Unwelcome substitute guest causes dilemma for hostess
I hosted a dinner at my home for some close friends. One texted the day before to let me know that she would not be able to attend; however, her husband would still be able to make it. They had taken it upon themselves to invite a friend of theirs named Bert in her place. I had met Bert on prior occasions and have always been appalled at his rude manners.
While I can simply remove myself from his presence at their gatherings, I would not have the same option at my own table. I certainly would not want to subject my guests to his belligerent attitude.
The fact is, he is not welcome in my home. I was in a very difficult situation, since my friends had already issued the invitation. I couldn’t use the excuse that I wouldn’t have room at the table, as the wife would be absent and Bert would be occupying her spot. I told her that I didn’t mean to be offensive, however, I needed to be able to trust that Bert would refrain from being rude to me and to my guests. She was taken aback, as she insists that he is “a sweet guy.”
In the end, the husband and Bert did not show up, and my friend is quite offended. I’m sure that I could have handled it better, but I’m at a loss as to what could have been said. Whenever anyone has tried to discuss the topic with her, she completely denies it and is very insulted. How could I have
Dear Miss Manners:
politely conveyed that it is not appropriate to invite someone else to my home, especially someone that I don’t even like?
The specific problem you mentioned is simpler to answer than the general problem you propose. Rather than exact a pledge for Bert’s behavior, you could have apologized but explained that Bert is not among the guests you invite to your home.
This creates a problem for the friend who violated this rule by inviting him, but not for you. And while the answer may upset her, Miss Manners notes that your less direct approach had the same effect. Less extreme situations require less direct answers, with a less guaranteed result: “You know how Bert is an acquired taste, and while we should definitely get together, my other guests are very sensitive and will not get his sense of humor.”
On a small-boat river cruise my husband and I booked in Europe, the vast majority of our fellow travelers were enjoying the opportunity to explore the local cultures, foods and customs. But unfortunately, one of them spent most of the time setting passiveaggressive traps for the crew of the boat.
This person would place an order for an exotic favorite drink from back home, then berate the bartender when the presentation did not match all the details from the hometown bar. When the bartender offered to alter the drink to meet expectations, the response was, “You obviously don’t know what you’re doing; just take it away.” Similar demeaning comments were
Dear Miss Manners:
directed to the chef, the cabin attendant and the local guides.
The senior crew members did their best to step in to take the worst of the abuse. Fellow travelers were embarrassed by the behavior and wanted to mitigate the situation. At various times, we pulled the crew members aside to offer our apologies. We wanted to confront the aggressive passenger, but no one could devise a polite way to intervene. If we encounter a similar situation in the future, what would Miss Manners suggest?
No society can function without an agreed-upon code of etiquette, but the problems of not having one become apparent more quickly among those thrown together in close proximity for an extended period of time. Who, then, enforces the rules? Both the crew and the other passengers acted correctly, but it was not enough. Such efforts having failed, it was time for the captain to speak with the unruly passenger.
Any sensible captain would be happier ordering passengers into lifeboats and may feel hesitant to intervene, remembering that the charges are also paying clients. But such is the burden of command. Judgment must be exercised in determining when such an extreme step becomes necessary, but Miss Manners trusts the captain to act before a full-fledged mutiny occurs.
To send a question to the Miss Manners team of Judith Martin, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Martin, go to missmanners .com or write them c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.