Michelle Buteau Wants You to Tell Your Friend Their Breath Smells

Our etiquette expert, comedian Michelle Buteau, advises readers on telling your in-laws "no" and letting a friend know when they need a breath mint.


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Michelle Buteau is a mother, wife, dog mama, actor, writer, comedian, and TV host. Her book of autobiographical essays, Survival of the Thickest, will soon be a Netflix series. She also co-hosts the popular podcast Adulting on the Exactly Right network. With all this life experience, we trust Michelle's ability to navigate a number of social quandaries. Here's her advice to our readers in the January/February 2023 issue of Real Simple.

Have your own social dilemma for Michelle to solve? Tell us about it at modernmanners@realsimple.com.

Resentful Car Service

C: My sister- and brother-in-law didn’t replace their second car when it died last year, and they’re constantly asking to borrow one of our two cars. This requires that we make a 45-minute round trip to deliver or pick up the car. We’re being inconvenienced because they decided not to get a second car (finances don’t appear to be an issue). Do I need to just suck it up and help?

MICHELLE: The only thing you’ll need to suck up is how much gas (and time!) you’ll save when you tell your sister- and brother-in-law they can’t use your car anymore. Why not send them some links to car dealerships that might have options in their budget? And if you really want to get into it, honey, you could do a spreadsheet detailing all the time and money you’ve spent delivering your car and what you could be doing, you know, instead of delivering your car. They’re not your children, and adults need to be adulting. If they can afford to get a car, then they should. This shouldn’t be on you. When they are desperate for a ride and don’t have another option, they can ask. But they can’t expect you to always be there for them just ’cause. You absolutely have to say something. Your time is valuable. And so is your car!

Guest Room Rejection

JEREMY: We have an extra room my mother could stay in when she visits, but she’s said she’d rather not, as my wife uses that space to store glass items for her crafting. The “clutter,” as my mom puts it, bothers her, and she’s uncomfortable staying there. My wife thinks that the “clutter” isn’t that bad, and that my mother is slighting her and our home by not staying with us. Is my mother slighting us? Should my wife be upset that my mother doesn’t want to stay? Any advice?

MICHELLE: Jeremy, it sounds like you are between a rock and a hard place. I’ve been to that neighborhood before, and it is not fun. You have to ask both your mom and your wife to give up something in order to get something in return. This way everybody can meet in the middle. Ask your wife to remove some of her glass items, a.k.a. clutter. Let’s try to make the guest room feel like a little oasis. You and the wifey can pick the pillows and the cute picture of you guys to put on the nightstand. Then have a sidebar with your mom and explain to her that it is going to cause more problems for you if she doesn’t stay there. It sounds like your mom is very opinionated. Good for her. I love that. Sometimes. This isn’t one of those times. She needs to help you out. I firmly believe that, if you ask both of them to sacrifice something, everybody will be happy. Or you could just have your mom sleep between you guys? I am kidding! Or am I?

Leave The Light On...or Off

CATE: We recently moved out of the city, and I’m noticing that everyone here leaves their porch light on all the time. There are a couple of streetlights that click on along our quiet little street after dark, so it’s not pitch-black. Is it rude to turn my light off?

MICHELLE: Congratulations on finding a new home outside the city. That is so exciting! So yeah, every town has its customs. You don’t have to do everything everyone else does, but I would probably ask your neighbors why people leave their lights on and then figure out if you want to do the same. Personally, I would leave the light on. What if someone got a flat tire in the middle of the night and needed to find some help? They could come to your house. Or perhaps a burglar would be like, “Their light’s on—I’m not gonna go in there.” It could be fun, and it could work in your favor. Good luck, and congratulations again!

A Case of Bad Breath

ADRIENNE: A close friend of mine has terrible breath, which she is obviously unaware of. She’s quite attractive with a personality to match. She has met men on various dating apps, but after the first goodnight kiss, they don’t contact her again. I can’t help feeling it’s because of her breath. Is there any way I can bring this up without hurting her feelings?

MICHELLE: Adrienne! If she’s really a close friend of yours, then you probably could have already told her that her breath smells. Don’t let her out in the world like that. If your breath smelled, wouldn’t you want someone to tell you? If I have a bat in the cave, or gravy on my face, or a dust bunny in my hair (you get the point—we have options!), you need to let me know, whether I’m your friend or a perfect stranger. That’s your duty! Definitely tell her you’ve noticed that her breath can be sour, but don’t mention the dating part. Just say, “I think you might be allergic to something you’re eating, or perhaps you’re not digesting something, because I know a person whose breath stank because they couldn’t handle the acidity in a pineapple.” I don’t know, science! I’m not a doctor. But you have to tell your friend. Set her up for success, then give her a mint.

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