This Ethicist column has been a long-standing inside joke between my husband and I. Whenever we discuss some difficult decision or hear about someone grappling with and ethical dilemma, we say, “But at least it’s not as bad as bedbugs in the chateau!”
Last summer, I visited friends at their chateau in France — good company, excellent food, but a lumpy mattress full of bedbugs. Badly bitten, I said nothing, but I know I’ll be invited back. How can I politely tell them about their infestation? Or more politely, must I remain silent and simply decline the invitation? — JS, Fort Lauderdale, Fla
You’re waiting until now to tell them that their house is infested? What would you do if the chateau were on fire, mention it demurely in a few months? If this situation involved only your own comfort, you could keep silent, but because other people are at risk, you must speak up. Here’s how you tell them: You tell them — on the telephone, using a fake accent and a false name. No, no — openly, honestly, calmly. I can understand your desire not to embarrass your friends or imperil your relationship, but I hope they will value your candor and realize that having bedbugs is not a moral failing.
This was during a dark period for the NYT Ethicist. They seemed to have forgotten that ethical dilemmas are complicated and instead published a bunch of letters that were really just “awkward problems” or “should I do what’s right or what’s easy?” problems. They have emerged from that now and occasionally quote a philosopher or two and tackle some complicated things.
But for fun today, or maybe “fun” – let’s talk about the awkward horrors of travel with friends! I’ll start. You may recall we have a very tiny trailer (that came across an ocean to be with us.). It’s basically a queen bed in a 5x6ft box, though my claustrophobic mother and 6ft husband have both slept comfortably in it (after some initial reluctance). I think (somewhat irrationally, it appears), that it makes a very great guest room. We have now had a 6’6” friend stay, who feigned appreciation. A couple who required us to shuffle kids around and couldn’t sleep in the trailer because he needed a place to plug in the CPAP. A parent who worried that it was unsafe for our daughters to be unattended overnight in the backyard (though the girls found it magic). At this point, I should start renting it out on AirBnb so I can let the disappointments and hilarious awkwardness pile up!