Pest control seems to be a major problem this time of year, but only in the most desirable neighborhoods. If you have property in an area that attracts vacationers, you have been hearing from holiday-bent friends or relatives. Not from you do we get the complaint that nobody keeps in touch.
Miss Manners appreciates that such places are often populated by charming people who are delighted to entertain visitors. As protector of the endangered virtue of hospitality, she wants to encourage them. The best way she knows how is to give them back the control their own kindness has led them to relinquish.
For what it is worth, she is happy to remind prospective visitors that they must be invited, and that they are not supposed to hint any more blatantly than, "We're going to be out your way and we'd love to see you. By the way, can you recommend a good bed and breakfast?"
But frankly, the reminder is not worth much. Those to whom it applies already know, and argue that it does not apply in their particular cases:
"But we're family," say the third cousins who didn't invite their prospective hosts to their wedding.
"But we have a standing invitation," say the people whose friendship has dwindled to a Christmas card relationship, pointing out the phrase "Hope to see you some time" they received only a few years ago.
"But they always ask us," say the guests who haven't gotten around to writing their thanks for last year.
"But we know they want us," say the visitors whose last visit was followed by a series of their proposals that always seemed to be at times when the hosts were sick or tied up in a family emergency.
So if she can't retrain the volunteer guests, Miss Manners will have to retrain the involuntary hosts.
The chief rule is never to issue vague invitations, much less blanket ones, even though these are not supposed to count unless they are followed by invitations with dates attached.
Note that "dates" is plural. It is polite, as well as prudent, to specify both the date on which the visit is to begin and the one on which it is to end. "Please come the 8th through the 10th" is a perfectly gracious invitation.
There should be a warning of what to expect in the way of conditions and attention, whether it is "We're roughing it here, so we rarely dress for dinner and I can't assign you a lady's maid" or "I hope you don't mind a futon, and we have a washing machine you can use. We both have to work on weekdays, but the beach is only a short walk."
But what if you don't want them under any circumstances? This is a perfectly understandable position, either in regard to certain people or certain periods of time, such as the entire year.
The technique for fending off volunteers is the opposite of that recommended for issuing invitations. Here vagueness and blanket statements are exactly what are needed: "Oh, dear, I'm afraid this is just not a good time for us" or "We've set rather strict limits on ourselves this summer, and I'm afraid we can't manage it" are both perfectly appropriate.
Miss Manners absolves of rudeness anyone who says this in a tone of tragic regret. If a guest can decline an invitation, surely a host should be allowed the same privilege.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: On rare occasions, I add salt to my food while I am dining at a table. However, I do like pepper.
Frequently, I will ask somebody else, "May I have the pepper please?" and then I will be handed both the salt and pepper.
This really doesn't bother me -- I just would like to handle the situation with proper manners. Would it be more appropriate for me to ask for both the salt and pepper, or, if I were wearing the other shoe, and somebody asked me for the salt, should I pass just the salt or should I pass both?
GENTLE READER: What are you, a home-wrecker? Salt and pepper go together, like your dear old friend with the spouse you can't stand. You may only want one of the pair, but you still shouldn't attempt to split them up.