Q. Should the lady or the gentleman have the banquette in a restaurant? I’ve been brought up to believe that the lady has the banquette for her more delicate bottom — and for her handbag. She has the view of the room; the gentleman has only eyes for her. My fiancé says that a modern couple should take it in turns to have the hard chair. Whose bottom takes precedence?
— L.F., Bayswater, London
A. As with so many cultural traditions, the lady takes the banquette for practical reasons. Not only does it allow access to her handbag and protect her more delicate clothing from spillages, but the lady usually has more data in her gossip repertoire than does the man. She tends to be more beady-eyed when it comes to social observation and more able to recognise prominent fellow diners. The man will miss out by denying her the better viewpoint since it allows her to entertain him. If, in the name of modernity, your fiancé is prepared to face the Bateman cartoon-style disapproval of waiters and other diners who will assume he just doesn’t know the form, then by all means let him take it in turns with you to have the banquette.
On the subject of banquettes, never overlook their facility to fast-forward latent romance should space permit a potential couple to sit side by side. In this way you experience a ‘taster’ of what closer intimacy might feel like.
Q. I have been invited by some friends to a Burns Night supper in London. There will be fine company with smoked salmon, haggis, cranachan, poetry, and of course whisky. However other friends may accuse me of cultural appropriation. I am English born and bred. How should I respond?
— L.K., by email
A. I turn to Burnsian Ross Leckie for the answer. Leckie, who is booked seven years in advance to speak at Burns suppers (his turn includes reciting Burns’s ‘Tam o’Shanter’, which takes 25 minutes) says ‘Burns would be appalled to think any Englishman would imagine a Scot would be offended by his going to a Burns Night supper. The broad kirk is what the Burnsian aspires to and as for being English, “A man’s a man for a’that.”’
Q. I often receive emails from people who are friends of friends but who I have not met, asking me to attend various Sloane Ranger-style fundraising functions set many weeks ahead. Sometimes I want to decide nearer the time yet there is often pressure to give my reply as soon as possible because of the caterers. So what I do is just send an immediate reply saying that I’m away for two weeks and will be checking emails only sporadically. I hope some of your readers might find this tip useful.
— Name and address withheld
A. Thank you indeed for supplying it.