Q. One of my friends prefers tea to coffee. I use tea bags, but don’t know what I’m supposed to do about taking the tea bag out, or leaving it in when I serve her the tea.
A. If you serve the tea with the tea bag still in the mug or cup, serve it immediately after you have added the hot water, making sure to serve it with a teaspoon and a small plate or other receptacle so she can let it steep to her preference and then remove the tea bag. One does not drink a cup of tea with the tea bag still in the cup, so giving her somewhere to put it when she takes it out is important. Otherwise, let it steep for two or three minutes and remove the tea bag before serving her.
Q. My only son was killed a few months ago, in service to the country. For some reason, people I have met recently at various events have asked me if I have any children. What do I say?
A. That really depends on the circumstances, your ability to talk about your son, and your further ability to help shift the conversation if you answer that you did have a son, but that he was killed in action. You can say, “We did have a son but he lost his life while serving in Afghanistan.” The response most likely would be, “Oh, I am so terribly sorry.” Then what? Then, no doubt with effort, you can say, “Yes, we miss him every moment. He was a wonderful son. What about you? Do you have children?” Or “Thank you for your sympathy. It’s very nice to be here today to focus on a happy event. Aren’t Jane and John great hosts?” Or any other conversational diversion that enables the person to whom you are speaking to respond to a different topic, since it is likely you won’t want to dwell on your loss and sadness with virtual strangers.
Q. We recently were invited for dinner by some long-time friends whom we haven’t seen in years. It was a great evening and the next morning I emailed our thanks and happiness at being together with them. Was that all right, or should I have hand-written a note and mailed it?
A. It used to be that thank-you’s were always hand-written and mailed, but there is something wonderful about the ability to offer thanks instantly and more spontaneously, and email is the medium that enables this. For a more formal occasion, or one hosted by people you don’t know well, a hand-written note is still preferable, but in this instance, an email was a great way to express your thanks and your enthusiasm. What is most important is that you do offer your thanks, beyond those you expressed at the end of the evening.