Comedian Michelle Buteau Is Our New Etiquette Expert—and You Are Going to Love Her POV on Splitting the Bill

Comedian Michelle Buteau advises readers on connecting with teens, dealing with relatives who invite themselves over, and navigating unfair split-the-bill scenarios.

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 cohosts 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 November 2022 issue of Real Simple.

Have your own social dilemma for Michelle to solve? Tell us about it at

Comedian Michelle Buteau, RealSimple Modern Manners Advice Colmnist

Courtesy of Gijs van der Most

Uninvited Guests

CAROL: A friend told me she had no plans for her birthday, so I invited her over. The next day, she said her son and other friends would be joining her. She added more people the next day. The day of our get-together, she texted that she was adding four more. I told her I’d had a busy week and I wasn’t up for that many people. We had a nice time with six guests, some of whom I didn’t know. A few days later, she told me I’d put her in a terrible position by having her disinvite her friends. I was taught never to invite people to someone else’s house. What do the rules of etiquette say?

MICHELLE: Oh my goodness, Carol! You are such a good friend for even wanting to make sure your friend would have a birthday! And that’s where it stops, you know. It’s really unrealistic of her to expect you’d be OK with her adding to the guest list. She should have rented the back room of a restaurant or hosted a party at her own home. I’m glad you put your foot down and said no to more people. Your time is precious, especially when you’ve had a busy week—you want to be able to rest and heal. The fact that you offered to have a birthday celebration says what kind of person you are. And the fact that she wanted to bring more people, and got salty about it, says what kind of person she is. Listen—you should only be friends with people who show up for you the way you show up for them, period.

Mom's Pushy Friend

WENDY: A good friend of my mom’s constantly shoves her cellphone in our faces to show us her pictures. She will interrupt conversations to do so. Her behavior feels one-sided because she never asks about our lives or requests to see our pictures. I’m happy she takes such pleasure in her family photos—it just never ends. Is there a nice way to say, “Enough with your phone in my face”?

MICHELLE: Wendy! I am so sorry your mom’s friend is annoying. Shoving your cellphone in someone’s face to show pictures when nobody asked? That’s a big bucket of “No, thank you.” No one ever wants anything shoved in their face they didn’t ask for, OK? #Liferule. Because it seems like she’s one of your mother’s good friends, like perhaps they’ve known each other for a while and there’s history, I would definitely tell her what’s up. If she serves Sassy Auntie Vibes, then throw some Tell It Like It Is Niece Energy. Some things you can say: “I’ve had a long work-week,” “I’m very tired,” “I look at a computer all day; I can’t look at any more screens.” If she doesn’t take the hint, then you just have to tell her, “I came here to see my mom. I can’t look at any more pictures unless they’re of my mom.” Or “OK, lady, if you’re gonna show me pictures, I’m gonna show you some pictures too.” Then give it right back. You could have a picture-off! Doesn’t that sound exciting? It honestly scares me a bit! Good luck!

Un-Open Invitation

IKO: My husband and I own a small cottage across the street from our home. We’ve designed it to be a lakefront ”playhouse,” where we host campfires, sports-viewing parties, and outdoor gatherings. There’s also a small bedroom for overnight guests. My brother and his wife assume they have an open invitation. Sadly, my husband and I find my sister-in-law very difficult. She’s loud, opinionated, and pushy. We love my brother but absolutely dread (and usually regret) our encounters with his wife. We feel like we must say yes to the request to stay over. How can we manage this situation?

MICHELLE: Iko! Congratulations on winning at life! A small lakefront cottage that’s a playhouse? Not to be the annoying sister-in-law, but can I come over? You’ve set up your house to be the fun house, where everybody wants to come over, and honestly? You guys sound like a really good time. There are a few ways you can go with this. Option one: Invite somebody else to stay there when you’re having a party your brother and sister-in-law are invited to, and say, “Hey, this room is occupied already, so, sorry, you can’t stay here.” Option two: They’re family, so you still have to see them, but invite them way less. You have to protect your own energy and your heart. Life is too short, and stress will age you, honey! Option three: Just tell them they can’t stay. You don’t have to give a reason! This is your lakefront playhouse. Want to be Sister of the Year? Suggest a great inn or rental. Above and beyond!

Bridging the Grandchild Gap

POLLY: How can I engage my 18- and 20-year-old granddaughters in give-and-take conversations? We don’t get to see one another often, as we live on opposite sides of the country. I would love to hear their thoughts on any number of subjects, rather than the one- or two-word answers that usually come forth. How do I make it clear I’m truly interested in them?

MICHELLE: Polly, I love this for you! I love that you want to engage with your granddaughters. I say meet them where they’re at. Find out what they’re into and see if you can speak their language. It feels like you can’t go wrong with social media. Do you have social media? If not, maybe your granddaughters can help you set up an account and you can keep in touch that way. Is it TikTok, is it Instagram? I don’t know. Also, are your granddaughters into fashion? Were you into fashion? Do you have any hand-me-downs you’d like to give them? Something vintage, a purse? Is there a television series you all can watch and talk about? Maybe something you wouldn’t usually watch, but they would. Much like any great friendship or relationship, you get what you give. So find things they like to talk about, speak their own language on their own planet, and then maybe they’ll realize what you’re into is supercool.

Thanks, But No Thanks

REBECCA: I have a very generous friend, but every time we go out to eat as a group, she orders a bunch of appetizers before everyone arrives, without consulting anyone about what they want or what dietary needs they have. She’ll also order more food without asking. Then we’re all left to split the bill for food we didn’t want or eat. How can I address this?

MICHELLE: Is this question about me? This feels like it’s about me! I am the generous friend who shows up early and orders half the menu—but then I pay for it. I have a little bit of anxiety when people are at a restaurant. Nobody knows what to get, it becomes a weird debate, and meanwhile I’m just getting more hungry. This person is probably coming from a good place. And also, they’re type A. It’s got alpha written all over it. I love alpha friends! When someone wants to be in charge this much, just give them another thing to do. They’re really on their own planet, so just try to speak their language. Next time, if you know what restaurant you’re going to, check out the menu beforehand and say, “I love these two dishes. Please get them for me if you’re there before me,” or “Hey, could you just wait for me? I like the process of going through the menu with you guys first!” I guarantee your friend will want to support your dinner experience. If the next dinner doesn’t go the way you’re hoping, I’ll take you out! (And pay.)

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