DEAR MISS MANNERS: We live in Hawaii, and having just had back-to-back houseguests, I am at my wits' end.
The first set of guests were short on money, so I offered to let them use my car while they were here so that they could see the island. Instead, they chose to sit in the house. "Oh, we're here to see you."
I am self-employed and work at home, and I can't get any work done with them here. If they do finally go somewhere, they are crushed if I won't go with them, and say so. This is highly frustrating.
The second set of guests had plenty of money to go places and had a rental car, but still chose to stay at the house for most of the week, saying, "Oh, we are here to see you." My entire routine is disrupted. Not only do I not get any work done, I don't even get my exercise in, because I exercise to a DVD in my living room, and they are sitting there!
And don't even get me started on how many times I feed these people, and they don't offer to pay for groceries. Our electric bill in Hawaii is five times higher than that on the mainland, so our bill will go up at least $100 while guests are here, probably more.
One of the complaints is that we live so far from the beach. It's expensive to live at the beach! One beach is 20 minutes from the house; the other beaches are 50 minutes from the house. So instead of driving there, they sit in the house.
I know others in resort areas who have all the same problems. One friend says she wishes she could tell her guests, "Fly, little birdies, fly!" (Go somewhere ... anywhere!)
I feel like I am a prisoner in my home for a week at a time when people are here. They also don't bother to ask if the timing is good ... or if we've just had guests. They just call and say they are planning to come on these dates, because those dates work for them.
How does one handle these situations?
GENTLE READER: It is not how so much as when.
Miss Manners presumes that even if you didn't issue these people some sort of invitation, you at least agreed to their proposals to visit. They didn't break down your door.
Here, in ascending order, is a choice of things you could say when asked:
(1) "Oh, I'm so sorry, but this is just a bad time for us. What a shame -- we would have loved to see you. Please let us know when you'll be here again."
(2) "Wonderful, we'll be so happy to see you. I wish we could ask you to stay with us, but I can't. Would you like me to recommend some hotels?"
(3) "We'd love to have you; would the 12th to the 15th work? And you do know I work at home, so you'll be on your own during the day, but I so much look forward to evenings together."
(4) "Ah, sure."
You've been picking No. 4, haven't you?
Well, during your welcome and orientation to the house, you can still say the part about being on their own. But if you continue to abdicate control over your own house, Miss Manners cannot help you.
(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.)