Dear Mary

Dear Mary: What can you do when your new neighbours stiff you on a restaurant bill?

4 June 2016

9:00 AM

4 June 2016

9:00 AM

Q. We moved recently and new neighbours invited us to join them for dinner at a nearby restaurant. I planned to offer a contribution — perhaps to pay the cost of our meals — but no explicit arrangement was made beforehand. Our friends began by ordering champagne for themselves, while we confined ourselves to glasses of wine. One of them had turbot, which was twice as expensive as any other main course. Without consulting us, they ordered successively two bottles of Chassagne Montrachet. The bill when it came revealed that these had cost £62 each, and the total came to about £350.

I produced my card, which was laid beside theirs on the table, and I was asked to agree to splitting the whole cost down the middle. I complied, while resenting what seemed like an imposition. We’d like to be on good terms with them and able to meet them for a meal from time to time but I’m concerned with the ethics of what happened. Was it a difference of expectations or are they just bad-mannered?
— Name and address withheld
 
A. After teenagehood, behaviour of this kind is more likely to signal grand assumptions than a bid to make co-diners subsidise you. You can sidestep it by avoiding restaurants and inviting the neighbours to dine at your house. By so doing you may even recoup what you overpaid. Should they come empty-handed (drinks wise), present an unopened bottle of serviceable but cheap plonk and inquire whether this will be all right as you have just remembered they have discerning palates. No doubt they will nip next door and return with one, perhaps two, bottles of something similar to Chassagne Montrachet.
 
Q. My daughter’s boyfriend is of Sikh heritage and she has been invited to his sister’s wedding. The family have suggested that she dress in a sari. I thought this was a wonderful idea but I have now learnt that there is something called cultural appropriation which is frowned upon by many of the toilers in the creative arts with whom she works. Should she go ahead and dress as the family wish or should she refuse in order to avoid any possible backlash from bien-pensant business associates?
— Name and address withheld
 
A. What could be jollier and friendlier than what the putative in-laws have suggested? Your daughter should blink blandly if challenged and explain that she did not wish to give offence by refusing the in-laws’ request.
 
Q. Would it be acceptable for my farmer brother to turn up to a fancy-dress party without a costume because he is genuinely too busy to go to a hire shop? Or should he just not go?
— R.S., Stonor, Oxon
 
A. Let him compromise by wearing a white shirt back-to-front and going as a vicar.

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