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Thanking hosts when things have gone terribly wrong

The following is a humorous extract from Alexander McCall Smith's book A Conspiracy of Friends. Few authors today think through the principles involved in etiquette and ethics as thoroughly as McCall Smith. Aunt Dandelion recommends his books to you without reservation or pause.

William’s weekend with his friends Jeffrey and Maggie was turning out to be neither restful nor enjoyable. Things could have been worse, of course. There must be weekends during which the host’s house burns to the ground … one of the guests murders another … the hostess is arrested in extradition proceedings. Or the guests are all poisoned by the inclusion of death’s cap mushrooms in the stew.

Such weekends must be very difficult indeed, not least because of the wording of the thank-you letters one would have to write. The disaster – whatever it was – could hardly be ignored, but must be referred to tactfully in the letter, and always set in proper perspective. Thus in the case of mushroom poisoning, one would comment on how the other courses of the meal were delicious. In the case of the hostess’s arrest, one would say something comforting about the ability of defense lawyers in the jurisdiction to which she was being extradited. And so on. Mutatis mutandis, trying at all times to be as positive as possible.

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