18 MARCH 2006, Page 79

Q. I live in New York and am plagued by

the fact that, when having dinner with fellow Englishmen, they bray in loud Kensington accents about how awful Americans are. Apart from the fact that I don’t agree, they seem unaware that New York restaurants cram tables very close together and that everyone within ten yards is American. How do I prevent the embarrassment this pours on me, short of telling a date to ‘shut up’ (as I had to last week)?

S.C.S., New York A. This passive aggression is linked to the awareness that most of the best houses back home in Kensington are now occupied by Americans. You can pre-empt these displays of incivility by chuckling pleasantly and alerting your guests before entering the restaurant that ‘whenever I take English people into this restaurant this weird thing happens where they start talking in loud voices about how awful Americans are. So I’m going to have a code phrase, “Any news of James Blunt?” If I say that to you, it will be code for “the Americans at the next table can hear you saying how awful Americans are”.’ In this way you will be able to gag your friends without resorting to being aggressive yourself.