There are many things you should try to avoid doing at a dinner party or when visiting someone’s home. They range in severity from slightly awkward faux pas to full-blown mortifying incidents that leave you wishing with every ounce of your fiber that a giant hole would open and swallow you.
Hopefully, this waking nightmare never happens to you. However, the harsh reality is that it could. Just to be on the safe side, it’s wise to have a plan in your back pocket should you ever be faced with a toilet bowl horrifyingly filled with two-ply that just won’t flush.
To ensure the best possible outcome from such an unpleasant situation, we asked experts in the field of etiquette. Their professional advice could help you save face in this worst-case scenario:
Maura J. Graber, the editor for Etiquipedia Etiquette Encyclopedia, recommends being mature and truthful about the situation.
“The best way to handle any situation like this is to be completely honest,” Graber recommends. “If the toilet is clogged after you have used it, you need to let your host or hostess know as soon as possible. A plumber may need to be called. Any polite and understanding host or hostess will let you off the hook.”
Does this sound difficult? If so, you can alleviate the embarrassment by offering some help.
“If you think it is an easy fix, act like a responsible adult and offer to clear the clog if you know how,” Graber says. “It’s entirely possible that this is a recurring issue for the host or hostess. They may be much more understanding than you think.”
Graber also offers guidance on actions to avoid.
“To save oneself from feeling embarrassed and not say anything to someone, only to let the next person who needs to use the facilities find it and deal with it, is to exhibit the height of immaturity,” Graber warns. “If you do pretend to know nothing, what with other guests or the ubiquitous security cameras seemingly everywhere nowadays, most likely you will be found out.”
Deborah Thomas-Nininger, the founder of DTN Productions International, stresses that being considerate of others should guide your actions when dealing with problems such as this one.
“Guest etiquette is as much about kindness and thoughtfulness as it is about good manners,” says Thomas-Nininger. “When any type of accident occurs in the home of your host, I recommend owning it immediately. A heartfelt apology followed by a ‘What can I do?’ goes a long way in rectifying the situation.”
She adds, “In the case of a plumbing disaster such as a clogged toilet, the sooner it is dealt with, the better. Can you imagine the line forming to use the powder room and it is out of commission?”
That doesn’t mean you need to make a formal announcement for all guests to hear.
“Pull your host aside and inquire if there is a plunger handy as you explain that ‘Oops!’ a toilet clog has happened, and you wish to handle it,” advises Thomas-Nininger. “To simply tell your host about the clog will not suffice … at least offer to be the one who rolls up their sleeves and fixes the issue.”
She also believes that a little discretion goes a long way.
“And might I also recommend, the less said about it around the dinner table would be wise,” Thomas-Nininger says. “Perhaps your host is well aware of their problematic plumbing, so no need to make jokes about it.”
If the mishap was due to negligence (either by you or by someone for whom you are responsible), be ready to open your wallet.
“If the said clog has been caused by your toddler or your child dropping a toy in or using too much toilet tissue and it’s not an easy fix, you’ll need to prepare yourself for a plumbing bill,” Graber says. “Either way, offer to pay for it if a plumber is called.”
The bottom line? Honesty really is the best policy.
“Taking responsibility for one’s actions is part of being an adult,” says Graber. “It’s also part of being a good friend. Keep that in mind when you’re out at holiday parties this season.”
If you are still feeling sheepish after the blunder, take steps to show your regrets.
“As a final gesture, send a note, a card (maybe even a gift) after the event to express your apologies again, especially if it was your fault,” Thomas-Nininger suggests. “Kindness makes a BIG difference!”