Dear Miss Manners: Our dearest friends, who are also close relatives, own a pool table and have just begun doing something I am uncomfortable with. They state before you play that the loser of the game has to cluck, flap arms and strut around the pool table like a chicken and sing, "I am a chicken, and I took a lickin'!"
Of course, my husband and I lost the other evening. Even though I never agreed to do the chant, because I played it was assumed that I would.
I firmly stated that I would never do it.
They called me a welsher and said we were the first people to refuse. This was supposed to embarrass me into doing it anyway.
I feel they are at an advantage since they can practice any time. If I had extra time, I guess I should go to a pool hall and practice. Do I have to stop playing at their house, or should I just play when asked and hold firmly to my position and never do their chant?
Gentle Reader: If you feel uncomfortable marching around like a penitent chicken, how do you think Miss Manners feels having to side with these people?
Yes, it's their game table, and they get to set the rules. Your sovereignty (and dignity) are protected by your being able to refuse to play. Even if you practiced elsewhere and managed to avoid idiocy by winning, you would have to watch them doing the chicken parade, which is surely embarrassment enough.
But then, they are your dearest friends and close relations. Have they shown any signs of madness before?
A Constitutional issue
Dear Miss Manners: My dear wife bolsters her arguments with "I'll bet Miss Manners would agree with me." Well, I'm calling her bluff.
A couple who are very close friends of ours will be hosting a horde of family and other out-of-town visitors for a reunion while we will be on vacation. They are attempting to accommodate their visitors at their home as best they can, and some will stay in local hostelries. Nevertheless, our friends asked us if they might be able to borrow our house, as it were, to lodge some guests for a few days.
Our friendship has always been marked by mutual generosity and we have made ourselves and our belongings available to one another for assistance or loan. They are generous of spirit and this issue will not threaten our friendship.
But my wife thinks such a request is beyond the bounds of any friendship because one's home and the privacy and security it represents is different from her interest in most other possessions. She doesn't want to worry about making sure the house is clean or that bedsheets are changed in the rush of leaving on vacation. She also doesn't want to leave these issues for our friends or their guests because changing sheets is a less-than-desirable task and she doesn't want others (especially strangers) looking in our linen closet. She worries about whether the guests will shut off the appliances properly, leave lights on, break things, snoop into our belongings, etc. Finally, she thinks our friends' guests should be able to take care of themselves.
I think the request is not only reasonable from close friends, but one that we should accommodate without question. I think her view demonstrates excessive concern over trivial issues and is less than generous. I have offered to take care of all of the departure issues (changing sheets, writing instructions, etc.) but she does not want to be bothered reviewing my preparations to ensure that I covered all of her concerns.
Gentle Reader: Aren't we constitutionally protected against having strangers billeting upon us? Miss Manners seems to recall that the Third Amendment of the Bill of Rights deals with this matter.
Not that she believes in citing rights to shrug obligations. She only mentions this to make the point that while hospitality and helping friends are great virtues, taking in strangers is no trivial matter. No one should be forced to do it.
Still, your wife cannot quite claim that Miss Manners agrees with her in this matter. It is not out of bounds for close friends to ask such a favor, any more than it is out of bounds to respond that unfortunately one cannot grant it.
Address your etiquette questions to Miss Manners, in care of The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, N.Y. 14240. The quill shortage prevents Miss Manners from answering questions except through this column.