DEAR MISS MANNERS: How does one handle lunch or dinner guests, or anyone who comes into one's home, who ask for a "tour" of the house? This has happened almost every time we have had someone over, whether they were already friends, casual acquaintances or people we were just trying to get to know better in hope of becoming friends.
When I grew up, one did not go into any room that one was not invited into by the host or hostess. (The only exception was to politely and discreetly inquire where the powder room was.) To ask to be given a tour was considered rude and in bad taste.
My husband, however, grew up with this being a perfectly acceptable practice. Not only was it expected for guests to be given a tour, it was also acceptable for one to ask for a tour if it was not offered.
I have tried to be accommodating; but what, if any, are the rules here? I have always considered a home to be a private residence and not an historic house museum. For me, it is a place where entertaining and/or visiting is only conducted in the living or family room, breakfast or dining room. It is not that I am embarrassed of our home, or keep an unkempt one; I am just a private person.
Once, at the end of an evening where we entertained approximately 25 guests, we were asked by the six remaining guests to be shown the rest of the house. We obliged (I reluctantly), and everyone headed upstairs. While I stood in our bedroom talking with one female guest, my husband took the other five down the hall. After all of them had gone home, I went back through the upstairs rooms to turn off the lights. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that closet doors had been opened and left so.
There have been instances where we have had guests over who have, thankfully, not asked for a "tour," but who have rather decided to wander all through the downstairs on their own looking at every piece of furniture, book, painting, photo and piece of porcelain. Once, I even had my pantry examined. Those with children have also allowed their children to wander all over the house, despite my polite request to the children to stay downstairs with everyone else.
While I would expect to show more of our home to especially close friends, I have been rather surprised that this expectation has extended to anyone who comes through our door. I realize that our homes reflect our personal decorating tastes and how we choose to organize our lives (or not), but are we obligated to show any, and everyone who enters our home every corner and cubbyhole? I do not want to stop having guests over, but I am weary of this invasive ritual.
GENTLE READER: Miss Manners shares your distaste, but not your shock. Whatever argument about the host's pride or the guests' curiosity that can be made for inviting or permitting guests to inspect your property can be applied equally well to your closets. Or your tax returns.
However much they notice and judge your possessions, your guests are supposed to be pretending that these are merely a charming background to your even more charming company. And however much pride you take in your possessions, you are supposed to assume these will be enjoyed as an incidental. House touring should be limited to showing people around a newly acquired house, one of special historic significance, or to illustrate a particular point under discussion.
Now all you have to do is to convince your husband of this. It is his house, too, and you would need his support in replying to tour requests, "Oh, some other time, perhaps," or "No, let's stay here and talk." As for snoops, the best you can do is to fetch them, saying, "Let's go back into the living room and talk" and resolve not to let them get back onto your guest list.