The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 15 August

Some people insist on looking a gift horse in the mouth. But one shouldn’t stop offering, says Thomas Blaikie
Dear Thomas,
I know it was rather last minute, but I’m surprised that one of my girlfriends turned down my offer of a free holiday quite so readily. The friend I was supposed to go with has fallen ill and very generously said she didn’t care about the money. She just wants me to have a companion. But this other friend insists she’s got a nature walk booked. She was so o and I’m reluctant to ask anyone else.
Jenny Irvine, Bournemouth

Dear Jenny,
I’m reminded of the time a friend of my aunt’s turned down Wimbledon tickets because it was her day for cleaning the brass. Some people are terribly stuck in their routines. If you spring a delicious surprise on them, they’re furious. Perhaps we’re all like this to some extent. A plan is a plan, giving shape and meaning to life. To veer o -piste, abandon the scheme and hurtle o abroad without warning is just too dangerous.

But some are less sclerotic than others. You could try to cajole your friend in a friendly way. ‘Are you sure a week of tavernas, pure blue skies and little white houses doesn’t appeal?’

It could be time that she needs, to bring her round.

Don’t hesitate to ask others, and don’t be discouraged by ungracious responses. In general, we are inept at turning down invitations of any kind. The more lavish the proposal, the more likely that it will be abruptly dismissed. People may be nonplussed or panicked, as described earlier. Guilt and embarrassment also can play their part. It would be an improvement if others were able to express the disappointment and regret they probably feel when they’re not able to accept, but somehow I don’t think it’s going to happen. You have to be forbearing and patient.

It’s less easy to endure when invitees make a great show of reciting their diaries to demonstrate how in demand they are or, the converse, just snap out: ‘Sorry, can’t.’ It is essential to explain why you can’t accept an invitation.

Nevertheless, do persist. Somebody in your circle, maybe the one least expected, will turn out to be capable of spontaneity. It’s not rude to invite last-minute. As a friend of mine often says: ‘The truly powerful are always available.’

Money is the other aspect here. Maybe your friend is uncomfortable with being paid for. Some people are extraordinarily sensitive about this (not me) and depressingly insist that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. But there is such a thing as a free lunch. Some people actually are generous. Unfortunately, the only way to ‹ nd out is to accept the free lunch. All the same, your friend might prefer to pay. You could suggest this. I wish you every success in ‹ nding a holiday companion.

Please send your questions to or write to him at The Lady, 39-40 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ER


Mark Mason complains in The Spectator that people don’t take off their sunglasses while talking to him. He senses a power game: you can’t see the other person’s eyes. They present this blank, intimidating facade, two black lenses that present you only with a reflection of yourself. What’s more, the eyewear, conspicuously labelled Ray- Ban or Prada, blares status.

It’s true – dictators have long favoured dark glasses, as have other powerful people. But to get the full effect they must be worn when it’s not sunny. ‘It’s awfully dark in here,’ declared American Vogue editor Anna Wintour as she inspected the Vogue exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York before it opened. Nobody dared to suggest the obvious: ‘Try taking your sunglasses off .’

The wearing of sunglasses should be a communal activity. If two or more are on sunloungers by a pool in the sun, it’s all right. Some wearers might be ill people, so watch out – but otherwise deal with as follows. Produce your own rival pair or say mildly: ‘The sun’s gone in. Maybe you didn’t notice. You can take them off now.’