Raising the Tone: Etiquette for Bedbugs and Tattoos -The Toast

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parksrecPlease send your etiquette-based questions to advice@the-toast.net, subject line: “Ms. Proprietypants.” The archives can be found here.

I would like your take on a current predicament, even though I think I already know in my heart what I have to do. I’m supposed to be hosting a housewarming party this coming Saturday, to which I’ve invited fifty or so people. I’ve been very excited to show all my friends my new place, which is, for the first time, not a share! But I found out a few days ago that my partner has bedbugs in her apartment. We go back and forth from each other’s houses a couple of times a week. I haven’t shown any bites (and historically I do; this is not the first time she or I has had them…communal living!) or seen any signs of critter activity in my house. As a precaution, I have set traps and sprinkled diatomaceous earth everywhere, just in case “something” managed to sneak in. My gut tells me that my house is in the clear — but low risk is still a risk, so my impulse is to postpone the party for a couple of months just in case anything shows up.  I don’t want to have the conversation with all 50 people to ascertain what level of risk each individual is comfortable with, and the idea of keeping it quiet goes against my nature. Bedbugs are practically an epidemic in this city and I think New York, as a population, needs to be more educated and risk-adverse. What’s your take?

You know what to do, girl, so do it. Pests and plagues have such a weird way of ruling one’s life, even when it seems they should be relegated to bearded Birkenstock-wearers of the Old Testament. But I see no reason why you need to keep it quiet. You are certainly entitled to say “party postponed, watch this space!” But it would also be fine to say “Party postponed because someone close to me has bedbugs and I don’t want to put people at risk needlessly,” thereby doing a little PSA about contagion.

mattress-277906_1280It’s good of you to cancel, though if you didn’t I wouldn’t be all like, “What a Dr. Wayne Harrington!” But it’s probably the right thing to do. When you fear you may have bedbugs (Miss Proprietypants has been to that neurotic corner of hell and done that [thing where you lift up the mattress in the middle of the night to see if you can catch any rogue lentil-sized ghouls scampering into the crevices of the very object that had formerly brought you so much comfort and happiness], thankyouverymuch) you are tortured not only by the fear of the bugs themselves, but also of becoming a buggy leper who ruins the lives of everyone close to you. You have to manage the latter fear judiciously — it is not necessary to cut off social contact, stop seeing your therapist, etc., because this will make you nuts. But you also don’t want to make yourself anxious by taking what you call risks. And duh, nor do you actually want anyone to say, “Her? She’s fine, I guess, but she gave me bedbugs.”

So play it safe, don’t host massive parties, and go pour yourself a cereal bowl of scotch on me. Virtual hugs, just ’cause I don’t want what you [probably don’t actually] have.

Please advise me about an awkward situation I deal with semi frequently, which is nosy people asking about my tattoo (2 letters on my right wrist). I got it when I was 18, the day I found out my best friend died (there have never been such friends; we called each other “bestie” and shared clothes, Mexican rock music, code words, paper cup phones between our houses, and possibly underlying romantic feelings). This happened about six years ago, and needless to say a terrible and dark time of my life and one which I haven’t forgotten, but I have moved on healthily with some grief counselling and support of family and other friends.  I don’t like telling people about it unless we are on the verge of becoming good friends, because it is sharing something very personal, and also, death makes people awkward and I have been the poor sad girl whose best friend died enough to be over the label. I don’t like having to make someone else feel better about something that happened to me, or having to say ”it’s okay, it happened a long time ago.” Anyway, how to tell nosy parkers to mind their own business professionally and politely? I make a point of not asking about tattoos. Non-tattooed people can be ignorant and careless but mostly don’t mean it badly, so I don’t want to just tell them to get lost.

girls-444157_1280Oof. I’m sorry, girl. That is a major fucking loss and it flat-out sucks and will continue to do so. Forever. And yes, people are not so good with death, as you’ve noticed, in spite of the fact the eloquent people are always reminding anyone willing to listen that it’s a fairly natural and inescapable part of life and love and anything good and living and breathing. And yes, this tribute is written visibly on your body, so you will continue to field these queries, probably forever. (Rest assured, though, that as you age more and more people will join the dreary club of Poor Sad People Whose Best Friends Died, so as time goes on, this is less and less likely to be a singular thing for you. Cold, dank comfort, I know.)

The main thing is this: you owe no one information, but you do owe them a reasonably polite response. So I think you should come up with something that feels comfortable to you and shuts down further discourse. “It’s a long story that I don’t generally go into,” could work if it is delivered warmly, politely. See if your delivery is up that. Another option is “it’s in memory of a friend who died a long time ago.” If they express horror, you can simply say “thanks for your sympathy,” even if it doesn’t feel anything like sympathy; you don’t have to say “it’s okay.” If they press you further, they have stepped over the rude line and you can just put them off with a firm but polite “I’d rather not discuss it.” If people feel somewhat uncomfortable that’s fine — they asked what is, I guess, a personal question. But the end result should be that they feel uncomfortable simply because you would prefer not to disclose more, not because you are trying to make them feel uncomfortable.

I don’t have a tattoo. And I wonder what people (readers) think: at what point, if ever, can you ask someone about their tattoo? I ask this with uninformed curiosity, and, obviously, professional interest. I would feel free to ask someone to whom I felt close. But I couldn’t really be more specific about what “close” meant, beyond saying that many tattoos are very personal, and not feeling that I myself was necessarily ready or interested in delving deep into the lived experiences of the woman seated next to me at a medium-good friend’s overpriced birthday dinner.

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