Q. My dear English husband has never mastered the knack of timing his interventions in conversation. He hesitates politely, and by the time somebody pauses, his comments are no longer to the point so he shuts up. After 45 years I always know when there’s something he wants to say, and it’s become a sort of party turn that I butt in and call for order for the next speaker — which doesn’t reflect well on either of us. Any ideas, Mary? Should he signal, for example by raising his right forefinger, the hand resting on the dinner table?
— B.D., Frankfurt
A. This gesture is too puny to halt the egotists holding forth. Instead he should employ the method used by traditional English schoolboys of his vintage to signal to a schoolmaster than he has an answer, namely to raise one arm in the air and keep it there till given the chance to speak. This trumps all other methods of attention-seeking and you can pass it off as a ‘quaint English custom’ — which it is.
Q. I go to sometimes as many as two book launches a week. I consider it only polite to buy a copy of the book, but with an average price of £17.50 it is an expensive form of politeness — especially since I rarely have the time or the inclination to read said books. How can I square these purchases with my wife, who complains as the unread book mountain next to our bed gets higher every week?
— D.C., London W10
A. Continue to buy the books. Ask the authors only to sign and date them (the dating is critical), not inscribe them to you. Wrap them in clingfilm, since you are not going to read them — to quote the famous dealer Rick Gekoski, ‘What collectors want above all is books without germs’ — and store them somewhere where moth and rust will not corrupt. Sell them every ten years, when there is a good chance that some of the authors will have gone on ahead. Your wife will approve your transition from hoarder to investor.
Q. When seated at a formal dinner next to quite important guests whom one is meeting for the first time and with whom one will be speaking in public the following day, what is the protocol when, quite inadvertently, one of the guests takes your wine glass and drinks from it? Does one ignore the lapse and continue with the Chablis throughout the dinner, while foregoing the St Émilion with the boeuf? Or does one point out the indiscretion?
— M.S.R., London
A. Act daft and apologise to your neighbour for having sipped from his glass. He will then have to think logically about whether he should be drinking from his left or his right and you will retrieve your glass without any pause in conviviality.
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