Q. One of our daughter’s godmothers has given very generous presents but never with any regularity. She was unable to attend the recent 18th birthday party but said on the telephone she hoped our daughter would like the present she was sending. No present has arrived. What is the protocol re thanking for something which has not turned up but may have been lost in the proverbial post? Or indeed, the absent-minded godmother may have forgotten to buy or post?
— Name and address withheld
A. Ring the godmother up shrieking with excitement. ‘The most marvellous bracelet has arrived in the post but with no card attached. Is it from you?’ When she says ‘no’, wait silently till she adds a variant of either ‘That reminds me, I have not got round to buying anything yet’, or ‘No, I sent her a drawing by Dufy. I wondered why she had not thanked me.’
Q. I recently stayed overnight in the house of a business colleague. I was shown my bedroom on the top floor and a bathroom two floors down so I was relieved to find a chamberpot in the room as I have a weak bladder and did not want to wake my hosts in the night by trekking past their room (one floor down). When morning came, however, I could not see how I could empty the wretched contents without the risk of passing my hosts on the staircase. As it happened, I made a dash and was not seen, but what should I have done?
— Name and address withheld
A. Wait till your hosts are settled at the breakfast table then say, ‘Oh, will you excuse me for a moment?’ and rush upstairs to perform the chore at this sensible time when they are unlikely to disturb you.
Q. My husband’s sister lives in the North so we don’t see that much of her but she regularly rings me and drones on for hours about her difficulties. (My husband, understandably, will not take her calls while he is at work.) I am not unsympathetic but she will brook no interruption and will not take any advice. But she cannot afford a therapist and I believe it is good for her to get things off her chest. How can I make this more of a conversation rather than a monologue?
— M.D., address withheld
A. If you believe it is therapeutic for her to talk, then turn on the speakerphone button on a hands-free telephone and allow her to continue rambling while you go about your everyday chores. You can multi-task with ironing, for example, cleaning, cooking, putting on make-up or even playing solitaire. You can still listen, like a therapist would, and if she pauses, steer her towards another topic as yet uncovered. In this way you can help her out without the chore eating too much into your time and without feeling frustrated by not being able to make your own points.
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