Agony Uncle: Christmas party

This weekend, Sir David Tang, globe-trotter and the man about too many towns to mention, becomes the Financial Times’ first agony uncle.

He divides his time between homes in Hong Kong, mainland China and London and is passionate about interiors. His Shanghai Tang shops and China Clubs in Hong Kong, Beijing and Singapore are his own designs, along with Cipriani restaurants in Hong Kong and New York.

Tang believes style transcends nationality and race, and he is as at home wearing an English morning coat to Royal Ascot as a Chinese silk gown to a Buddhist temple.

Here he offers stylish advice on everyday questions about property, interiors, etiquette at home (wherever you live), parties and anything else that may be bothering you.

We are planning a party at our home in Hampshire in early December and would like to invite friends from various religious denominations. Should this deter us from a Christmas theme?

If you live in Hampshire, you are bound to be fairly conservative Christians and your friends would not expect you to do Bible readings or a couple of the stations of the cross during your party. So, if they accept your invitation, they should be fairly relaxed even if they are Hindus or Muslims or Buddhists. They might even love being served turkey with cranberry sauce and mince pies. But, personally, I would avoid angelic napkin-rings or funny paper hats, even if they are neutrally pagan – still less any kissing under the mistletoe, lest it prove embarrassing to someone wearing a burka.

As someone who lives in a pet-free house, I find it irritating when house guests arrive with their dogs and allow them to treat my house as if it were their own – reupholstering the drawing room with dog hair, and worse crimes. How can I tactfully encourage them to leave their pets at home or in the car throughout their stay without causing offence?

If social-climbing, commercial networking or physical attraction were behind your invitation, then you must balance the acceptance of their pets against your readiness to suffer hair and what-have-you around your furniture and carpet. It then becomes a simple question of: “Are you desperate enough to want them to come and tolerate their pets?” If you have no ulterior motive and it’s a purely friendly invitation, then you should just tell your friends that you don’t want them to come with their pets. Why should you not confess your preciousness to your friends? It’s no worse than those irritating hosts who ask you to take off your shoes and walk barefoot on their light green Wilton carpet. Better to know before you arrive.

If one has the misfortune of breaking something that is clearly priceless and irreplaceable while staying with friends, what is the best way to deal with the situation?

You must immediately ask the host: “What do you think?” You must gauge their reaction. If they say: “You must pay for it”, then you must ascertain how much. If you can afford it, then you pay. If you can’t afford it, then you must offer an instalment plan as an indirect plea for impecuniousness. If they say “Never mind”, then you should speedily accept their graciousness (lest they change their mind) and say something like “I’ll make it up to you”. Then you must think of sending them whatever you can best afford with a grovelling note. If the object is sentimentally irreplaceable, then you might instantly kneel down in suppliance and bow your head in contrition. This is bound to disarm your host and they are more likely than not to say: “Please, please, get up – it doesn’t matter at all.” Then, as before, you seize on their forgiveness straightaway before they change their mind.

I love my pictures of myself and my family with famous people, but is displaying them on the piano egocentric?

The rule about pictures with famous people is simple: if you are really good friends with them, no problem. But it is infra dig if they were taken at a reception or from an accidental meeting in the street or restaurant or behind a cordon alongside a red carpet! De minimis, it has to be in your house, or theirs, or on holiday. But I would make one exception: any photograph with Kim Jong-il, the leader of North Korea, should be enlarged and framed, for he is a very smooth freak to be standing next to, and we would all know that he doesn’t know you.

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