Today The New York Times offers some solutions to an issue of etiquette that you may have confronted this summer, or perhaps another time of year, if you're popular or have a great house in a great location. Are people always wanting to stay with you, and you don't want them to, and you don't know what to do about it? Are people even so rude as to invite themselves over, drink all your wine, wear your clothes while complaining they don't fit, complain about your sick, crying baby, insult the color of your roof, and stay for longer than they've been invited? This is a common problem among summertime Times readers and/or the people Joyce Wadler spoke to for her piece on rude houseguests and non-confrontational homeowners. It's a doozy of bad behaviors and mid-level rudenesses and entrenched passive-aggressivities! Wadler writes,
When Ms. Schwab returned from taking her son to the doctor and told the guest, who wanted to go sightseeing, that she could not accompany her because her son was ill, the guest responded like a surly teenager, slamming doors, driving off in a huff. This did not prevent her, later that evening, from telling her hosts that she was enrolled in a 12-week program in the city and planned to spend weekends with them.
When the Schwabs gathered up the nerve to tell the offending guest no, she asked for a key to the house so she could have access when they weren't going to be there. Then, before they drove her to the train station, she went through her host's purse for cash and "borrowed" $100, which she never paid back. Much later, she asked them to help her move out of her dorm. Wadler writes, "A sad story and one that is repeated, though usually to a lesser degree, throughout the summer: You invite someone who seems nice enough to your house in the country, a house that is supposed to be your retreat from the cares of the workaday world, and the visitor drives you crazy."
Er. How do we get into these troubles and what to do about them? (Aside from, of course, just saying no, a method we recently suggested.)
Well, problem one appears to be that we make offers we don't intend to keep. Do not believe the invitation you are given by a friend or acquaintance, it was not meant to be taken seriously! This happened, apparently, to a Bosnian woman who was told, "You’ve got to come see our house in Maine." So she went (can you blame her?) and it was awkward, and, in the end, the person relaying the story to the Times said it was due to her "reading of English." But, again, more simply, why do we insist on saying things we do not mean? Since saying no is apparently harder than enacting the charade of the complex social dance, Wadler has gathered an array of true tales and horror stories that function as, essentially, tips for keeping the peace with guests. For example,
- Have house rules if you are a host. For instance, "no cellphones, iPads, computers or electronic devices of any sort in the living areas after breakfast; no wet or sandy clothing in the house; beds must be stripped when you leave."
- If you are a guest, buy groceries.
- If your host is a comedian and shows you a video of his routine, laugh as hard as you can. Try harder.
- Do not correct your guest's understanding of World War II. Friendships have been destroyed for this.
- Just send your guests off to sleep in the woods: "They sleep on a bed in the woods. It is an antique wrought-iron bed that sits on a wooden platform, with a blow-up mattress, bedding and a mosquito net. There is also an outdoor shower. Of course, guests are never invited when rain is forecast....'Oh, don’t worry, after they have a few glasses of wine, they are extremely happy.'”
- Do not go to China and throw your back out helping with luggage and then stay in the bathtub for several days. And when you get out of the bathtub, don't wear a sweatshirt with cutoff sleeves, a la Flashdance.
- Don't sleep on the couch nude if you are a guest.
- Don't steal cash out of anyone's purse, or do anything that terrible first houseguest did; also, she sounds sociopathic!
- Just don't stay with anyone for three weeks, unless, perhaps, you are married to him or her.
Also, maybe, just say no to guests. But if you do find yourself saying yes and they do something truly ridiculous and awful, call the New York Times. You've got yourself a story!