HIGH ON Miss Manners' list of social menaces is The Guest Who Doesn't Want to Cause Any Trouble. This is the guest who refuses to go along with the arrangements you have made for his or her stay, and insists on bedding down on the living room sofa, instead, so as not to put you out of your room or to occupy the study you use as a guest room because you might need it.
It is the guest who follows you around when you are setting the table and begs you to take off the cloth napkins and use paper ones instead, so you won't have the trouble of laundering them afterward.
It is the guest who refuses to take no for an answer when you decline help in clearing the table, and who stands there with a dirty plate in each hand saying, "Where shall I put these?" while you are whipping the cream for dessert.
It is the guest who doesn't want to get your towels dirty, and so leaves them in a neat stack, exactly where you put them out, apparently untouched.
It is the guest who never feels like eating out, because it would be too expensive, and never wants to go on any planned excursions, because you are probably too tired.
It is the guest who will not admit to a preference for white meat or dark, for plain bread or toast, for rare meat or well done, insisting either on "Whatever is easier" (when they are both in front of him) or, in the most hardened cases, "Whatever anybody else doesn't want."
It is the guest who doesn't feel like having the treat you have made for him, preferring, instead, "something simple," so that you must go and scramble him an egg.
And it is the guest who will refuse to admit that he wants coffee until a poll of the room has been taken, so that he is sure that a pot is to be made anyway, for the others. Then he will concede that he does take coffee after dinner, but please don't bother to get out the cream, much less to put it into a pitcher, because he would just as soon have powdered creamer from the package.
What a nuisance these people are.
They show a total disregard for your plans and preferences as a host, asking that their own instructions be followed in order to maintain a lower standard of hospitality than you had wished to offer.
They make you beg them to allow you to perform the simplest service for them.
They heavily imply that they are aware that you are being pretentious on their account, and that they realize that it is a social and financial strain for you to live up to these pretensions.
They leave you to guess what would please them when you offer choices, smugly feeling that they will get extra credit for taking what they don't want when you guess wrong.
They make you do everything twice, until you do it humbly enough for their tastes.
And they take pride in depriving you of the satisfaction of doing your best for your friends.
It is really too much trouble to entertain such people; Miss Manners would have you take their advice and simply not bother at all. MISS MANNERS RESPONDS
Q. My husband is often unable to attend social functions with me. Recently, we were invited to a farewell party for his best friend. I attempted to find a ride with another couple, but they were not planning to attend. They did recommend a 60-ish widow who had been invited but who lacked a ride.
I should mention that attending this party involved an hour's drive, half on dark, narrow, winding country roads, and half on the interstate. The woman agreed to ride to the party with me, but said she might find another ride home.
Question one: At this point, could I have gracefully backed out of driving her if she was not willing to ride home with me?
Since I could not be sure of a companion (or protection) on the return trip, I took along my 5 1/2-year-old son. This son is a good friend of the guest of honor at the party, but had not met the hostess.
Question two: Was taking him along a brilliant idea or a bad one? His behavior was exemplary. He ate the foods he liked and did not comment on those he did not, played with the hostess' cat, and discussed the eclipse with fellow astronomy buffs.
Question three: In the future, which would be the better choice for a companion? My husband has an important position in Washington, so he does have good excuses for not attending social activities.
A. The best solution would be for you to stop partying and get out there and promote your husband's career until he reaches the very top. That way you would still often lack his company, but a grateful country would provide you with Secret Service protection on the interstate and other of life's highways.
In any case, it is a more practical solution than choosing, for protection on a lonely drive, between a 60-ish widow and a 5 1/2-year-old boy. What were they instructed to do in case of attack?
You cannot take a child, however well behaved, to an adult party without receiving special permission from the hostess; and the closest you can come to requiring that the widow sign up for a round trip is to say, "Oh, then, perhaps I'll use the seat for some people who need rides both ways." The way to find candidates for these positions (other than the brilliant way Miss Manners first suggested) is to ask the hostess which of her guests might be pleased to be offered a ride.
Q. I recently viewed a friend's granddaughter performing on TV, and the friend asked me how I liked it. I told her that I enjoyed it very much, which pleased her. Actually, I hated it. Was I a hypocrite? How does one cope with such a situation?
A. Miss Manners tries very hard to understand the concept of emotional human duty in a society whose members are bothered by their consciences for the deed of having pleased a grandmother by complimenting her granddaughter. Presumably, had you admitted that you hated the performance, you would now be suffused with self-satisfaction at your own honesty, and never mind the fact that you had wiped out your dear friend Grandmama.
Hypocrisy is not generally a social sin, but a virtue.
Q. Is there a delicate, socially acceptable way to announce to one's parents, friends and other interested parties the fact that one is "living with" someone of the opposite sex?
Miss Manners, being very perceptive, probably noticed that parents were the first group mentioned, and understandably constitute the stickiest part of the problem. For example, one tires of hearing how hard it is for loving parents to reach their wayward son, no matter how late (or early) they call his apartment. And as you can well imagine, the situation will certainly deteriorate even further when one's apartment is given up in the name of economic common sense.
A. The delicate way is to take advantage of the bewilderment of your parents at the absence of the conventional standards with which they are familiar. The more your parents protest that they don't know what the world is coming to, the more you can confound them by proving that, indeed, they do not. Here is a sample of how it goes:
"No, of course you haven't been able to get me--I'm just in the middle of moving, and I'm so sorry I hadn't yet given you my new number. You remember Adelina Sturgeon? It's her apartment, and we've decided to split the rent."
"What? You are going to live with that--that woman? I can't believe that a son of mine would do any such immoral thing."
"Father, what are you saying? Surely you don't think there's anything wrong?"
"Wrong? Nothing wrong about living in sin?"
"Mother, you shock me. People don't think quite so much about sex nowadays as they did when you used to assume that everyone was using every opportunity to sneak around the rigid rules. I assure you, nobody thinks it's improper anymore to have roommates--even a large group of them--of opposite sexes. Besides, Adelina is such a good friend, and we'd be going out together a lot anyway. Do let me bring her by; I'm sure you'll love her."
And so on. Notice that Miss Manners has not required you to lie.