IT IS EASY to be the perfect house guest. All you have to do is to remember everything you've learned in the last few years about being totally honest, in touch with your feelings, able to communicate your needs and committed to doing what makes you feel good.
And then forget it.
The perfect house guest is often dishonest, in touch with others' feelings at the expense of his own, able to refrain from communicating his needs and cheerful about doing what bores him.
Contrary to current popular thinking, such behavior can be quite pleasurable to those who indulge in it, and leads to fulfillment, happiness and invitations to beach condominiums, shooting parties and yachts.
However, it takes practice. For example, what do you suppose the perfect house guest says when asked what time he generally gets up in the morning?
1. "Noon, and I like absolute quiet until then, if you don't mind," or
2. "Oh, I'm up and around any time - just call me, why don't you, when you're having breakfast."
What do you suppose the perfect house guest likes for breakfast?
1. "Fresh orange juice, buckwheat pancakes with real syrup, none of that synthetic stuff, croissants with butter and bitter marmalade, not the sweet kind, and good, rich coffee with heavy cream;" or
2. "Oh, anything. What are you having?"
What does a perfect house guest like to do for recreation? That depends. If the host suggests family relay races, that is what he especially likes. But if there are no suggestions, what does he say?
1. "Do you know any interesting people, anybody I might have heard of, you could ask over;" or
2. "Just to take it easy, if you don't mind. I brought a book I've been dying to get into."
And so on through the day, up until bedtime, which occurs when the perfect house guest has observed that the hosts are looking sleepy. The only critical observation that the perfect house guest may allow himself is to notice quietly what the household lacks in the way of material comforts - in order that he may purchase that item and send it as a way of thanking the hosts after his visit.
What is the reward for all this selflessness? Why, to be invited back, of course, so that he may do it all over again. Miss Manners Responds
Q: I can no longer get a mathematics section to teach without women mid-shipmen. In my 20 years at the Naval Academy, I have tried to keep correct form. Please tell me the feminine gender of "Sir, you have lost a minus sign," and the common gender of "I don't believe any of you gentlemen did any calculus last night."
A: The first is "Madam, you have lost a minus sign," rather a swanky statement compared to the masculine form. As for the second, presumably you have rejected "ladies and gentlemen" on the grounds that it is too cumbersome or too much like the opening to an announcement that the star will not dance in tonight's performance. If you have been using only one gender for 20 years, it is high time you tried the other.
Q: As a newly arrived young man in town, I now find I am substantially dependant upon my own devices to meet appropriate young women. Lacking a proper introduction in so many circumstances, I find that if I am going to have the chance to meet some attractive miss, I must initiate a conversation out of nowhere. I have read that the two grand modes of making conversation interesting are to enliven it by recitals calculated to affect and impress your hearer, and to intersperse it with anecdotes and smart things. Reputedly, Count Antoine Rivarol, who lived from 1757 to 1801, was a master in the latter mode. My question is, could you suggest an anecdote or some smart thing which could start the ball rolling, so to speak?
A: Since 1801, the world has become over-populated with counts of no account just brimming with smart openings and impressive anecdotes. Miss Manners therefore suggests you try something of startling, unconventional simplicity, such as "How do you do? May I get you a drink?"
Q: When I play cards with three other women, the hostess usually serves luscious chocolates which I cannot eat because I am diabetic. To appease my sweet tooth, I carry a couple of sugar-free goodies in my purse. Invariably, the others are curious about the candy, thinking they are calorie-savers - of course, they are not. Nevertheless, I am always at a loss about my conduct. I don't want to be rude or seem selfish, yet it would necessitate bringing half a box in order to insure having a piece for me. To date, the choices have been doing without, or munching one small patty with three sets of drooling eyes upon me. Any suggestions?
A: When nursery schools became interested in the non-question of how children can be taught to express themselves freely, they began to neglect the purpose of preschool education, which was to teach this rule: If you haven't got enough cookies for everybody, don't bring any. Unfortunately, illness does not excuse anyone from following this rule. Miss Manners suggests that you bring enough sugar-free candy for everyone at least once in the hope that it will compare unfavorably with the hostess' luscious variety, and that therefore you will not again be troubled by requests. Or that you stuff yourself before you arrive - or during an otherwise explained absence from their presence - and pretend not to be interested in any refreshment. Incidently, your friends should learn to drool with their mouths .
Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white letter paper) to Miss Manners, The Washington Post .