When is it okay to throw away flatmates' food? Does it have to be growing or can it merely stink? Funky Fridge Fearer, Auckland

Flatmate angst gets heightened quickly around the following three things: using others' private stuff, neglect of house chores, and passive-aggressive note writing.


Throwing out a flatmate's nasty yoghurt comes into that first category, so you need to tackle it carefully. You don't need your flat to become an unpleasant place to live (which is definitely the case if any party start to slap angry Post-its around the house). Worse still, you don't want to end up like a Florida man who, I kid you not, was set on fire by his flatmate last October because he threw away her rank spaghetti meatballs.

If something is more than two days past it's best by date, you can throw it out, but the best etiquette for executing a bin job is doing it while the owner of the goods is home. Say to him or her, "Hey, this is off, I'm throwing it out. Cool?" The "Cool?" is, of course, rhetorical. If your flatmate resists, give a day's grace, unless it's something so disgusting maggots wouldn't touch it. Then, you're not wrong throw it down the gurgler. You might just want to douse yourself in flame retardant first.


One of my (subordinate) colleagues has asked me for a letter of recommendation because he is leaving. He's a nice guy. But honestly, I wouldn't hire him. He's lazy and he makes life hard for everyone in the office. What do I do? - Confused Corporate, Christchurch

Photo / 123RF
Photo / 123RF

For the exact reasons you've outlined, many companies have specific policies not to give written references, but only to provide verbal referees. Few CVs these days are accompanied by written letters of recommendation (recruiters want short and sharp résumés, not multi-page novellas).

Your dilemma shows you probably don't mind your subordinate on a personal level - maybe he's a good bloke for a Friday night drink - and you could probably write a good, honest character reference for him. But, he's asking for a reference about his work skills, and it's unethical for you to write something you don't believe. While he might be off your plate soon, it's not moral to hand him (and his poor work ethic) off to another unwitting employer, who may soon discover the same problems.

Thus, take a leaf from modern corporate handbook and say you can't give him a written reference, but you're happy to have your phone number put on his CV so you can be a verbal referee. If and when a potential employer calls you, you can be honest about your colleague's strengths, and (if asked), truthful about his weaknesses. Just remember how much you'd value this honesty if you were the potential employer. If your colleague has any doubts about what you might say, then he should find another referee.

I received an invitation to a wedding a while back to which the RSVP was no, due to many reasons. Neither a gift nor a card was given to the couple, as I am not close to either party. Do you have to give a wedding gift when you RSVP no?- Gift Gaffer, Hamilton

Photo / 123RF
Photo / 123RF

American convention states that if asked to attend a wedding, you are expected to send a gift (or pick something from the registry) either way; whether you RSVP yes or no. Down here in New Zealand, we have different rules, as Kiwis don't like forced gratuity.

If you can't attend a wedding, for whatever reason, the best etiquette is to focus on the relationship with the couple (or either party) and decide what they would do for you, if they RSVP'd with a decline of invitation to your special day. You say you're not close to the couple, and it sounds like your reasons are not just because you're already occupied, but also because you have a bit of personal beef with them. You're probably even wondering why you were invited at all, right?

In this specific case, you're absolutely not obliged to send a gift; in fact, it would be outlandish to do so. Just politely RSVP no (via the post, it's classier than an e-rebuff). In more general terms, as noted, concentrate your decision to send a gift (or not) back to your friendship. If you genuinely want to attend the wedding, but can't for time or distance reasons, send a small, thoughtful gift - even just flowers. If you don't want to go for specific interpersonal reasons, just take the high road, and use a nice piece of stationery to send back your snub.