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Monday question: Fixer-downers

Posted by Robin Abrahams  September 16, 2013 06:03 AM

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Happy Monday, readers. What advice do you have for this Letter Writer?

So I have a bit of a tricky situation that involves my in-laws. Everytime they visit they "find" and fix every small problem in our house (ex. your bathroom sink drawer isn't closing correctly, we need to vaccuum under the fridge because it is dusty, etc.). We will thank them for the advice and then they will spend time fixing these "problems" (Here's another one: our wall sconces were not new enough and needed to get replaced. I did manage to get that one stopped). My wife and I appreciate the thought but it is starting to drive us crazy. Is it rude to be a guest in someone's house and tell them everything that is wrong with it. We have told them several times that they really don't need to fix things and have been infomred at that "they are broken" and need to be taken care of... Any suggestions on how to deal with this? We would love for them to just play with their grandkids and let us take care of our own home. (One more piece of brackground info: On several of their trips to our house major appliances have failed - stoved died, dryer, etc. - but that was just bad luck/timing.)
Here are my thoughts: 

1. If the LW and wife keep house like they copyedit, I think I see where the in-laws are coming from, not even counting multiple incidences of "bad luck." However,

2. Yes, it is rude to be a guest in someone's house and tell them everything that is wrong with it. It's a much worse sin against etiquette to be a critical houseguest than a slovenly host. Being family can give you a slight margin for constructive criticism, but isn't a blank check by any means. 

I think the LW, wife, and in-laws need to have an honest but kind talk about this in advance of the next visit, with the LW and spouse maintaining a firm "love it or leave it (and stay in a nearby hotel)" policy. As a guest, you can either adjust to the accommodations offered, or find alternate ones, but you don't remodel.  

What do you think, readers? 

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About Miss Conduct
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at

Who is Miss Conduct?

Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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