Q. I note that (Dear Mary, 12 January) you advised your correspondent, resentful of Christmas expenditure, to offer instead ‘mutual experience gifts such as lunches and massages’. I am in my seventh decade and realised this year that, like most friends and family, I too have reached ‘peak stuff’. I propose that next year I will invite people to give me the name of their favourite charity and then make a donation to that charity. Surely this would be a better idea?
— A.C., London W8
A. In the past this might have worked well, but sadly the idea is now tainted by excessive virtue-signalling on social media, with people boasting that although it is their birthday, instead of receiving a present they would like a donation to be made to their favourite charity.
Q. A new couple who have moved to our village are by far the most compatible of all our near neighbours. Our problem is that their house is filthy, especially their kitchen. It means that we don’t enjoy the return matches as we feel we are genuinely at risk of some health issue arising. We couldn’t care less about returning hospitality, or cutlet for cutlet, and would far prefer them to always come to us, but how can we achieve this without causing offence or making them think it’s because we are too grand to want to go to them? (We’re in the big house and they are in a thatched cottage).
— Name and address withheld
A. One of you should allege to have suddenly been diagnosed with a mould allergy. It has been medically established that thatched properties trigger this condition. You can then continue to host them in your own house in perpetuity, and if they insist on returning the hospitality, suggest they bring along a box of chocolates or a bottle of wine if you feel this will square their consciences.
Q. My children are in their twenties and I have noticed that none of their friends under the age of 30 seems to leave a tip in their room if they stay for a night, yet tips mysteriously appear if their parents have also been guests. Is this part of the infantilisation/snowflake thing? What’s going on, Mary?
— Name and address withheld
A. A poll of twentysomethings reveals that most of those who are in the habit of staying in English country houses for weekends will come with presents for their hosts and will write or text to say thank you, but they do not leave tips in their rooms. This is not because they are ill-bred or ‘mean’ but because the young don’t carry cash — they use contactless to pay for everything. The way around this is to get your children to remind their contemporaries on the day of their arrivals that they should stop at cashpoints en route to your house to pick up £10 per night per bedroom.
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