Michelle Buteau Helps You Deal With Long-Term Houseguests

Comedian Michelle Buteau, our etiquette expert, gives advice on hosting your in-laws and dealing with unwanted advice.

Photo of Michelle Buteau wearing a pink blazer. Photo:

Bravo/Getty Images

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 December 2022 issue of Real Simple.

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

Back Seat Business Consultants

CHRISTA: My husband and I are proud to have started a successful small business that’s been open for six years. The issue: A lot of people give us unsolicited business advice, which often includes ideas we’ve already implemented or thought of. Is there a nice way to shut down these “business experts” without coming across as someone who thinks she knows it all? I definitely don’t!

MICHELLE: Excuse me. Congratulations to you and your husband for starting a successful small business. In this economy? That’s amazing. And the fact that you two can work together—honey, you guys are winning. 

When family members want to give me advice about my career, I ask them, “Are you a Hollywood agent? Are you a manager? OK, then let’s talk about something else.” If my family wants to give me advice about my kids, I’m like, “Are you a child psychologist? A pediatrician? Are you even a clown that’s going to perform at a birthday party? No? Then hang it up, boo. In the words of Ariana Grande, ‘Thank you, next.’”

Listen, you and your husband have created something special together, and unless you’re asking someone for advice, they are not allowed to give it to you, and you can tell them that. You can say, “If I want advice or have a question, I will ask you.” Again, congratulations on having a successful business. Six years? Come on. I wasn’t even born six years ago.

Dealing With a Very Full House

Shakeela: In my husband’s culture, it’s common to host and cater to family from abroad for weeks, even months, at a time. We’ve stayed with family in his home country for several months, but they have hired help and spacious homes. I’m uncomfortable hosting guests for such long periods in our tiny city apartment, but my husband thinks it’s only fair. He says it would be culturally unacceptable to ask them to find accommodations elsewhere. What can I do?

MICHELLE: There’s a lot to unpack here. (Traveling pun intended!) Would it be easier and more convenient for everyone to stay somewhere else? Yes. But what are the consequences of that decision? Cultural differences are so hard to manage. You don’t want to make your husband’s family feel unwelcome. Ultimately, this is your family now too. They might have a bigger place with hired help, but your home, I’m sure, is just as charming and full of love. The most important thing is that everyone is together. For the time that they’re there, could you hire some help? To clean or cook? Do you have any friends who love to scrub the kitchen? (I have those friends. I love those friends!)

Maybe you could book a house for everyone, including you and your husband, so you can also get a staycation out of it. This is a good time to lean on him and come up with a plan to make everyone feel comfy-cozy and keep the peace. Memories are all we have, and your in-laws will remember that you did your best to host them. Go get ’em, Martha Stewart! 

Family Feuds

Karyn: My parents are healthy 81-year-olds and have been (mostly) happily married for almost 60 years. But they’ve started bickering with each other over fairly minor issues. They seem to have lost all self-awareness. They adopt loud and harsh tones in public—and it’s embarrassing. I’ve tried talking to them about it, but they deny or dismiss the issue. It seems to be getting worse. How should I handle this?

MICHELLE: Karyn, isn’t it bananas when your family becomes a whole episode of Everybody Loves Raymond? At some point in life, relationship rules go out the window and don’t really come back. Is there a way you could manage your parents a little bit? Order dinner in so you’re not in public when a disagreement goes down? Have a negativity jar, and every time someone starts a fight they have to put a dollar in there? Perhaps an activity that doesn’t require talking to each other, like a movie? You can’t teach a pair of old dogs new tricks, so I’d embrace this new normal. Also, I do know that being combative can be a sign of Alzheimer’s. If their docs have ruled out any medical issues, try the advice above. Good luck, boo!

A Very Expensive Thank You

S.S.: Our neighbors refused to accept a cash thank-you after they helped us out of a bind. Instead, we offered to treat them to dinner. It was very clear we’d be picking up the tab…and they ordered extra meals to take home for their children. I felt that was presumptuous on their part. My husband thought so too, but said it was awkward, and we paid anyway. What should we have done?

MICHELLE: S.S.! I’m sending you an SOS because that is awkward! It’s so extra, I can’t take it. But I will—and in a to-go box. Real talk: Everyone is raised differently. I have a friend who cannot go into a green room at a TV studio without emptying the snack basket into her purse. One time, I was getting rid of some items in my apartment and invited a different friend over and said, “Take whatever you might need.” Do you know that this girl scooped everything into a giant bag and just left? I had to chase her down the hall and say, “Boo face, I said take what you need. That doesn’t mean take everything.” She was so embarrassed and apologetic. At some point, I’ve probably done something that made someone look at me twice. (LOL, I know I have.) You offered them a meal as a thank-you, and they took full advantage, end of story. You did the right thing by paying for their kids’ meals. You don’t need to take them out ever again, and now you and your husband have a ridiculous memory to giggle over.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles