THERE IS no such thing as a natural-born houseguest. Anybody who always feels like eating and sleeping at the exact times proposed by others, and whose favorite recreations inevitably happen to be the very things that are suggested to them, should probably live in an institution, where such conditions exist.
Children must therefore be trained to be houseguests before they can be sent off alone to stay with relatives, or whoever else is willing to have them. The fun and adventure to be had in short-term solo visiting, not to mention the plesaure of an occasional absence from home, is immediately apparent to the smallest recipient of such an invitation, so it is only fair to pack children off with the skills to make themselves tolerable in another house.
Basically, they should be instructed, they will be playing a game in which the object, for both houseguest and host, is to make the other person state his desires while you conceal your own.
As a houseguest, you will be presented with apparently unlimited choices, but if you take advantage of this opportunity to declare a definite want, you will lose--that is, you will be deemed a nuisance, or spoiled. What you must do is to force the host to state what he is really willing to make available, and then choose.
See if you can tell who is winning the following match.
Host: What do you want for breakfast?
Houseguest: Oh, I don't know.
Host: What do you usually have? What would you really like best?
Houseguest: Lemonade, Sugar Stix and hot chocolate with whipped cream.
Host: Oh. Well, I suppose I can get some if that's what you're used to.
Now suppose the houseguest's second move had been, instead, "Oh, I like everything, and also it's fun to try something new."
The host is then forced to go again, and tries something like, "Well, there are eggs and cereal, or I could make you some French toast."
Does the houseguest then make a choice? Not if he is good at the game. He says, "They all sound good. What kind of cereal?"
Cornered, the host replies, "Fortified Health Chex."
Not cornered, the houseguest comes back with, "And I also just love French toast." He wins.
The clever child will soon see how to play this game when the opening is "What time do you like to get up in the morning?" ("If I'm tired, I sleep late sometimes, but otherwise almost any time--what time do you get up?") or "Is there anything special you'd like to do?" ("Mainly just visit--but there are probably lots of things to do in this town I don't even know about.")
It is not that the houseguest is forbidden to express his true tastes and habits. All he has to do is to make them approximate one of the multiple choices that he has forced his host to offer. (An exception is allergies, or other dire health matters. You don't need to wait to be offered these--you may have all you wish, provided you announce them upon acceptance of the invitations.
After that, the rest is easy. Make your bed, call collect when you telephone home, pitch in with whatever chores the host does unless twice told to desist, pretend to be more interested in museum exhibits than museum shops, and write a thank-you letter immediately upon returning home.
Remember: what you practice at Grandma's cottage today will be perfect by the time you grow up to meet people who own ski chalets. MISS MANNERS RESPONDS
Q. My husband plays on a community men's softball team. Several times each season, my in-laws show up at the games. I usually sit with other wives of the players; however, when my in-laws show up, I feel an obligation to go sit with them. In fact, they usually try to come sit by me if there is room.
I get along very well with my in-laws, but I don't care to sit with them at these games, and listen to stories about their health, gossip, family, etc. I would prefer to sit with my friends.
What exactly are my responsibilities in this case? Am I obligated to sit with them, or can I stay put? They come to several games a year and know other people in the stands. We also spend a lot of time with them other than at the ballpark, so it is not as if this is our only time to talk.
A. Miss Manners has never done a seating plan for a community softball game before, but is quite willing to try. Perhaps if you are satisfied, you will recommend to the team that they allow her to do the batting order.
The object here is to have your in-laws feel that you are being gracious and attentive to them, without your having to sit with them. To a person of Miss Manners' prowess, this is child's play.
Greet them warmly, and say, "Let me find you a good place to sit." When you have established them, ask such polite questions as "Are you sure there's not too much sun here?" or "Can you see all right?"
During their appreciative nods, say, "Great--I'll be right over there in the wives' section," or "Good--I'm just going to run over and sit with Marietta there." The impression given is that you have put them in the best place and taken a humbler one for yourself, or that custom requires you to sit elsewhere. if you find them looking at you across the stands, give them a friendly wave. Miss Manners defies anyone to make a family fight out of that.
Q. Recently, my husband asked me to purchase a gift for a new baby of one of his employes. My husband gave the gift to the father the next day. Someone at the office told my husband that this was very tacky. The gifts should have been mailed to the home. Were we wrong?
A. Instances in which people choose to be insulted by expressions of good will and generosity have always interested Miss Manners. There must be a serious lack of rudeness in the world if people are reduced to finding it in the act of giving a present for a newborn baby.