Dear Mary

Dear Mary: How can I shut up business travel bores?

Plus: How to avoid offending people you don’t recognise during Christmas party season

21 November 2015

9:00 AM

21 November 2015

9:00 AM

Q. I work in the London art market. Often, when I run into a fellow dealer and ask how they are in a friendly way, I get a reply along the lines of ‘It’s been totally mad. I’ve just come back from New York and I’m about to go to Hong Kong, then it’s Dubai the week after that…’ Clearly these people imagine that rushing around the world suggests that they are incredibly successful, when paradoxically all this exertion shows that unfortunately the opposite is the case. I usually say ‘Gosh you must be busy!’ but am beginning to feel that it would be kinder not to pretend to buy into their self-delusion. What would you recommend, Mary?
— Name and address withheld

A. The correct response is ‘Oh, poor you.’ Pronounce these words while wearing a caring expression. Then stay silent as they expand on why the rollercoaster ride has been necessary. They will soon tire of the self-justification and begin to reply ‘Really well!’ when you next pose your polite question.

Q. As the Christmas party season approaches, I am unnerved by the thought of how many people I am going to run into who greet me and whose names I have either forgotten or never knew. The problem is that I make regular television appearances and so people sometimes think they know me when we have not actually met. My main concern is not to upset the people I have actually met, sometimes on many occasions over a long career. How should I tackle this as people may think I have become too grand and self-important to remember them, when the problem is brain overload?
— Name and address withheld

A. As soon as they greet you, smile warmly as you bring out a small notepad and pen and say: ‘Don’t say another word until you’ve given me your number. I need to update my address book.’ Add ‘Spell your name clearly so my secretary gets it right.’ In this way you can stare at the data elicited before any further conversational interchange and thereby avoid committing any real or imaginary slights.

Q. Re: free directory inquiries (24 October): it is simpler to dial 0800 118 3733. You have to listen to a sponsor’s short ‘commercial’ but thereafter the procedure is quick and straightforward.
— R.L.C., Redhill, Surrey

A. Thank you for passing on this nugget, which will be of use to those who cannot go online to look up numbers. The service can be activated on ‘alphabet’ dialling pads by ringing 0800 118FREE. It is well worth a caller’s while to listen to the advertising message, which takes less than a minute. It is no nuisance when you consider the outrageous alternative of ringing 118118, which costs £2.75 per call plus £2.99 per minute, with a minimum 60-second call and ‘your service’s connection charge’ on top.

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  • Sue Smith

    First world ‘problems’. ‘Nuff said.

    • Hamburger

      If you live in the first world you are going to have first world problems.