DEAR READERS: I’m stepping away from the “Ask Amy” column for a week. Please enjoy these hand-picked “best of” columns in my absence.
DEAR AMY: My husband and I recently moved to Florence, Italy, due to a short-term assignment for his job. We have had many visitors — friends and family.
My question is, what is the proper etiquette for staying at someone’s home as an invited guest? Are we, the homeowners, expected to serve, prepare and pay for all the “home-cooked” meals, clean up after guests and take them sightseeing in our vehicle without expecting something in return?
I would really like to know what is the proper thing to do. -- Candra (2003)
DEAR CANDRA: I gather you’ve been inundated with guests. That’s what happens when you move to Florence. Those of us living in Chicago in the winter envy you.
I think the standard for invited guests shifts, depending on how close you are to them and how the invitation is issued. “Drop by any time you’re in Italy” puts people in one category. A specific invitation to close friends or family means you should pull out the stops while they’re visiting, if you can.
Great hosts are accommodating and fun and give their guests the benefit of being honest about their own hosting capabilities. You can provide your guests with brochures and information on important sites and suggestions about the best way to view them. You can let them know which nights (if any) you will be cooking dinner at home and suggest trattorias in the neighborhood that they might enjoy.
Guests have an obligation to be easy to please, tidy and appreciative. It’s also nice if they take their hosts to dinner at a favorite restaurant during their stay.
Great hosts expect nothing in return, but generally receive so much: dinner invitations, heartfelt notes of thanks and years of happy memories and gratitude from their guests, followed by invitations to be guests at their friends’ homes when their friends have fun overseas assignments.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by hosting, please pull back on your commitments; you should enjoy having your guests almost as much as they enjoy their visit.
DEAR AMY: My husband is suffering from debilitating back and hip pain. We are both 50.
We recently made our second move in the past year. My basement is now full of boxes. Due to my husband’s illness, the burden of emptying the boxes from our move falls squarely on me.
I am a full-time mom and work 8-12 hours a day. I did hire some teenagers to help, and they did a great job, but I can’t afford to hire them again.
How crass would it be if I sent a note to my friends asking for their help? Perhaps I could buy soda and pizza. I hate to sound like a tightwad, but I need some help. What would you do? -- Gerty (2004)
DEAR GERTY: I wouldn’t write a note; I would pick up the phone. Wouldn’t you happily help a friend in need? Wouldn’t you be glad if a friend gave you the opportunity to be useful?
Many hands make light work. Host yourself a work-bee.
DEAR AMY: My daughter-in-law is having our first grandchild. At a shower given by a family friend I learned that her mother has also planned a shower. I mentioned that it wasn’t proper, but a guest said that she was having a shower for her daughter too.
Am I old-fashioned? They think I just don’t want to bother to host a shower. If the only advice these people take is from you, at least it didn’t come only from me. -- Bee (2004)
DEAR BEE: Let’s ask Amy Vanderbilt. She says that showers are “most often hosted by friends, not family.” (That’s because it is considered “trolling for gifts” for family members to host showers.)
I do feel strongly, however, that etiquette is a blueprint for behavior, not a club to bonk people over the head with. It really isn’t “proper” to volunteer to others what is or isn’t proper.