We often host out-of-town family or friends, but these days the price of incidentals — gas to pick them up, food, tolls, groceries — is making it increasingly difficult. No one ever offers to contribute money, and with multiple guests, it starts to add up. Is there a polite way to ask?
Anonymous / Boston
Bring up the money issue when you’re making plans. “We’d love to have you and we wish we could give you the royal treatment, but the horrible, awkward thing is that hosting guests is really eating into our budget. Would you be in a position to help out, if you come?” Drag that awkwardness right into the spotlight and acknowledge it, then give it the hook.
After all, there are two kinds of houseguests: those who you invite, and those who invite themselves. If you’re close enough to someone to invite them to stay in your home, you’re close enough to be frank about the issue. And if someone is asking to use your place as a crash pad while they college shop or leaf peep, you can feel free to set some conditions on the favor you’re doing them.
Is this “polite”? Maybe not according to traditional etiquette ideals of hosting — but it’s what we must do. Because you can’t go broke for your friends, nor should you let the perfect be the enemy of the good. And because when we speak up, we make it OK for others to speak up, too. So let’s stop doing what’s polite and start doing what’s necessary and kind.
I was enjoying a peaceful Saturday afternoon at the beach, and group of young men arrived and put out their blankets and coolers and turned on their boombox to loud music. They then departed to frolic in the waves. Would I have been within my rights to turn off their music? Turn it down? Pour my lemonade in the speakers? Address them about it when they returned? (As a smallish woman in her late 50s, this last option doesn’t hold a lot of appeal.) As it was, I figured I’d just come back another day and left. I’d love to get your advice.
A.L. / Boston
Goodness, if your thoughts turn to mayhem so quickly, it’s a good thing you aren’t packing more muscle mass! No lemonade in speakers, sugar in gas tanks, or touching other people’s stuff without permission, please.
I don’t think “Hey, can you guys turn this off when you’re actually in the water?” would start trouble, and I’m a fiftysomething wee thing myself. If I were in a situation where I thought it would . . . I’d probably try to remove myself posthaste, because a gang of hostile young men is not something I want to be around. But, aggression and the heedless exuberance of youth are not the same. I realize you see these young men as spoiling your good time, but they were out to enjoy the beach — same as you. Treating them as fellow beach-enjoyers rather than interlopers would go a long way.
Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.