Q. When my mother-in-law visits, she puts newspaper on a dining chair before sitting down. I’m so speechless that someone could behave in this way that I don’t say anything. What comment could I could make to discourage this? Or, given she only visits three times a year, should I just chalk it up to ‘crazy in-laws’? By way of detail, I’m Australian and my mother-in-law is a Scotswoman.
— Name and address withheld
A. This seems a fairly harmless eccentricity. However if you wish to establish the thinking behind it, use the following method. Next time she comes, show her to a chair preloaded with newspapers. Smile pleasantly in the manner of someone who hopes to delight their guest with the little bespoke touches they have arranged to emphasise the welcome. A pre-briefed collaborator should enter the room at the same time — you can then say kindly to your mother-in-law: ‘I’ve prepared this chair for you, as I know you like to sit on newspapers.’At this point the collaborator can chip in, asking her directly why she favours a cushion of newsprint. You should leave the room before she has a chance to answer, and your collaborator can fill you in later.
Q. I fear your keen dishwashing correspondent (28 November) may be unaware of the irritation she may be causing by leaping up from hosts’ tables to begin washing up. Many a leisurely post-prandial discussion is spoilt by women briskly starting to do the dishes and, worse, expecting others to join them in helping. Some hosts are quite happy to leave the dishes until the morning rather than cut short a convivial evening. A quick question/offer of help would ascertain the host’s preference.
— M.B., Lindfield, West Sussex
A. How interesting that you assumed my correspondent was a woman. In fact he was a man, and perhaps it was not clear that he was talking about washing up cooking utensils rather than post-prandial dishes. You are right about the mood-spoiling clatter of washing up while the guests are still at table.
Q. I attend fantastic seminars (100 persons) arranged by a national policy thinktank. I’m never sure whether to say goodbye to the coordinator — who I assume is busy talking to potential donors — but I don’t just want to clear off in case this isn’t sociable. I’m not always aware of social niceties, so what is the correct behaviour for leaving these events?
— Name and address withheld
A. It would be self-important for you to say goodbye in this situation. Moreover, the interruption could give potential donors an opportunity to announce that they too must be on their way (before the donation is in the bag). Instead, make eye contact with the coordinator and give a brief wave and nod of gratitude. It will be clear that you are being considerate./>
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