Miss Manners: Humorous questions may deflate child’s demanding guest

October 9, 2011

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My 5-year-old daughter has a playmate who, upon arrival, announces that she is the guest and is entitled to always go first, no matter what. The child expects to dictate the entire agenda for the duration of the visit, and when she doesn’t get her way, she gets upset.

I realize these are children; however, this is not the way I was raised. I was raised to be courteous and polite, and to obey the rules of the house when visiting other people’s homes. What am I to do when faced with the inevitable “But I’m the guest”?

GENTLE READER: What happens when your daughter visits her playmate?

Yes, yes, Miss Manners knows that your daughter does not make such demands when she is a guest. The question is about whether the playmate, as hostess, then defers to her guest in anything like the fashion she demands.

Rather than seeing the child’s behavior as simply rude, which of course it is, Miss Manners recognizes it as a common hazard of civilizing the young.

Far from being adverse to etiquette instructions, small children pounce on such information -- not to practice it, of course, but to use it as a weapon against others. In this case, the child not only gets to show off her knowledge, but also to demand special treatment.

You can take advantage of that by using the next such declaration to draw her out on the subject of host and guest behavior. She will be flattered to be treated as an authority, and not canny enough to see where it will lead. When she winds down, you should ask gentle questions about her hostess habits, and pose humorously exaggerated questions. (“What if your guest wants to drive your mother’s car?” “What if she wants to go for a pony ride and you don’t have a pony — do you have to get her one?” It doesn’t take great wit to amuse a 5-year-old.)

As your daughter will be present, her guest will not be able to get away with extravagant claims about her own hostessing. You can avoid the rudeness of correcting a guest by making this a general conversation, in which you encourage both girls to say what they believe is reasonable and fair. Miss Manners is not saying that they will then put this into practice, but the visitor will be disarmed of her false etiquette pronouncements.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I was recently out to dinner, and my dinner companion kept watching the TV. I was in the middle of telling a story, and he made a comment that I was poking him in the arm. I did not realize I was doing this and told him I was probably trying to get his attention since he was watching TV while I talked. He told me it was because my story was boring.

How do you handle someone who hurts your feelings and then feels justified in doing so because he feels you are boring?

GENTLE READER: With a 10-foot pole.

Visit Miss Manners at her Web site, www.missmanners.com, where you can send her your questions.

@ 2011, by Judith Martin

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