Q. Several of my friends and family members have moved on from dark thoughts concerning 9/11, the Kennedy assassination and other major events, and now seem convinced that coronavirus is another conspiracy, this time by the Chinese against the western powers. I say that’s unlikely, as it started with them infecting their own people. I would really like them to stop peddling such fake news, but how can I get them to do that without spoiling my good relationships with them?
—P.B., Tadworth, Surrey
A. Humour them by first listening sympathetically, then sighing resignedly as you reflect that it’s such a shame that these interesting ideas are always put out there by a stigmatised sub-sect, because it means our leading thinkers just dismiss them out of hand rather than giving them a proper airing. When they gasp ‘What do you mean, a stigmatised sub-sect?’, reply, ‘Because they are always put out there in the first place by people who want to believe in conspiracy theories as the only conceivable explanation for their own low status in life. And so anyone who passes them on gets tarred by the same brush.’ Add modestly, ‘That’s why I would be wary of passing them on myself.’
Q. Last week I reached my breaking point in Waitrose when a pushy woman barged in front of me to buy a piece of heavily discounted meat. She clearly encroached on my two metres of personal space. How can I ensure that others stop being so inconsiderate when shopping for food? A friend who owns a T-shirt with the logo ‘Hard Rock Café Wuhan’ has no problems. How can I subtly remind people to keep their distance?
— R.H., London SW1
A. You could order a similar T-shirt online, but a more tasteful prophylactic would be to use trolleys defensively. Pick up two at the store door and push one in front of you while dragging another behind.
Q. With reference to your correspondent whose au pair was turning up in the kitchen in pyjama shorts barely covering her bottom, I once hosted a paying guest, 18, the daughter of friends living abroad. She came for a month, was clearly unaware of the effects of her burgeoning beauty and also turned up at breakfast wearing virtually nothing. I circumvented the whole issue of whether or not she was exciting anyone’s (e.g. my husband’s) lust by confessing to her that I had crippling insecurities about my terrible cellulite. I said I couldn’t even bear to be around my contemporaries in bathing suits, and the contrast between her flawless, taut young legs and my own was making me despair. She was delighted with our ‘conspiracy’ and always covered up from that moment on.
— A.Z., Nairobi, Kenya
A. Thank you for sharing this tip.
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