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Dear Miss Manners: My husband and I both work, and we have school-aged children involved in various activities. There are times when we go several days seeing each other only in bits and pieces of time. It is hectic, but we love it!
We also have a lot of extended family who live in other states. It is very hard to find a time when we can visit them, which is unfortunate. When they come here, they always want visits to last for several days to make it worth the trip. We only stay a night or two when we visit them.
I don’t know how to politely decline offers to visit us. If we tell them a time is not good because of other obligations, they will say things like, “You don’t have to entertain us!” or “I won’t be in the way, I promise!”
We have tried letting it happen, but there are always requests for us to change our schedule because they had traveled so far. Sometimes we do, and then the kids get annoyed that they are missing their activities. During things we can’t skip, we end up having people just sitting in our house without us, watching HGTV for hours while we’re at school or work.
Is there a polite way to say, “Actually, you ARE in the way?”
The drama of your phrasing notwithstanding, Miss Manners infers that you are seeking a solution for the larger dilemma, not a way to further insult your guests: Metaphorically speaking, you would prefer to avoid the fiery crash altogether, rather than learn what to do after the collision.
Sensible people, like defensive drivers, avoid predictable hazards. Your relatives promised not to be any trouble, only to later swerve into expecting you to play host. You did not believe them when they said it, but it does not excuse your being an absent host.
You did not have to invite them to stay, but, once you did, etiquette required that you clear some time for them. More generally, if you never slow down, you cannot really expect to take in any of the sights — meaning, have an actual relationship with your relatives.
Dear Miss Manners: I get numerous calls on my personal cellphone, and often am not available to answer. If someone in my contact list calls me and I do not answer, should I call them back, even if they do not leave me a message asking me to do so?
Not knowing who called or how you feel about speaking with them, Miss Manners cannot say if you should call them back, only that etiquette does not require that you do so.
She is aware of the argument that this is inefficient. But she suspects that those making it are more concerned with the few seconds they will spend explaining themselves to your voice mail than with the time the recipient will lose deciding whether the call was pressing or of the I-was-in-the-car-and-had-time-to-kill variety.
New Miss Manners columns are posted Monday through Saturday on washingtonpost.com/advice. You can send questions to Miss Manners at her website, missmanners.com. You can also follow her @RealMissManners.
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