Dear Todd: My neighbours have invited me to yet another dinner party, but I’m starting to think they are only interested in my hostess gifts. Is it rude to show up without a gift?
- Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany
Dear Angela: Absolutely not. While a hostess gift is usually de rigueur, with the number of parties (or “summits” as you call them) they’re throwing in Europe these days, you’re not obligated to bring something every time. But if you feel awkward arriving without another €100 billion in bailouts for Greece, try handing out coupon books. For example, you’d be a hit at the next summit if you arrived with a nice bouquet of Eurobonds, which would allow other party guests (Spain, Italy and Greece come to mind) to borrow money at a lower price. Instead of just showing up with cash, you’d be extending your country’s good credit rating. That would be an even more useful hostess gift.
Dear Todd: My province needs a few updates to its wardrobe this fall, but my budget depends on oil prices. How can I best manage this?
– Doug Horner, Alberta Minister of Finance
Dear Doug: This is always a tricky one. On one hand, if your oil price forecast is too low, you’ll end up looking silly with tons of cash in the bank but holes in your clothes (or highways, or schools). But if your forecast is too high, you’ll overspend and be left with a big fat deficit. There’s no easy way to navigate this. Oil prices have been lifted lately by better-than-expected economic news out of the United States. But that trend could reverse just as quickly as it started. You’re always better off playing it safe with oil forecasts. Spend as the money comes in. The best advice for forecasting oil prices? Revise frequently. Your wardrobe will thank you.
Dear Todd: I’m thinking of painting the house this fall, and I’m leaning towards a bright Socialist Red for the living room. What are your thoughts?
–Cristina Fernandez, President of Argentina
Dear Cristina: Don’t do it. I know you’re trying to make a bold statement that will get noticed, but you will regret it. Red walls tend to make visitors feel aggressive and irritated, and soon no one will want to come and visit. For example, your latest home renovation scheme to nationalize oil companies was just tacky and provocative. Try something softer and more accommodating, like free market mauve.
Dear Todd: I’ve been trying hard lately to be friendly and inviting to my neighbour, China. She’s certainly warmed up to my overtures—but perhaps too much. Now she wants to move into the recreation room on the west side of our home. How can I tell her that she’s welcome to visit but that she can’t take over the house?
– Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada
Dear Stephen: You’re facing a real dilemma. You were absolutely right to build a friendship with China, but you’ve now realized some of the drawbacks of chumming with her. She’s raising the eyebrows of your other neighbour the United States. And while she’s got a lot of money, she wears too much perfume (called Poor Human Rights) that gives everyone a headache.
It may be difficult, but tell her plainly that you enjoy her company and she’s welcome to visit at any time. But there needs to be some boundaries too. Perhaps a compromise on the recreation room: she can use it as often as she likes, but she doesn’t get a key to the house. (Some subtle hints on the perfume will help, too.)
Dear Todd: Are penny loafers still in style?
– Jim Flaherty, Finance Minister, Government of Canada
Dear Jim: No. They haven’t been in style for over twenty years. Retailers kept offering them to consumers because they thought they wanted them. Consumers kept loading up because they thought they were in style. Finally the cycle of madness is over. Try something sleek and less fussy—fewer buckles or shiny coin-like attachments are on trend this fall.