Don’t RAISE a stink

By Mary Meehan, Lexington Herald-Leader – 09/10/2002 – 12:00am


Houseguests are like fish, the old saying goes: Both start to smell after three days.

Vicki Steele, who’s been camping with 12 kin packed into an 800-square-foot house, knows it really takes only two days.

“The thing about it was,” said Steele, of Versailles, “nobody was taking a bath.” By Day 2, she said, “It was like … whoaa!”

What to do?

  1. Hold your breath and remain silent when the offenders are near.
  2. “Accidentally” spray Lysol in the direction of above-mentioned perpetrators.
  3. Good-naturedly dub the smelly housemates “Stinky” or “Ick,” hoping they get the hint.

There is no “right” answer. (But please avoid spraying Lysol near open flames.)

Even the most revered czarina of couth, Amy Vanderbilt,doesn’t dish on the etiquette of sleeping on a friend’s couch. And on the Internet, where you can find 300,000 entries on corn dogs, there is nary a word about how to graciously glide through an emergency.

Nerves fray easily when routines are disrupted, said Marcey Ansley, spokeswoman for the Bluegrass Chapter of the American Red Cross, who recently heard a man on the radio offering to switch his cozy place in a warm house full of in-laws for a unheated shack and some serenity.

Ansley said the key is to “have a lot of patience.”

“Etiquette can be such a French, snobby word, but it is really about making people feel comfortable, especially in crisis,” said Sue Fox, president of Etiquette Survival, based in California. “Everybody needs to be extra sensitive, especially if there are kids and pets involved.”

Steele said a sense of humor helped her family survive. She admits, however, that a day of kids whining for pizza and wings “was ready to drive me insane. I was ready to say, ‘out, out.'”

“It is a brutally stressful situation,” said Peter Post, the great-grandson of manners maven Emily Post and co-director of the Emily Post Institute. “And stress is where rudeness comes from.”

An empty toilet paper roll, under normal circumstances, might not seem as huge as when you’re seeing a future forever without heat.

First, Post said, abide by the house rules. If there is a diehard vegan in the house, for example, now is not the time to cook that thawing side of beef.

Second, he said, clean up after yourself. “Be super-vigilant in all places,” especially in the kitchen, which tends to be the heart of most homes, he said. “If you make a sandwich, clean up the crumbs before you eat.”

It’s appropriate, Post and Fox said, to take your hosts out for a meal at least once during the stay. And give a gift and a thank-you note when you return home.

The gifts don’t necessarily need to be expensive, but they should reflect the host’s passions. If they appreciate fine wine, buy a nice chablis. Ansley, who is hosting a family in her home, said with a chuckle that “trimming all the trees in my front yard, that’s what I need to ask for right now.”

Keeping your sanity might require you to politely ask someone to leave, Fox said. A nice approach, she said, is something like, “What do you think about this Residence Inn I’ve heard about?” “If you just keep silent, you are going to explode.”

That’s a faux pas for which there is no polite recourse.

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