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We don't want to tell our friends about the rat problem

The question

For the past few years, childhood friends have invited my sister and me to join them at a tony vacation spot. It's fabulous, hilarious fun. They are quite well off; we are not. Last year they rented a charming place on the ocean. They stayed in the cottage-style regular house, and gave us the "coach house." While we were cleaning up on the last day, my sister found a rat trap under the bed. We also found some rat poison discs on the lawn. One night, I heard some suspicious scrabbling. Our friends have rented it again this year. Needless to say, we'd rather stay in a nearby hotel. We really don't want to bring up the rat issue, however. The sisters just wanted us to have a comfortable place to stay. But there are likely to be rats no matter what the owners do. There appears to be no rat problem in the main house. Any advice?

The answer

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Your question brings to mind a classic Monty Python sketch: After a dinner of "unjugged rabbit fish" (a disgusting-looking, half-dead creature with both fur and fins, plopped unceremoniously on his plate), disgruntled working-class husband Eric Idle asks his wife (Terry Jones in drag) what's for dessert.

"Well, there's rat cake, rat sorbet, rat pudding or strawberry tart."

"Strawberry tart?"

"Well, it's got some rat in it."

"How much?"

"Three. Rather a lot, really."

"Well, I'll have a slice without so much rat in it."

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One slice of strawberry tart without so much rat in it later:


"Moan, moan, moan."

Similarly, you'd like a holiday without quite so much rat in it. I empathize. The beady-eyed little beasts give me the willies. My kids used to have some as pets, and I guess they were quite cuddly and almost kind of cute. They hung out in the kids' pockets. But I could never shake the fear/phobia they were going to run up my pant leg and sink their ferrety foreteeth into whatever they found up there that looked like a bag of food.

Not that it sounds like there was too much rat on your vacation. I mean, you didn't actually see one, right? Sounds like your friends are shelling out for the ratty coach house. If it were me, I might be tempted to put up with a little "suspicious scrabbling" and a couple of scattered traps for the sake of free accommodation.

But I'm cheap like that. If you feel the mere knowledge there are rats in the vicinity ("Just the thought! The very idea!" as George Costanza's father says when he thinks his house has mice in Seinfeld) would compromise your ability to relax (moan, moan, moan), then you should absolutely bring it up.

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To be honest, I don't understand why you hesitate. Of course, try to be diplomatic. I'd use the "praise sandwich" approach:

"We love going on our vacations with you. We really treasure those times and they're pretty much the highlight of our year. We hate to bring this up, but we found rat poison and rat traps in our coach house last year and they made us a little nervous. We really appreciate you offering to put us up, but might opt for an hotel this year. We do really want to come because we enjoy your company so much."

This approach has the advantage of a) being the truth, and b) emphasizing the positive.

I can't imagine why your friends would get mad. If they're the kind of friends you seem to suggest, I picture them being instantly mortified and solicitous on your behalf. Like: "Oh, my God, why didn't you tell us before?"

And hastening, even hustling, to make amends and whatever accommodations/compromises/arrangements might be necessary. I'm sure for them, like you, the point is not where everyone stays but rather the pleasure of your society.

Now, it's made a little ticklish by the fact that it sounds like they are paying - especially if they decide to go somewhere else more expensive on your account.

But that's their call. You've offered a no-skin-off-their noses option.

And look: They may not want a verminous vacation any more than you do. Like you, they may want to insist on a stress-and-rodent-free zone where everyone can relax, and feel like both the rat race, and the creature it's named after, are far, far away.

In the end, they may be glad in the end you brought this matter to their attention. I can picture them having some tart words with the owner about his failure, when he rented this "tony" dacha to your friends, to mention that the coach house already had some non-human, non-paying guests.

Tart words with quite a lot of rat in them. And very little strawberry, I would think.

David Eddie is the author of Chump Change, Housebroken: Confessions of a Stay-at-Home Dad and Damage Control, the book. [-space-]/p>

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