Q. I know it is rude to ask, when invited to a dinner party, ‘who else is coming?’ I assumed, therefore, that it would have been equally churlish to ask, when invited to a private piano recital to be staged in the garden of a large country house, ‘what is the repertoire?’ And so I just accepted. Now I am dreading being served up, for example, one of the atonal later works of Schoenberg or Webern, which would be torture to me. What to do if this happens again?
— Name and address withheld
A. The best line to take is to immediately gush that you would have loved to come but you are busy that day. It is then fine to enquire about the repertoire. If it meets with your approval, ring back five minutes later to say you find you are free after all. Note, however, that even if much of an audience is united in disapproval at such a private event, that is still a good social outcome vis à vis bonding afterwards.
Q. A friend in London urges my husband and me to start socialising with friends of hers who have moved in locally. She claims they are tremendous fun and that we have so much in common we will get on like a house on fire. Our problem is that these people live uncomfortably close and we would not want to start seeing a lot of them. It sounds very jaded but our books are full. Moreover, although we should be grateful, we cannot help feeling illogically threatened by the thought of suddenly having ‘soulmates’ on our doorstep. Your thoughts, Mary?
— Name and address withheld
A. It is only natural to feel threatened by the arrival in one’s territory of a couple who may be judged ‘better value’ than you are yourselves. You must invite them once, but why not ask them to afternoon tea, explaining that you are both trying to avoid alcohol. This should put a dampener on any ‘new best friend’ aspirations. But if you find they are indeed soulmates, then crack open a bottle.
Q. As your correspondent of 13 June notes, there is a certain awkwardness about doing nothing physical on meeting friends. The ‘namaste’ praying hands gesture can seem just a bit affected, but the right hand over heart gesture is often used in the Islamic world, and is the best way to greet an Islamic woman who is wearing a headscarf. The gesture is elegant and heart-warming.
— J.H., Sedbergh
A. Thank you. This gesture, while also ‘affected’, includes a valuable signifier of warmth.
Q. Re: Dear Mary (30 May). In my view the ‘all right?’ greeting (of strangers on a country walk) is similar to the now outdated ‘How do you do?’ Neither require a reply. The latter was replaced by ‘hello’ or ‘hi’.
— A.J.S.K., Oxon
A. You make a good point./>
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