DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband and I, who have lived in our tight-knit neighborhood for more than 25 years, have just become the first to take down our old house and build a new, larger one in its place. We wanted to stay in the neighborhood we loved, with old friends nearby.
We will be inviting many friends and neighbors to see the house before we move in, as there has naturally been a lot of curiosity and we want to get the “tours” over with all at once.
I have always been taught that “if you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all,” but I find this is not always the case with others. I don’t know how to handle criticisms of our taste or what we did or did not choose to spend money on.
Already, a woman has asked the size of the house and number of bathrooms, and immediately told me that her son’s house is twice the size with en-suite bathrooms for all the bedrooms (which we do not have).
I feel this is very rude, but do not know if I should say so to her face or try to brush it off. I’m afraid such remarks do cause me stress, and more than a couple like this are likely to make me ill and spoil the event. Even thinking about it is giving me a headache.
GENTLE READER: What are you fantasizing that you would say to your neighbor’s face? “Oh, good for him”?
All right. Miss Manners simply wants to work on the diction, and perhaps a bit on the wording. Practice saying, “How nice! I’m sure he must be very happy with his house, and you must be very proud of him.” In order to make this a conversation, rather than a competition, you must say it with cheerful enthusiasm.
But do you really want to invite people whom you apparently know to be tactless and critical? Couldn’t you let them suffer with curiosity by saying, “Oh, really, there’s nothing much to see. It’s just an ordinary house with a bit more room than we had before”?
If you must let them in, you could respond to any such unpleasant remarks by saying, “Perhaps you would do it differently, but this is what suits us.”