Q. On my way to Devon recently I stopped for lunch with an impeccably mannered friend. He produced first crab meat, then smoked salmon with a delicious salad of avocado, lettuce etc. Halfway through I noticed he had four or five prawns on his plate and I had none. As prawns are one of my favourite foods I vocalised my disappointment. He was mortified but could not transfer any prawns to my plate for fear of coronavirus. Should I have kept my mouth shut, Mary?
— E.S., Ripe, Sussex
A. No, but you could have proceeded differently. You might have set your host at his ease by gushing: ‘Oh you haven’t given me prawns! How clever of you to remember that I never eat prawns with salmon because as a child I was forced to eat them together.’ This would have elicited one of two responses. Either: ‘Oh, good lord. I didn’t remember that at all. Your prawns are still in the kitchen. Don’t you want them, then?’ You could have replied: ‘Oh, I might break my own rules on this occasion.’ His second response would have been: ‘To be honest I didn’t remember that. I simply forgot to give you any, but thank goodness you wouldn’t have wanted them anyway.’
Q. We have given quite a few pool parties recently but there is always a tinge of awkwardness when the guests arrive, as some of them are kissing and some are not. It can be uncomfortable, especially when some of our most affectionate friends try to greet someone who is anxious to avoid contamination. How can a host make things easier?
— A.E., Pewsey
A. A successful system was introduced at a recent wedding. Guests were issued with wristbands on arrival. Red meant ‘Stop. Keep your social distance’, while green meant ‘Hug and kiss as normal’. These wristbands ensured affection could be freely shown between the virus deniers. Meanwhile the anxious could relax, safe in the knowledge that no one would invade their space.
Q. I arrived much too early at Euston Station for a train to the Lake District. As I waited, I noted a number of unmasked people on the concourse. When I said, politely, to one of these that masks were compulsory, he ignored me and walked away. The officials who should have been enforcing the mask edict were clearly steering a wide berth. Mary, in the absence of anyone in authority taking a lead, what could I have done?
— J.H., London SW11
A. When a reprimand comes from a disembodied voice and as an instruction to everyone present, offenders are less likely to feel persecuted. You should have asked an official to broadcast an announcement — e.g. ‘Would all passengers standing next to WHSmith near platform nine please be aware that face coverings are compulsory in this station.’
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