July 16, 2010 -- Q: Jeremy Piven from Entourage recently made news for allegedly dropping his cell phone in the toilet in a restaurant bathroom, then calling on the staff to fish it out. I have a feeling you might have something to say about this. What do you think?
A: For starters, how great would it be if this happened to everyone who thinks it's okay to use their cell phone in a public bathroom? Lately, I've overheard more and more people blithely answering—and sometimes placing!—calls while they're using the restrooms. Come on, people! You can wait a couple of minutes. Believe me, the person on the other end of the line does not want to hear toilets flushing in the background.
But in this case, if Mr. Piven actually made the restaurant staff retrieve his phone, he deserves a special place in hell. You drop it in, you fish it out—I don't care if you're a celebrity.
Q: Is it okay to bring a boom box to a public beach?
A: Sure, if you use headphones with it!
But unless you intend to time-travel to 1985 in order to visit this beach, why in the world would you want to lug a boom box anywhere? You might want to investigate these amazing doo-hickies called "MP3 players" instead.
Q: My elderly aunt is in a nursing home, but still owns a house on the beach. She asked if my husband and I would like to go there for a week—rent-free. We were thrilled, but when we got there, it was in serious disrepair. There were broken windows, and worse, mice! We had to spend about two days of our vacation shopping for cleaning supplies, scrubbing the place down, and waiting around for a handyman to fix the windows. She also didn't tell us there were no sheets and towels in the house, so we had to buy some at a local store. All in all, it cost us several hundred bucks. Should I tell her about the problems or not? She never married or had kids, so I'm really her only family.
Rejuvenating the Beachhouse
A: I understand why you're hesitant—your aunt was trying to be nice, and I'm sure she had no idea her house was in such bad shape. I wonder if your aunt is paying someone to take care of the house, but that person is taking advantage of her. Or maybe she just hasn't thought about making provisions to keep up the house and needs to hire someone (or to consider selling it). And that's why I think you should say something, even though it's awkward. Furthermore, the house will decrease in value if it's left in disrepair, and if your aunt is counting on selling it at some point, that'll mean she'll get less than she'd anticipated.
I'd thank her profusely for letting you use the house, then say there were a couple of little problems you took care of. Play down how much effort you put into dealing with the problems. Definitely don't mention the cost of repairs and supplies. (Remember, you got a free week at the beach—I know you weren't anticipating the expenses, but they still were less than you would've paid another landlord in rent.) Then ask if there's a local caretaker you could talk to about the problems, just so he or she is aware they're going on. If your aunt gives you someone's name, call him and read him the riot act. If she says there isn't anybody looking after the property, help her find someone.
Lesley Carlin has been writing about travel and etiquette professionally for more than 10 years. As one of the Etiquette Grrls, she is the co-author of "Things You Need to Be Told" and "More Things You Need to Be Told" (Berkley). Have a travel etiquette question of your own? E-mail Lesley at email@example.com.