Q. Should we ask our weekend guests not to bring their two Labradors? They bust through the house like linebackers, scarf our dogs’ food, and break all the delicate dog laws that we’ve spent years codifying for our pack.
Drop the fantasy of disinviting the dogs. People who bring dogs to your house will want to keep bringing them, so face the fact that you’re running a dog hotel and a people hotel. To the Labs, your house is not your house, it’s just a random edifice at which their bosses’ rules of what’s permissible to destroy are in play. You have no hope of overcoming this idea in the Labs’ heads by yourself. Your mission is to educate the humans as a skilled concierge would, using gestures of hospitality to present a vision of order. Here’s your dog-concierge mantra: Yes, we’ll do anything for you, but this is how we act in this dog hotel. Prepare the Labs’ beds so that you can have the chat on arrival. Start with: How about we bed yours down here in the mudroom. There’s no such thing as an amicable dog “dinner party,” so, from the separate bedding, it’s an easy leap to separate feeding places, yard protocols, inter alia. Hand off the poop-scooping equipment with a friendly dog-toilet joke. Enough of this will deliver boundaries without actually transmitting the idea that you don’t like their dogs running amok at your place. After all this, if they don’t seem to get the memo, next fall let that invitation slide.
Q. Thanksgiving’s getting tricky. We have two beloved matriarchs in town who compete for our booking. We appreciate the invitations, but when we’ve tried alternating our visits, they only get grumpy.
The trick is to announce, casually, to both of them, Hey, we’re tired of missing you on that day, so we’re going to do both this year. Your sainted mamas will instantly begin to compete over who comes first, but the real fun will be how you game the “enthusiastic” eating. We call this the Stealth Non-Eating Double Thanksgiving, and yes, it has been done without anybody being admitted to the hospital. First, on the day, act like a contestant on America’s Next Top Model—pretend to eat everything, but eat nothing. Hide the heavy things you’re not eating under the light things you’re not eating. If there’s a plate inspection as when you were a child, the visual confusion will enable a moderately clean getaway. Second: The dressing always seems to matter. During an appropriate lull, draw the matriarch’s attention. Say to your significant other: Dahling, isn’t this dressing the best? Do this at both houses, thus enabling each of them to feel superior to the other. Finally, is there a dog around either house? Because you can get a lot of turkey into a dog.
Q. Wednesdays after work, I meet friends for drinks. We’re all out of college, so what’s the protocol on rounds? Some of my posse seem a little stingy.
You’ve hit on a global drinks issue that has a twisty answer in the South—where the round buying is more generous than elsewhere. There’s a subtle drinks etiquette that extends through dinner: Whoever initiates the social encounter is on pay duty, especially if there’s a whiff of a business circumstance. If it’s a gathering that includes postcollegiate deadbeats on an evening that has no clear “inviter,” buy the first round for a few weeks running. But remember to close the tab after that round. It punctuates your gesture and frees those so inclined to revert to their college-era gymnastics of dodging the rest of the check. You can also let the tab smolder all night, then say, Put some cards down, boys. Or you could just find another Wednesday night at a different bar with some practicing grown-ups to whom a drink or three on the tab does not matter. The bar chatter will be better. Your current crop of “coasters,” we’ll call them, miss the Zen point. It’s give to get. In a long, good life, every drink you buy, you get in return.
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