Dear Mary

Dear Mary: How do I tell my friends that napkin rings are the height of naff?

26 February 2022

9:00 AM

26 February 2022

9:00 AM

Q. Three weeks ago I banged my head on the lower branch of our near neighbours’ tree, which I couldn’t see from under my peaked cap. I delivered a polite and non-threatening letter explaining that I wasn’t badly hurt and that the branch of their tree overhanging the pavement was a danger they should kindly arrange to remove. Although they were in residence, I received no acknowledgement of my letter, but this morning their entire tree came crashing down in the storm. Mary, please advise how I should write to thank them for their courtesy in arranging this divine intervention?

— T.L. (86), London NW11

A. For all sorts of practical reasons it is better to stay on good terms with neighbours. It is the same with in-laws. You must make every effort to rise above their inadequacies, since a harmonious relationship will pay dividends long-term. Therefore resist the urge to taunt them. Instead feign sympathy when you next see them — and ‘don’t mention the war’.

Q. My cousin is giving a party and has mistakenly invited a guest she hardly knows. He gets overexcited by names that feature in gossip columns and another guest is bringing a woman whose surname denotes centuries of American wealth and power. My cousin wonders if she should introduce this socially prominent lady by first name only, to avoid the male guest making a fool of himself?

— E.S., Sussex (briefly in USA)

A. The Rockefeller (or whoever it is) will be used to people making fools of themselves — although obviously your cousin doesn’t want this man’s unsophisticated reactions to reflect badly on her. Perhaps she could confide in the little-known guest that she is a nervous host because the last time she had this Rockefeller on the premises her evening was ruined by a ‘terrible climber who I should never have invited — who gushed and gushed and virtually stalked her all evening. I’m so relieved she’s agreed to come back. I’ve got a much more sophisticated crowd tonight so I don’t suppose anyone will let me down…’ or words to that effect.

Q. My husband and I went to stay with friends who have normally impeccable taste. They supplied exquisitely laundered vintage Irish linen napkins for the first lunch, but we were astonished to be confronted with napkin rings into which we were required to insert these increasingly soiled napkins. These friends have lived in America for years and have just returned to England. Mary, would it be kind of me to tell them that napkin rings are considered the height of naff in this country? If so, how should I do it?

— M.S., Gloucestershire

A. Times have changed. Napkin rings are making a comeback due to the fashion for eco-signalling. Your friends are in the vanguard.

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