Q. For many years my boss gave each member of his small team a very generous Christmas gift voucher from John Lewis. I was always able to put this to good use and looked forward to receiving it. Unfortunately he decided last year that these vouchers were a bit unfestive and instead we each received a large hamper from an upmarket grocer. While I know that some of my colleagues actually preferred the hamper, my husband and I were disappointed. Crystallised ginger, truffle crisps, mini Christmas puddings and jars of obscure paté sadly do not suit our perhaps unsophisticated palates, although we managed to regift most of it quite successfully. Mary, I fear he is planning to send hampers again this Christmas and wondered if there is a tactful way to convey, without seeming ungrateful, that I would much prefer the voucher option?
— Name and address withheld
A. Let it be known that a family member has alerted you to expect a luxury hamper she has ordered as a Christmas present. Due to limits on socialising, the sad truth is that if by any chance he was thinking of reprising his generous present of last year, you would find a second hamper unmanageable. A John Lewis voucher, on the other hand, would be eternally useful. Next year, if there is a next year, you can say the same thing again.
Q. While I sorely miss seeing my friends due to lockdown, I am exhausted by virtual socialising, most recently at ‘Netflix parties’, where you all watch a film with a chat bar on the side of the screen. I work from home so I’m staring at my computer screen all day and I can’t face more hours of it in the evenings, let alone the ‘pressure’ of virtual socialising. How can I decline gracefully when they can assume I have nowhere else to be?
— L.R.B., Somerset
A. There is no end of useful excuses to escape virtual get-togethers — digital detoxing, wifi problems, computer-vision syndrome — but if you spend too much time as a lockdown hermit you may lose your social faculties, never mind your friends. Try to attend a session or two per week to limber you up for the time when real socialising restarts. We will all need refresher courses in how to be civilised. Zoom dinners are particularly useful.
Q. Our daughter, who had a glamorous job and lifestyle before Covid, has moved back in with us and is now highly critical of our cosy lifestyle — e.g. dog food in our bedroom. We are sympathetic about her situation but are finding the barrage of complaints wearing. Any thoughts, Mary?
— P.S., Northants
A. Smile benignly and ask her to put her advice in writing ‘as otherwise we are bound to forget it’.
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The editor invites readers who have successfully (or unsuccessfully) deployed one of Mary’s strategies to share their experiences for a Christmas issue special. Anonymity will be respected if requested. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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