My houseguests’ houseguests

Illustration by Kate Feiffer

Dear Nicole,

What do you do when your houseguests ask if they can bring houseguests? Let me explain. We have houseguests, a couple, scheduled to come in July for three days. I just got an email from them asking if we would mind if they brought some friends, another couple, with them. “You guys will love them. They are happy to pitch a tent in the yard, and are super laid back,” our friends wrote. Even so? Should houseguests be asking if they can bring their own houseguests?

Confidentially yours,

Dear Confused:

At first blush I’d say it’s outrageously presumptuous of them — but some of the most satisfying friendships are defined by ease of presumption. Trying to put myself in your shoes, I’d respond negatively to that question if it came from certain friends, but would be totally fine with it coming from other friends, and in a few cases I’d relish meeting new people who my friends think are cool. There’s no rhyme or reason to it — it’s mostly a matter of chemistry between myself and any given friend, as well as context-dependent elements: how often do these friends come to visit, how self-sufficient do they tend to be when visiting, etc.

In your case, however, the only correct response to your houseguests is “Actually, that’s not OK,” because if your answer was “Sure, that’s fine,” then you wouldn’t have written me for advice. I think your real question is, “We’d rather our guests not bring their own guests — does this make us bad people, and do we need to just grin and bear it?” And the answer to that is: Don’t be ridiculous. It’s your home. The No. 1 rule of good hosting is for you, yourself, to be comfortable in your own home, or how can you possibly be a good host to anyone else? If you’re uncomfortable, say no. (If you need permission, I give you permission. But you do not need permission.)

Maybe you already knew all this, and your query is a discreet (or passive-aggressive) way of asking, “What’s the best way to say I’m not OK with them doing this?” As above, this is extremely context-dependent. You don’t need to justify it at all; you could simply say, “That won’t work,” and leave the burden on them to initiate more of a conversation. If they are intuitive, they’ll let it drop. If it’s really important to them, let them tell you why, and the conversation can evolve from there.

If you want to be able to say, “That won’t work because X,” here are some Xs you could try:

  • The ticks are really bad this year, and we don’t want to be karmically responsible when your friends contract Lyme.
  • The dog developed a bad attitude toward strangers, and we don’t want to spend your whole visit keeping him from lunging at your friends.
  • The Obamas might be coming early, and if they do, the Secret Service will be hiding out in our huckleberry bushes, so the yard will already be spoken for. 
  • We’ve been waiting all year just to hang out with you because we love you, and we want you all to ourselves for your brief visit.

That’s my take.

Bemused readers ask novelist Nicole Galland for her take on navigating the precarious social landscape that comes with living on the Vineyard. Nicole, who grew up in West Tisbury, is known locally as the co-founder of Shakespeare for the Masses at the Vineyard Playhouse. Her combined knowledge of both this Island and the world’s greatest melodramas compels her to help prevent unnecessary tragedy wherever possible. Nicole’s latest novel, “Stepdog,” was published last summer by HarperCollins.Trying to untangle a messy Island ethics or etiquette question? Send it to