DEAR MISS MANNERS: We had a small cocktail party, and although we are clean-freaks who run a spotless household, it is sometimes impossible to avoid the large bugs that live in North Texas. As the guests were sitting around my living room, a very large cockroach crawled across the wall. Everyone noticed, and they were visibly grossed out, though they tried to be polite.
I was absolutely mortified. I very quickly grabbed it with a tissue, moved the food away from that area, and offered everyone another drink. But at that point, I felt like everyone's skin was crawling. Mine certainly was.
What is the correct response to a situation like this? Is there anything that can be said or done to lighten the mood and make everyone comfortable?
GENTLE READER: How about: "Oh, dear, I meant to keep the pets locked up while you were here. Alfred knows he is not supposed to be in the living room, but he has a weird sense of humor."
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I built a guest cottage across the deck from my house. It has a private bathroom, but guests currently share the main house kitchen. (At some point I hope to be able to afford putting a kitchenette in the cabin.)
Some of my visitors are there especially to see me, and others because it is a nice independent place to stay in a popular destination, which is fine with me, as those I would have there would be people I like even if I'm not going to see much of them.
I am not a morning person and am accustomed to living alone. I don't mind having a guest around while we are having our morning tea or coffee, but on my days off, I really appreciate quiet time to read the paper, meditate, do tai chi or whatever for a couple of hours before having to engage in conversation.
Is there a polite way to discourage much interaction (or to put a more positive spin, encourage quiet companionship) in the morning beyond a pleasant greeting? If I could figure this out, I would be happier to have my guests stay an extended period, more than the couple of days when I feel I really need my space if I haven't been able follow my usual comfortable routines.
Second question, but less pressing: Is there a way to gently hint to people to clean up after themselves?
GENTLE READER: You are being far too gentle for a good host. Good guests want to fall into the household routine -- if only they can guess what it is.
Someone who is chatting you up while you are trying to read the paper may have preferred to sleep late, but feels obliged to be sociable. Some may have agonized over whether cleaning up before leaving means remaking the bed so that it looks neat (but has used sheets) or just piling up the laundry.
Miss Manners urges you to orient them as part of your welcome. "Sleep as late as you like," you could say. "I'm up early, but not really sociable until late morning. However, there will be coffee and tea in the kitchen whenever you want it." You can't direct guests to clean up, but on the last day of their visit, you can put a set of clean sheets in the guest room and hope.
(Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, email@example.com; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)