Miss Manners: How can I keep my guests out of the kitchen?

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband and I have a vacation house, and we enjoy inviting friends and family to stay there throughout the summer and early fall. Our guests, unfailingly polite, often want to “help” after I prepare a meal, which we do often because I love to cook and the farmers markets are such a delight of abundance.

Here’s the rub: Most of our guests do things in the kitchen differently from how I do them. For instance, they put sharp knives, silver flatware, wooden bowls, nonstick cookware and fine china in the dishwasher. These things get ruined in the dishwasher.

Now, I’ve never been one to value my stuff over my friends -- if a friend spills an entire glass of red wine on the rug, no big deal. But time and again, I say to my friends, “The only help I want is for you to come sit and keep me company while I clean up.”

My husband thinks I’m being churlish and making people uncomfortable by refusing their help in the kitchen. How should I politely handle this?

GENTLE READER: Suggesting that your husband clean up while you distract the guests by entertaining them elsewhere comes to Miss Manners’ mind. Or telling him, “We don’t make the guests earn their supper.”

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DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am a single woman who learned early on that I wasn’t cut out for apartment living -- that I wanted my own house. I was “orphaned” by 30 and moved into the home I inherited.

Everyone from plumbers and painters to a lawyer who was representing me comments on the fact that I live alone in a house: “I don’t see why you need a house.” “Do you have kids?” “Don’t you have any pets?” These are accompanied by enough head-shaking and eye-rolling to rival a Marx Brothers movie.


A painter came into my garage and saw my decade-old, run-of-the-mill sedan and said, “Whoa, nice car,” sarcastically. A plumber looked around my basement and said, “This is a lot of house for one person.” When I told him that his quote was too high, he pointed to a piece of furniture and said, “Oh, you can’t afford my rate, but you can afford antiques?” (It was a DVD cabinet from a now-defunct home decor store, which I had gotten on sale for around $50.)

Keep in mind that these comments are always made in a “Where do you get off?” tone of voice. None of this is complimentary; I know the difference.

After decades of this, I’ve grown sick and tired of being told in so many ways that I don’t deserve what I have. Why should women receive such rude and outrageous treatment in their day-to-day lives?

GENTLE READER: They should not. But as Miss Manners is in the manners, not the morals, business, she will offer a simple solution: Do not reengage plumbers, painters and lawyers who so behave.

Miss Manners | Judith Martin, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Martin

Miss Manners, written by Judith Martin and her two perfect children, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Marin, has chronicled the continuous rise and fall of American manners since 1978. Send your questions to