Q. My wife and I have been married for 50 years. The marriage is basically sound but she has recently developed a new maddening habit when we entertain. She waits until I am in the middle of an anecdote or story and then starts proffering plates of vegetables or more wine — this when everyone has already got well-filled glasses and everything on their plate they could possibly want. And of course they then have to say ‘No thank you’. These actions seem timed to sabotage my performances. When I take it up with her she always insists she is just being polite to our guests.
— Name and address withheld
A. This is a prime example of passive aggression. Your wife may be nursing a secret grudge against you. Why not let her take centre stage before you begin your first anecdote? Smile pleasantly as you invite her to regale the table with a story or nugget of gossip of her own. Tell those assembled that it will be well worth listening to, then add: ‘Before we start, can I make sure everyone has everything they need so I don’t need to interrupt my wife’s flow by offering drinks or food? Isn’t it maddening when one partner spoils another one’s story by doing that? All too easy a habit to slip into.’ Chuckle unbitterly as you add: ‘I call it Anecdote Sabotage Syndrome or ASS!’ Once everyone’s mindset is attuned to the potential of ASS, your wife will feel self-conscious about interrupting your stories.
Q. We are about to give a party for 200 with a dinner in a marquee and a dance floor. How can we stop female guests from taking off their uncomfortable high shoes and going on to the dance floor, where there is so often broken glass?
— T.L., Pewsey, Wiltshire
A. Drinks on the dance floor are only to do with greed, and they make the floor wet and dangerous if the glasses get broken. You must limit the entry points to the dance floor and have strict waiters in place to intercept glasses.
Q. I’m staying with friends for a few months while I’m in London. They are vegan and I’m often obliged to join them at dinner. During dinner they often erupt in heavenly gasps and exaggerated ‘Mmmms’. Sometimes I have to join in because of the group pressure even though I never think the food is very nice. How can I hint that they don’t always have to go on about vegan food being delicious?
— J.A., London EC1
A. Why not be the first to make exaggerated approval noises yourself and then say to the others: ‘Please stop me if I overdo the praise … I find I’m always overcompensating for the fact we’re not eating meat to the point where it gets boring for everyone else — almost as though I’m trying to convince myself that I prefer vegan food. Do any of you find yourselves doing that?’
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