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David Eddie: Damage Control

Offer your boorish house guest a praise sandwich Add to ...

The question

I have a friend who moved to the other side of the country with his family a few years ago to complete his university degree. He came back for a visit two summers ago and my family offered him a place to stay even though we aren't the closest of friends. He ended up being the guest from hell - he stayed for a full 10 days and had absolutely no plans of his own.

He spent his days at my home while we worked, and then expected me to entertain him when I got home. He ate our food but didn't help prepare any meals, didn't help with any sort of clean-up and expected to be chauffeured around. After the 10 days I was livid, and my family was as well - he left without once uttering the words "thank you."

Fast forward to this summer, and he decided he was coming for another visit (for a friend's wedding) and needed a place to stay. I knew not to offer, but when his arrival was approaching and he couldn't find a place up to his "standards" (no pets, no live-in girlfriend/boyfriend), another friend stepped in and agreed to host him for a week. As it turns out, his manners have not improved in the past two years, and he has left another family and friend angry and frustrated. My question is, what is the proper etiquette? How can we inform him that he is a torturous house guest?

The answer

I've been getting a lot of "house guest from hell" questions lately … must be the season.

It's a source of perpetual puzzlement to me why anyone would contrive to be a bad house guest - especially someone like your friend, who's clearly hoping for numerous repeat performances.

Growing up the son of a modestly compensated assistant professor, I became used to being the least well off among my friends. In high school, all my friends' families had cottages, and we didn't. Then I, Scholarship Boy/The Student Loan Kid, went to a university that was a Gatsby-and-Daisy-filled playground for the offspring of American captains of industry.

(Those Saab-driving, cocaine-sniffing kids were always saying stuff like: "You know the drill bit they use for oil wells? My grandfather invented that.")

Some of their families had their own islands. I, wily, conniving, teenaged David Eddie, knew that if I would like to be re-invited to their fantastical, Xanadulicious country homes, dachas and estates; to continue to play tennis on their courts and water-ski behind their boats; I would have to be a good house guest.

And I was. Maybe I overdid it a bit: "Oh, it's no trouble at all, Mrs. Mills, I actually love doing dishes, you know Agatha Christie always said she had her best inspirations while doing the dishes, and I'm hoping to become a writer some day so it might actually help me with that," and la la la.

But I did get invited back and, man, those were some great times, laughing and splashing and sipping cocktails in the sunshine with my golden-limbed Gatsby and Daisy friends, all 100 per cent free of charge.

Why would anyone want to mess with an arrangement like that?

Basically, I think you should say something to your friend.

Of course, I realize it's the easier and more friction-free route just to let him make his own mistakes and hoist himself with his own petard.

But just reflect on the fact that you'd be doing him a huge favour. I mean, you must like this guy on some level or you wouldn't be friends with him and put him up in the first place.

And it sounds like he's doing himself inestimable harm, with very little awareness of the fact. So if you are indeed his friend, I would say yes, hit him with this home truth like a ball-peen hammer, right between the eyes.

Of course, phrase it diplomatically - as the filling of a "praise sandwich" - You're-a-great-guy-and-you're-probably-not-aware-but-you-could-be-a-better-house-guest-and-here's-why; the-only-reason-I'm-telling-you-this-is-I-love-you-so-much-I-want-you-to-be-happy, etc. etc.

You should be prepared for him to squawk and balk and (don't say I didn't warn you) lash back at you with some "home truths" of his own. That's only natural. I find when you do people "favours" of the home-truth variety, they bristle and rear up on their hind legs with nostrils flaring - at first.

Expect it. That is the nature of homo sapiens. But I have noticed also that often, usually during the next few days, they will calm down, scratch their melons and use the information you have bestowed on them to alter/improve their behaviour.

And sometimes they're even grateful you had the stones to hit them with the hard truth.

I know I am. I don't like it any more than anyone else when people hit me with "home truths" (and everyone should take lessons from my wife, Pam, who contrives somehow to be blunt without being hurtful, and can say stuff like "You could lose a little weight, Dave" without hurting my feelings).

But in the end, if it helps me to become a better, thinner, more popular person, I'm glad the people who loved me cared enough to be blunt with me as well.

And ideally your friend will be, too.

David Eddie is the author of Chump Change and Housebroken: Confessions of a Stay-at-Home Dad. Damage Control, the book, was released in March.

I've made a huge mistake

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