social life at university, has a brother in a band which is touring and will have five nights of gigs at my university town. He is offering me a free ticket for any night that week and to hang with the band backstage. But I cannot bear this artist’s music or voice, and couldn’t sit through a concert, let alone socialise with him. My friend knows very well I won’t have anything else on. Is there a tactful way to extricate myself?
— Name and address withheld

A. Yes, but it would do you no favours were I to reveal it. People with great social lives have invariably earned them through undergoing precisely such ordeals as you outline and worse — sitting through performances of Cymbeline, for example, just to support bit-part actor friends. If it is not to be merely superficial, friendship, like parenting, involves duty and tedium as well as pure enjoyment. The ‘work’ pays off. Accept with delight and pretend to enjoy the event. It will all benefit you in the long term. 

Q. I travel to my house in the country by first class every Friday but a nice new neighbour who goes for the same train often runs into me on the concourse and invites me to sit with him and chat — in standard class. I never like to embarrass him by admitting I already have a ticket for first and so find myself sitting squashed up on this always crowded train. What to do?
— Name and address withheld

A. As soon as you see the man, issue a beaming invitation to drinks at a date four weeks hence. Having thus assured him of your affection, you may add, without causing offence, ‘Sadly I won’t join you now. I’ve had to upgrade myself to first as I’ve got work to do.’

Q. In sending news, jokes or comments to others by email, I list a number of, as I see it, suitable recipients. I find that on occasions one of them may respond by pressing ‘Reply all’, sending their response to all on the list, irrespective of whether they are known to them or not. On occasions the response is not suitable for all of those who have been unwittingly copied in. How can I stop this without sending emails individually?
— J.A.H., Gloucestershire

A. Most people know that you can conceal the identities and addresses of recipients by simply using the bcc (blind carbon copy) box when sending group emails. It is, in any case, a breach of etiquette to list private email addresses of others in this way, or indeed to implicate others as co-conspirators — as one gossip columnist found out in the early days of email, when after moving newspapers he wrote to all his suppliers to give his new address and thus revealed all his sources in one fell swoop.

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