Q. I have happily overcome many moments of diplomatic and social challenge, but was stumped by the case of the licked cutlery. What does one do when one’s distinguished hostess asks to taste your soup, only to return your spoon smeared after more than a delicate sip? In a choice between not implying she has germs or benefiting from the attention of a waiter, do you use it or lose it?
— A.D., London SW1
A. This is a tricky question, particularly as the hostess may have sought subconsciously to confer a degree of intimacy or friendship (albeit unreciprocated) by the sharing of the spoon. The answer is to divert the phobia on to yourself as the germ supplier. Call for a secondary spoon and explain that since, within living memory, a close relation who had been engaged on missionary work inadvertently infected a co-diner with wet leprosy, there has been a superstition in the family about never sharing cutlery.
Q. We are fortunate enough to have various well-known writers and other public figures among our circle of friends. The problem is that an otherwise charming couple we know have become rather predatory, and whenever we introduce them to our famous friends they invariably email the next day to ask for their contact details. We feel that if they had got on that well they would have exchanged details at the time, and that we are being put on the spot. How can we discourage this behaviour, Mary?
— X.W., Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
A. Why not act daft and supply the details of the famous person’s agent or manager, as they could be found anyway via the internet?
Q. An anxious, slightly hygiene-obsessed friend covers everything in her fridge with ostentatious amounts of clingfilm. The problem is that her son is about to start at the snobby London nursery school my own children attended a few years ago, and I can see that the clingfilm will count against her when other mothers/nannies come round to tea. I can’t afford to gift her endless packets of eco-friendly beeswax alternatives but how can I, without being heavy-handed or making her feel anxious, persuade her to ditch the one-use plastic and use bowls covered by plates or greaseproof paper?
— M.J., London SW3
A. Unfortunately greaseproof paper is not eco-friendly either, as it has paraffin in it. She could repurpose ungummed brown-paper envelopes, which are more affordable than beeswax paper (literally more than a hundred times cheaper). Buy your friend a selection of sizes — Lidl does one big enough to store a chicken carcass or joint of beef (24p). Suggest she can still signal hygiene as well as one-upmanship with a fridge full of brown envelopes, tied shut with charming twine.
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