Q. I’ve recently been approached by a very good friend who — with genuinely admirable candour and tact — pointed out that my fiancée ‘eats with her mouth open’, and that I ought to mention it to her to prevent future embarrassment. I suppose I have occasionally noticed this habit in the context of pizzas and wine on the sofa, but now that my friend has addressed it I can’t help but see — and indeed hear — his concern daily. Mary, how can I approach this rather unedifying conversation about a very unedifying habit with my otherwise cultured thirty-something fiancée, without causing embarrassment?
— Name and address withheld
A. If your fiancée does not notice these things, she will not have noticed whether you yourself eat with your mouth open or shut. Share with her that your friend has done you a great favour by telling you that you eat with your mouth open. Ask her to begin monitoring you and telling you off each time you offend. This will give you the chance to tell her off too without her feeling victimised.
Q. I am soon to leave my village. A friend, unbidden, has organised a farewell lunch, to which invitations have been sent. I know the host will have felt obliged to invite a person with whom, following a disagreement (about which the host may not know), I can’t share a meal. I neither wish to alert the host to the spat nor for the person I’ve fallen out with to think I’m extending an olive branch by proxy. Mary, is it permissible to decline the lunch offer or to enquire about who has accepted?
— Name and address withheld
A. It is never a good idea before any event to ask who will be there. It is a tad impertinent. But more importantly, if you ask and then genuinely can’t get to the event for some dramatic reason (including illness), it is assumed that you abandoned it because the guest list was not to your liking. If you genuinely fear this specific person’s presence, it is best to forgo the event altogether. You should explain to your putative host that although you are immensely moved by his/her proposed celebration, you feel too emotional about your impending departure and would rather not attend an event commemorating a decision you still feel anxious about having made.
Q. May I pass on a tip to readers? A former neighbour with whom I share a birthday and exchange presents has moved. To my chagrin, a present from her arrived in the post. My solution? As soon as I opened her parcel, I went online and ordered her something. Then I was able to honestly say: ‘Thanks for your present. Annoyingly I’ve just been online and seen that yours won’t arrive until tomorrow.’
— F.J., London SW8
A. Thank you for sharing this tip.
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