One could say that the ideal host is an absent host -- the one whose invitation is: "I'm going to be away all summer. Why don't you use my beach cottage (city apartment, mountain camp, weekend retreat, boat, town house) whenever you feel like it?"

One could, but one wouldn't.

What one would say, Miss Manners prefers to believe, is: "But do you mean to say you're not going to be there? It's a charming place, but we'd really hoped to spend some time with you. That's incredibly sweet of you, but are you going to be gone all summer? What an awful shame. Well, perhaps we might run up once or twice if you're sure that would be all right. But it just won't be the same without you. Let us know when you'll be back, so we can have you here."

Only later, and well out of earshot, may one add, "Wow."

The absence of the host does not, however, mean an absence of obligations on the part of the guest. It just means that these are suspended until the hosts return. In other words, anything you can clean up or replace without subsequent detection doesn't count.

Students of manners will recognize that this is in keeping with a principle that distinguishes manners from morals, and makes the mannerly life easier to lead than the moral life. (Not that you shouldn't do both, but Miss Manners can only supervise one realm and therefore naturally chose the easier one.)

The principle is that you can only commit a violation of etiquette if you can manage to offend someone; whereas your conscience, which is much nosier than Miss Manners, will tell you that all sorts of things you are considering are immoral, whether or not anyone would ever find out that you did them.

Thus, it is not technically improper for the house guests of an absent host to hop about the house saying, "Did you ever see anything so tasteless in your whole life?" and "I bet this cost him a bundle" and "Look what's behind the stove."

But Miss Manners devoutly hopes that a civilized guest, used to a lifetime of waiting until getting home from any social event before saying, "I'd forgotten how tedious they can be -- could you keep a straight face when they asked how we liked that new picture? -- I hope we have something in the refrigerator, because there really wasn't anything edible there," would not be able to do it.

In any case, the rule does not apply to anything that could be interpreted as snooping. Going through other people's things when they are absent is immoral and hence unprotected by the greater freedom permitted in manners. Doing so and using the findings for gossip would be the manners violation.

Invitations from absent hosts must be made specific before they are accepted. (And before the host absents himself, obviously.) One can pin down a "use it any time" invitation by asking who else might have the privilege, thus requiring the host to register the dates one wants and to resolve possible conflicts.

How one behaves while visiting is something that the host won't know, so Miss Manners will also avert her eyes. But of course any later evidence, from a neighbor's complaint to that stain on the ceiling, retroactively removes the protection. Having an absent host only means that you have time to calm the neighbor or paint the ceiling.

It is also polite to remove evidence of having pursued legitimate activities. If there is time, one has the sheets cleaned, instead of just removing them as one would if the hosts were present. Trash should be removed, too. One wants to avoid what a lady of Miss Manners' acquaintance calls the "Eue! Effect" of having someone come home to a supposedly clean house and, upon finding hairballs in the wastebasket, exclaim "Eue!"

Not only should food supplies consumed by the guests be replaced, which requires careful attention to exactly what the items were, but extra treats should be left for the returning hosts -- imperishables if they are not returning for a while, or, otherwise, fresh food for preparing the first meal or two after their return.

This is the equivalent of taking one's hosts out to dinner, which you would do if they had been there entertaining you. (Oh, yes, you would, unless they actually cried and stamped their feet when protesting that they didn't want to go out. Protests by hosts that they would rather cook all their house guests' meals, or attempts by them to pay the resulting restaurant bills, are polite conventions not to be taken seriously.)

None of this excuses the house guest from providing a proper present in gratitude for having been entertained overnight, and in proportion to the number of nights.

But no, Miss Manners is not going to help you out by suggesting what would be an appropriate present for you to get. You know your hosts better than she does, and ought to be able to guess at their taste.

And you certainly know what they could use. Oh, yes, you do. Miss Manners saw you there, peeping around when you thought she wasn't present.

My husband has trouble remembering names. He has told me (after 13 years of marriage) that the reason he does not accept invitations to social occasions connected with his work is that he often forgets the names of people he has known for years and that he cannot rely on me to introduce myself. I had always assumed that we did not go to these affairs because he just wasn't interested.

Now that I know what is expected of me, I have tried on a few occasions to introduce myself to people he is talking to. However, I feel awkward and pushy doing this. It seems to me that the best way to handle this would be for him to say simply, "This is my wife," and leave it at that.

Perhaps the first 13 years of marriage are the hardest. After that, you should not only be tolerantly -- even affectionately -- familiar with each other's shortcomings, but should have developed routines for helping each other.

The system you suggest is passable, but it would be much more gracious for you to announce brightly, "I'm Eleanor Fitt, Owen's wife," as if you were just bubbling over with friendship before he got a chance to make the introduction. Immediately after the person responds with his name, your husband could break in and say, "Oh, I'm so sorry," and you would all share a companionable laugh at no one's expense.

I need an effective response for my three superiors at work who ask, for any minor thing, "Can you do me a favor?"

I find it condescending and insolent when bosses preface a request with that phrase. In actuality, they are asking me to perform one of my many functions, which I am eager to do as long as they do not use that dreaded phrase.

I am there to do my job, not perform personal favors all day. Also, I do not consider writing a report or updating some quarterly figures as a favor; I consider them my job. (When these people request something beyond my job description, I graciously oblige with their "favor.")

Obviously, they feel that if they ask for a task as a favor, I will be more willing to grant their request. Wrong! I would prefer to hear "I need this report by next week" or "Can you get me all the research we have on ABC Company?"

Please can you think of a response for me that does not sound caustic or disrespectful but will get them to break the habit? Will you also comment on your feelings about the abuse of the phrase?

Miss Manners is willing to concede that it is ever so slightly inappropriate -- but she likes it a lot better than the omission of the word "please" from the commands you say you prefer. If you must, she will allow you to thank each person for his kind intentions and go on to explain that you do not consider it a favor but a point of pride to do your duty. But must you really call people on the crime of being overpolite?