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Miss Manners: A lesson in manners for student abroad

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Next semester I will be abroad, living with a host family. There are some guidelines set up, like we cannot break things and must respect the curfew if our family sets one.

But what is my status within the family? I am really not quite simply a “customer,” although I am paying, but since they will be strangers – at least originally – I am not quite a member of the household.

So – do I insist on helping with dishes? What about other household responsibilities? I know I will be responsible for my space, but what about the rest of the house? Should I expect them to be more like landlords or parents? Miss Manners, please help me navigate this situation with grace.

GENTLE READER: Imagine that your parents have agreed that the child of a friend, whom none of you have met, will spend a few weeks with your family this summer while taking courses in your town, and that her parents have insisted on compensating your parents, even if they protested.

Scenario 1: She sits there while you clear the table and do whatever other chores you are used to doing.

Scenario 2: Not only does she do your chores before you get to them (with everyone else knowing she is doing them), but she has started vacuuming the house every weekend.

You hate her already.

Oh, yes, you do. Miss Manners can tell.

In the first instance, her having paid to stay is irrelevant. Your house is not a hotel, and she can’t hire you to serve her. In the second, it’s not just her showing you up. It’s her behaving as if it were her house.

That is the dilemma of someone in a household who is neither a customer nor a family member. Nor, for that matter, a short-term guest, who should offer to help but not make decisions about running the house.

What is acceptable is to spend a day or two observing the household routine, and then volunteering to help where it seems needed. As for insisting – you should insist on helping, but not insist on doing a particular chore if the help seems genuinely unwanted.



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