The New York Times Ethicist, Randy Cohen, fielded a bed bug ethics question today.
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? –Joan Shore, 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.
Joan Shore is lucky she did not take bed bugs home with her. Perhaps, bitten last summer, she did not know what they were. There’s been a lot more press since then. Anyway, good for Cohen for reminding readers that bed bugs are “not a moral failing.”
Oh, to be someone to whom the lumpiness of a mattress would be seen as being as notable as its infestation with bed bugs…