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Ask Amy

Ask Amy column

Dear Readers: I am stepping away from the “Ask Amy” column for a week. I hope you enjoy these hand-picked “best of” columns in my absence.

Q. My husband and I recently moved to Florence due to a short-term assignment for his job. We have had many visitors — friends and family.

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My question is, what is the proper etiquette for staying at someone’s home as an invited guest? Are we, the homeowners, expected to serve, prepare, and pay for all the “home-cooked” meals, clean up after guests, and take them sightseeing in our vehicle without expecting something in return?

I would really like to know what is the “proper” thing to do.

A. I think the standard for invited guests shifts, depending on how close you are to them and how the invitation is issued. “Drop by any time you’re in Italy” puts people in one category. A specific invitation to close friends or family means you should pull out the stops while they’re visiting, if you can.

Great hosts are accommodating and fun and give their guests the benefit of being honest about their own hosting capabilities. You can provide your guests with brochures and information on important sites and suggestions about the best way to view them. You can let them know which nights (if any) you will be cooking dinner at home and suggest trattorias in the neighborhood that they might enjoy.

Guests are obligated to be easy to please, tidy, and appreciative. It’s nice if they take the hosts to dinner during the stay.

Great hosts expect nothing in return, but generally receive so much: dinner invitations, heartfelt notes of thanks, and years of happy memories and gratitude from their guests, followed by invitations to be guests at their friends’ homes when their friends have fun assignments.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by hosting, please pull back on your commitments; you should enjoy having your guests almost as much as they enjoy their visit.

Q. My husband is suffering from debilitating back and hip pain. We are both 50.

We recently made our second move in the past year. My basement is now full of boxes.

I am a full-time mom and work 8-12 hours a day. Due to my husband’s illness, the burden of emptying the boxes from our move falls squarely on me.

I did hire some teenagers to help, but I can’t afford to hire them again.

How crass would it be if I sent a note to my friends asking for their help? Perhaps I could buy soda and pizza.

I hate to sound like a tightwad, but I need some help. What would you do?

A. I wouldn’t write a note; I would pick up the phone. Wouldn’t you happily help a friend in need? Wouldn’t you be glad if a friend gave you the opportunity to be useful?

Many hands make light work. Host yourself a work-bee.

Q. My daughter-in-law is having our first grandchild.

At a shower given by a family friend I learned that her mother has also planned a shower. I mentioned that it wasn’t proper, but a guest said she was having a shower for her daughter too.

Am I old-fashioned?

A. Let’s ask Amy Vanderbilt. She says that showers are “most often hosted by friends, not family.” (That’s because it is considered “trolling for gifts” for family members to host showers.)

I do feel strongly, however, that etiquette is a blueprint for behavior, not a club with which to bonk people over the head.

Amy Dickinson can be reached at askamy@tribune.com.

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