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My Friends Who Want To Host Me Have Bedbugs!

Dear Bintel Brief,

I’m traveling to visit friends who have just discovered that they may be harboring a bedbug infestation in their new home. They have called an exterminator but he hasn’t come yet, so they have no idea what type of problem they’re dealing with. I’ve read that bedbugs cause lots of trouble and that they can travel on people, too. I’ve been dying to see my friends’ new place, and I’m afraid that they will be insulted if I stay in a hotel. I don’t want to be rude, but how can I get out of this?

Going Buggy

Steve Almond Responds:

Dear Buggy,

First things first: before you get yourself in to a tizzy, find out what’s really happening. Do they have bedbugs or not? If so, what’s the extermination process? What are the associated risks? It may be that they’ll be spending some time in a hotel themselves, in which case they’re certainly not going to begrudge you one.

If, on the other hand, your friends tell you the infestation is less serious, and/or that the exterminator was able to get rid of it before your arrival, I’d trust your friends and show up on their doorstep. You do trust your friends, don’t you? If the whole idea of being in a home that was recently infested by bed bugs (or something) freaks you out, well then, you have to be honest with your friends. The worst thing you could do in this situation would be lie about your true motives. They’ll see through it anyway.

When in doubt, rely on the ancient Greek concept of /xenia/, meaning mutual respect between guest and host. They should respect you enough, as an honored guest, not to pressure you to stay in their home if you don’t feel comfortable. You, by the same token, should recognize why they might feel slighted, offer a sincere apology, and seek to reassure them of your friendship. A nice bottle of wine (along with some Calamine Lotion) as a housewarming gift would be a nice start.

Steve Almond is the author the story collections “My Life in Heavy Metal” and “The Evil B.B. Chow,” the novel “Which Brings Me to You” (with Julianna Baggott), and the non-fiction books “Candyfreak” and “(Not That You Asked).” His most recent book, “Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life,” came out in Spring 2010. He is also, crazily, self-publishing books. “This Won’t Take But a Minute, Honey,” is composed of 30 very brief stories, and 30 very brief essays on the psychology and practice of writing. “Letters from People Who Hate Me” is just plum crazy. Both are available at readings. In 2011, Lookout Press will publish his story collection, “God Bless America.”

If you have a question for the Bintel Brief, email bintelbrief@forward.com. Selected letters will be published anonymously. New installments of the Bintel Brief, featuring Steve Almond, will be published Mondays at www.forward.com.

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