Q: I have started using a website that enables travelers to rent private homes directly from the owners. I enjoy staying in someone’s house much more than in a hotel.
However, I am not 100 percent clear on the etiquette differences between this versus a hotel or the private house of friend. I do know (or guess, rather) that a hostess gift is not needed; however, as I would in a private house of a friend, I do strip the bed prior to departing. Are there any specific rules Miss Manners recommends for travelers using such services?
A: With limited exceptions, good hotel manners are sufficient. Note, however, that Miss Manners’ idea of good hotel manners includes not stealing the unused toiletries, rearranging the furniture or scratching the end tables.
The differences will be for any reasonable requests made by the renter and clearly necessary to the functioning of the arrangement. This can include taking one’s trash out, cleaning the dishes one uses and admitting the maid but should not extend to repairing the plumbing. Stripping the bed is polite although not required.
Q: We were at a high-end, but small, group cocktail party. One of the guests promptly sat down on the sofa, poured himself another glass of wine and kicked off his shoes. I viewed this as inappropriate but couldn’t find an etiquette rule.
A: It is difficult for Miss Manners to think of a form of entertaining that occurs around meal time — but without providing either sustenance or a place to sit down — as a formal event, no matter the price tags on the dresses. To her mind, a high-end cocktail party is either a tea or a dinner party.
She therefore empathizes with the guest who prefers sitting to looking over the shoulder of his current conversation partner in hopes of finding a better one.
Removing one’s shoes, however, is a step too far. Written etiquette is light on the subject because until relatively recently, it seemed obvious that guests were expected to keep their clothes on, an assumption that began to erode when hosts started asking guests to leave their shoes at the door.
Q: I know it is rude to ask someone how much they make for a living. However, someone asked me the other day: Why is this question rude?
I couldn’t quite explain. Could you please explain it for this person … and for me?
A: You may be disappointed with Miss Manners’ answer: Because.
She realizes you were looking for a justification for the rule based in logic. Perhaps, that it risks embarrassing the person being asked. Or that it seems as if you are gauging that person’s worth. Or that it may appear to be competitive. Or that it could be an opening to bragging about your own income.
All of these are good reasons not to ask people how much they make for a living. But etiquette is a system of agreed-upon conventions, not always subject to logic. Asking about someone’s sex life used to be embarrassing; at least it is still rude.
Judith Martin writes the Miss Manners column with help from her son, Nicholas Ivor Martin, and her daughter, Jacobina Martin. Send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, MissManners.com; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.