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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Miss Manners: Something fishy about lazy, selfish ‘houseguest’

By Judith Martin, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Martin Andrews McMeel Syndication

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My wife and I have a long-term houseguest whom we love dearly. The problem is his princely attitude.

He never does a lick of work, and believes that our every waking moment should be devoted to his comfort and entertainment. He is constantly asking us for snacks, using our laps as lounging pillows, or insisting that we dangle strings or other bric-a-brac around him for his amusement. He also grooms constantly in front of us and leaves his hair everywhere. In all fairness, his toilet habits are excellent.

We’ve repeatedly pleaded with him to allow us some small measure of private time, but he apparently does not understand a lick of English. What universal etiquette rules or maxims can we cite when trying to reason with this guest?

GENTLE READER: As spoken admonitions are unlikely to be effective, Miss Manners recommends putting a treat in his bowl, placing it in the spare room and closing the door. This, of course, assumes your guest is your cat and not your grandson.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband has three siblings, and we tend to buy group gifts for their parents. This works out well, as it means we can purchase large items that my in-laws would not be able to afford on their own.

My issue is with my sister-in-law. She often suggests that rather than buy a gift, we all chip in and buy a gift card for a partial amount of what the intended gift costs. For example, they could use a new grill, but rather than spending $500 on one, she wants us each to chip in and give them one $200 gift card to put toward a grill.

I feel that this isn’t giving them a present, but practically giving them an invoice instead. The issue isn’t that she can’t afford it – she has almost no expenses herself. The problem is that she is cheap.

In the past, she has contributed less than her fair share and left us to pick up the remaining balance. The most obvious answer would be to exclude her from the group, but that causes a whole new set of problems. How should this be handled? It comes up at every gift-giving occasion throughout the year.

GENTLE READER: One of the reasons Miss Manners objects to cash in lieu of an actual gift is that it shows a lack of interest, on the part of the giver, in what the recipient might like. By specifying the gift, but providing insufficient funds to purchase it, your sister-in-law has both answered the specific objection and increased the rudeness – an impressive combination.

As excluding only your sister-in-law would no doubt cause ill will, the solution is to revert to everyone’s purchasing individual gifts. While this may preclude the new grill, your in-laws will be grateful for the resulting decrease in family disharmony.

Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website,; to her email,; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.

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