Etiquette Reform School

Dear Helena,

I’m a college student living in an apartment, and I often have my friends over for dinner. The problem is that one of my best friends has absolutely no manners. He comes late, never offers to help clean up, and rarely expresses gratitude for the meal provided. If I go over to his place, he makes me pay for half the meal. I don’t know if he thinks that I won’t care because I’m his friend, or that manners don’t apply because we are in college or because they aren’t really fancy “dinner parties” (although sometimes they are). Would it be OK to take him aside and explain basic manners to him? I don’t want to be petty, and he’s a great person the rest of the time, but this is one area where he is just downright rude and clueless.—Emily Post

Dear Emily,

Good manners are just as important in a dorm room as in a banquet hall. You must perform an etiquette intervention. But beware: Criticizing someone’s manners is like criticizing his mother. To avoid insulting your friend, follow the rules below.

Be specific. Pick the blunder that bothers you most. If you assault your friends with a laundry list of criticisms, he will most likely storm out. So pick the blunder that bothers you most. In this case, I think it should be asking you to pay for dinner. . What’s next—charging you for a ride to the airport or advice about your love life? You don’t ask a friend to give you money in exchange for favors. Instead, you have faith that your friend will do you a favor in return. This is a practical system. For one thing, you avoid petty math. For example, if the host buys olive oil to make dinner but uses only a few tablespoons, do you pay for a fraction of the bottle?

Use “I” statements. As couples therapists like to say, use “I” statements, not “you” statements. Make it about your feelings, not about your friend’s faux pas. For example: “When you asked me to pay for the ramen you made me, I felt hurt.”

Model proper behavior. Send a message subliminally showing how you’d like to be treated. Try modeling good manners. For example, send him an elaborate thank-you note every time he cooks for you.

Establish a reward system. You can also use Pavlovian tactics. Punish your friend for showing up late by starting dinner without him. Afterward, throw him a sponge and ask him to help with the dishes. In the kitchen, reward him, perhaps with some extra-juicy gossip or a shot of tequila. You’ll condition him to have better manners—hopefully, before graduation.

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