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The question

My wife and I were recently invited for the first time to the neighbour’s cottage for a weekend visit. Late Saturday afternoon, another couple – with whom we were not acquainted – arrived uninvited after their accommodations elsewhere fell through. Call me snobbish, call them boorish; the personal chemistry was instantly bad and just got worse when they invited themselves to stay in the bunkhouse. Our host and his new guest stayed up late drinking – the crasher offering booze for just the two of them, though his wife had no problem drinking my beer. We left before breakfast the next morning, justifiably angry at the situation in my mind. My expectation is that our host should have suggested the interlopers find a motel, perhaps after sharing dinner and a short visit. Is there some “cottage code of etiquette” that I’m not aware of? Am I wrong to be angry?

The answer

Short answer: yes.

Is there a “cottage code of etiquette”? Short answer to that: uh, duh.

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I’m no etiquette expert and despite writing an advice column have never pretended to be. But I do know this: Cottages are the most etiquette-fraught situation on the planet.

Let me turn the clock back for a second and say that ever since coming to Canada (from the United States) as a young lad, I have been fascinated by cottage culture (mostly a central Canadian thing, I know).

In my world, we didn’t have “cottages” in the same sense as those I see here. I lived in New York. If you were ridiculously wealthy, you might have a place that was like a mirage on the end of a fabulous driveway in East Hampton. But regular folk couldn’t afford them.

So when I came here as a kid, I was hypnotized by the fact ordinary folk could afford cottages. But still, my parents couldn’t or wouldn’t buy one and so I became a perpetual cottage guest.

I became a maestro of “cottage etiquette” – that is, you know, if I ever wanted to be invited back:

Let me do this. Let me do that. “Oh, no, Mrs. Johnson, let me take care of those dishes. I love doing dishes! You know Agatha Christie always said she got her best inspirations doing dishes and I myself am aspiring to be a writer,” etc etc.

In short: yes. There is a “cottage code of etiquette.” And if you would ever like to be invited back, you should do your best not to run afoul of it.

Do dishes. Pitch in. Purchase the food for and prepare (I would say) at least one meal at some point. Offer to strip your bed at the end of your stay.

But above all, for God’s sake do not attempt to dictate to your hosts who they can or cannot accept as “interlopers” into their cottage.

“Justifiably angry”? Where do you get the ego/hubris?

You are as much “interlopers” as these other characters and do not forget that – annoying these “interlopers” might be. True, I will say, as an astertisk/codicil/fine print, most people, I’m finding, more and more, as time goes on, are. I definitely understand that. I’m not even going to be a complete hypocrite and pretend not to have misanthropic tendencies of my own.

But I also find, more and more as time goes on, that what people who are annoyed and/or judgmental vis-a-vis other people should do is look into their own backyard.

And that is what I’d say to you. “The chemistry was instantly bad”? Why not try a bit harder to make it better? Recall you are a guest in the house of the very people who have encouraged/invited/tolerated these so-called “interlopers” to stay.

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Your mission, should you choose to accept it, (sorry, dated Mission: Impossible reference) is simply to be the best and most gracious guest you can be, to be kind and generous to everyone in the vicinity, even those you perceive to be so-called “interlopers.” To lead by example in every way.

So the short answer is: Yes, I feel you are wrong to be angry. Whenever you are under another person’s roof – especially in such a congenial environment as a cottage – you should be profoundly grateful for anything that happens, try to be the most helpful guest you can be and let others worry about how they comport themselves.

Are you in a sticky situation? Send your dilemmas to damage@globeandmail.com. Please keep your submissions to 150 words and include a daytime contact number so we can follow up with any queries.

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