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    Miss Conduct

    Advice on setting ground rules for houseguests

    Plus, how can two former friends act nice for a night?

    Lucy Truman

    A few months ago, my cousin e-mailed me saying she and her husband were planning to visit. First, they were going to come for a few days, and then it was a week, and now they’re bringing their son. I’ve never had houseguests, other than immediate family, for a whole week before. Should I be providing meals every night? In addition to my full-time job, I have a part-time job and don’t really want to give up the income for a week. What’s the etiquette here?

    Anonymous / Boston

    It sounds as if your relatives are coming to see Boston, not you in particular, otherwise they would have asked about your schedule. When one’s houseguests announce their visit rather than accepting an invitation, one’s responsibilities as a host are distinctly mitigated. You are already providing them with a free place to stay in one of the more expensive cities in the United States. They ought not ask for more — in fact, they should be cooking for you or taking you and yours out for a nice dinner at some point as a thank you.

    Decide what you can easily do with and for your guests, and communicate it clearly: “We can all cook out in the backyard tonight, but tomorrow I’m working until 10, so you guys are on your own.” The amenities a host may provide depend on that particular host’s resources, but the one thing all hosts without exception must provide is information: what the house rules are, how appliances work, when the host is available for socializing and when not, what nearby stores and restaurants are worth checking out.

    About a year ago a friend and I had a falling-out after finding that we were not compatible roommates. We both kept secrets, she was mean, I was passive-aggressive. Now, we have both been invited to a party for my best friend. I have every intention of going, but I’m nervous about what might happen between my ex-friend and me. I’m wondering if I should contact her beforehand and say hello, I’m sorry about what happened between us, and I think we both agree that we want the night to be good for our mutual friend, and so on. Is that a good idea?


    S.C. / Norwood

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    Bad idea! The underlying message of such a phone call is “I don’t trust you to behave well at a party.” This is not how you want to go about reestablishing a relationship with a person who has already experienced passive-aggressive behavior from you. (I’m impressed by your self-diagnosis, by the way. You’re clearly on your way to breaking that habit. Good on you!)

    I was in the same situation about 15 years ago, except Ms. I’m-Not-Talking-to-You and I were the only two people invited to an impromptu bachelorette night for a mutual friend who didn’t know we were on the outs. At least you’ll have some other guests to talk to! Mutual Friend to this day doesn’t know anything was out of the ordinary that night. You and your ex-roommate will, I’m sure, match or exceed the acting skills on display on that occasion. Over time, you may even forgive each other for your cohabitation misdeeds and resume your friendship. I’ve been in that situation, too. One’s young adult years are an etiquette obstacle course for everyone, my dear. Run it with sure steps and a minimum of looking back over your shoulder.


    Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.

    NEED ADVICE ON mending fences with friends or family? Send your questions to Miss Conduct at