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Miss Manners: House guests offer to help with chores but cut corners

3 min

Dear Miss Manners: We have relatives who stay with us twice a year, for a week or two at a time. We very much appreciate their visits; their presence is welcome. As a thank you for their stay, they offer to “do whatever needs doing” around the house and yard. My husband and I are the parents of a busy young family, and our area is rural enough that services like lawn care and housekeeping aren’t widely available, so we welcome extra help when we can get it.

In the past, we've saved odd jobs for them, but lately I've become frustrated. Time and time again, we'll give them a job that's well within their scope, and they'll cut corners to get it done faster. They then laugh about how they minimized their work time so they'd have more relaxation afterward.

For example, the trim work on our house is done in contrasting colors, but they painted it all one color — it seems using two colors was “too hard,” even though I gave them the paint and brushes to do both.

Next time they visit, my husband is inclined to either not let them help or just figure beggars can't be choosers if we ask them to do something. I'm inclined to politely say, “I'd love to have you help with this task, but I'd like no corners to be cut, as was done in the past. If it feels like too much, please don't start the job at all.”

But maybe neither one of us is right.

Insulting someone politely is advanced etiquette — and, in any case, impossible to do with your proposed script. More important, your expectations are unrealistic.

Long-term guests who offer to help should properly be understood to mean that they will perform a simple errand or clear the table after dinner — not build a new deck, clean out the basement or paint the house. Miss Manners does not bar a truly dedicated guest from volunteering to do any of those, but it cannot be expected of them — nor suggested.

Dear Miss Manners: A person I was once very close to, but who was not family, has died. I am struggling with whether I should go to the funeral or memorial service.

He and I had a major disagreement six years ago, and we never spoke again. This disagreement was known to his widow, who was also displeased with me. I would like to pay my respects, but I do not want my presence to disturb his widow. What should I do?

Funerals are not the place to repair severed relationships — particularly, but not only, with the deceased. You can pay your respects by attending but staying in the background.

A condolence letter to the widow can express sadness, respect — or, if this was your intent, regrets — later, without adding to the widow's difficulty on an already trying day.

Dear Miss Manners: I’m having a birthday party. I don’t want anyone to purchase presents, but rather, I want monetary gifts. How can I word that on the invitation?

“This is a stickup?”

New Miss Manners columns are posted Monday through Saturday on You can send questions to Miss Manners at her website, You can also follow her @RealMissManners.

© 2023 Judith Martin