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Urban Etiquette

Ellen Vanstone answers your questions about the annoying behaviours, poor manners and impatient encounters that dot the days of a city dweller.

Urban Etiquette: Can I turn down a cottage invite that comes with a chore list?

Go as planned, take your work clothes, and see what happens.

Ani Castillo

Dear Ellen,

I’m invited to a friend’s cottage for the August long weekend, and I have been looking forward to it. But last week she told me to make sure I bring long pants and boots so I can help clear the brush around the septic tank. I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but I really don’t want to spend my holiday weekend working. Would it be rude to make up an excuse not to go?


Dear L.R.,

Wiggling out of a cottage invite at the last minute is definitely not polite. As a former cottage host myself, I remember planning the summer-weekend guest list months in advance, trying to put the right people together, and saving the July and August long weekends for my favourite friends and relatives. For someone to blow off my invite, leaving me little time to ask someone else, was inconvenient at best, and insulting if I knew it was because they had a better offer, or suddenly decided to stay home out of mere capriciousness.

In this case, however, I might be persuaded to take your side. As a cottage guest, you should be prepared to bring your own linens if asked, contribute to the cooking and washing up, help tidy up, and carry out some of the garbage and recycling when it’s over.

But — notwithstanding the desirability of a functioning toilet — no host should expect their guests to put in hard labour that tends to increase their property values more than it benefits you.

There are exceptions. If you’re asked up for a “work weekend” — to put in the dock, or paint the boat house, or clear the brush from the septic tank’s leaching bed in return for beer and BBQ — you at least know what you’re in for. But for a host to invite you for a “holiday” weekend, then spring a major job on you when you arrive, is rude on their part.

My advice here would be to go as planned, take your work clothes, and see what happens. It’s possible they plan to do the brush-clearing with or without you, and only suggested you bring your gear in case you wanted to join in. And sometimes it can be fun to exert yourself between all the eating and lying around. But if they expect endless shifts of hard labour, simply do what you can, then leave as early as possible.

And if they ask you up again next year, decline, either with a polite excuse, or the polite truth: you'd rather loaf in the city than toil in the wilderness.

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