Philip Galanes on Houseguest Hospitality

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Benjamin Franklin once said that house guests were like fish – they start to smell after three days. More than 200 years later, weekend house parties can still create awkward, tense, or downright unpleasant situations for guests and hosts alike. Philip Galanes, New York Times Social Q’s columnist and author of  Social Q's: How to Survive the Quirks, Quandaries and Quagmires of Today gives us tips on how to be a graceful guest or host.

Share your house guest quandaries and dilemmas—Philip Galanes will offer his sage advice!


Philip Galanes

Comments [71]

J. Giangiacomo from Brooklyn

This is all so white, or actually whitebread. You wouldn't hear people who are close to their ethnic roots obsessing over this nonsense. Whitebread people have to be told by "lifestyle gurus" and "manner experts" how to be civil and familial with each other. Uffa!

Jul. 27 2012 12:36 AM

When we visit for three days of more, I bring an assorted case of wines--a few magnums included. I always get invited back.

Jul. 26 2012 08:57 PM
Sonali from Brooklyn

Nope, that was a real life friend that I hung out with frequently and lived across the street from in the city, this was years before Facebook existed.People you know on Facebook are generally "friends", not friends.

Jul. 26 2012 01:19 PM
Anonymous from Brooklyn

Yeah Lan, get back with us after your brother's visit! I noticed the change in your tone towards the bottom of your comment "had to lay down the law" and they haven't even arrived yet! Talk about contradictions...Also, hate the "women go to the supermarket the first night? comment..geez

Jul. 26 2012 12:51 PM

I think people esp in NYC over think the whole thing about having/being a guest. As a guest be courteous and aware of the fact that you are in someone else's home. And act accordingly. You can't expect a host to get rid of their pet/child rearrange their lifestyle to accomodate you for a few days. What happened to manners? As a host be kindly clear about how things are in your home. I have had many guests for extended periods-3 weeks+, always good friends, who have remained good friends. I have always stated from the outset with short term/ long term guests my house policy. No shoes, no food in the bedrooms and that mi casa su casa. Meaning that if it's now your house too, don't expect me to do everything for you. Here's the fridge, here's the dishwasher, here's the washing machine, clean up after yourselves. When guests come for long periods for vacation we usually set up a 'Kitty' of money for going to the supermarket, usually the women on the first day everyone arrives.
This was when I did not live in Manhattan. Now that I am in an apartment, albeit large one, I am wary of the fact that my brother, wife and 3 kids are coming to stay here for 6 days. I've already had to lay down the law with him-and they're not even coming for another 3 weeks. We'll see what I think about house guests after that!

Jul. 26 2012 12:46 PM
Peter Horowitz from Brooklyn

Leonard, Philip Galanes' suggestions to your sober caller were sensible, but yours indicated an ignorance of sobriety. A sober individual is likely not comfortable serving wine in her house nor comfortable giving it as a gift. "Repurposing" is not an effective solution to her query.

Jul. 26 2012 12:43 PM
fuva from harlemworld

Hospitality, treatment of guests is sooo cultural. All the formality is so foreign where I come from. Interesting.

Jul. 26 2012 12:41 PM
katie from NYC

For Christmas, I had a guest ask if she could bring a dog then it changed for her ill best gay friend.

She offered to cook christmas dinner & broke my dishes in process & never even offered to replace them.

She reorganized the furniture in the bedroom & then told me I owed her big time when friends of mine dropped by unexpectedly when I was on overseas calls to my family.

The kicker was when we went out for a meal, I waited for her when she went to the bathroom but when I came back she had already ordered without waiting for me. She then ordered more than me & rather than offer to take me out as a thank you, suggested we split the bill!

When it came to leave she stripped the bed & I said why are you doing that & she said I want to be invited back! She asked over time why I wasn't in touch with her... duh & had the audacity to ask if I'd like company in my house another time as its in a super beach location in summer. I said Absolutely not. She still didn't get the message.

I keep her at a distance but when I was stuck for a place to stay she never invited me... obviously a one sided friendship that is now over for me.

Jul. 26 2012 12:41 PM
Randy deutsch from Bronx

My son and his wife and their son come to our house very often during the course of the summer. My son NEVER brings anything - not a bottle of wine, not a bagel, not a pastry.

Is this unusual? Or is my son ( and his wife) particularly unthoughtful?

Jul. 26 2012 12:41 PM
lanvy from NYC

WHAT??? totally indecent to invite people over and not feed them for the full length of their stay.

Jul. 26 2012 12:41 PM
Melody from NY from New York

I have so many stories! But, the one that still baffles me to this day happened last year. We rented a house with my then boyfriend's family. It was awful! My brother and sister in law were running the show and dictated when we ate, what we ate, the noise level (their baby was 1 at the time), etc. I mean it's one thing when when the role of host and hostess is clear like when you stay at someone's house, but in this case it was all of our's. My question is, what happens when you rent a house with a group of people? There was always all this tension because of them and their authoritarian, inflexible ways.

Jul. 26 2012 12:41 PM
Amy from Manhattan

What about guests, or hosts, w/serious allergies? Especially, what if the guests or hosts have a child who's allergic to something like peanuts, which can be so severe that the child has a reaction when a jar of peanut butter is opened in another room? How can this be accommodated?

Jul. 26 2012 12:41 PM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

In listening to this segment, it has occurred to me that many people are inviting people they don't know well, which is ridiculous. I only invite friends and family and I know what they like to eat, what kind of toothpaste they use, their allergies, etc. As a host, I make every attempt to be as accommodating as I can, otherwise, why would I invite guests.

Same applies when I am a guest. I know my hosts, so I know what to take for a gift, how to help them in the house, whether they have pets. And, as I have some dietary limitations, either they make an attempt to accommodate me or I bring any extras I need.

I think that common sense has gone the way of good manners - down the drain.

Jul. 26 2012 12:40 PM
samantha from orangeburg

To the caller who is sober. What about telling work acquaintances that you do not drink for medical reasons? A friend's husband has a condition and can not drink. She dropped it into conversation before she moved and avoided an onslaught of wine bottles as house warming gifts.

Jul. 26 2012 12:40 PM

My guests are my friends, and with my friends I don't have to worry about the weirdness being discussed here. Why would someone invite strangers into their home and then be surprised when problems occur? That is obviously bound to happen if they're strangers!

Jul. 26 2012 12:40 PM
lanvy from Fleetwood

I wonder if hospitality is cultural??

When my partner and I visit friends, we come with a full cooler of steaks, veggies, and beer/wine. We wake up early on the last day to strip the bed, help with laundry, and sweep the floor.

We are Vietnamese and most of our Asian (even of different ethnicity) friends seem to follow the same rule.

Jul. 26 2012 12:40 PM
Anonymous from New York

I have a humble beach house in the Hamptons and many people want to visit during the summer months. I can't possibly host everyone who wants to come, believes they are close enough for me to turn over a weekend to, when in reality, they are not. People will say out loud that they'd love to come out, etc. Over the years, I've been able to deftly handle inquiries, and also wwed out bad guests (like the missing cat people). I only invite the people whose company I truly enjoy, who are extremely gracious and I can be open and honest with.

I do however have a dilemma that I am currently thinking on. My friend has a dog who comes along with her. I love the dog but the dog is very attached to my friend and the last time they were out, the dog went through my screen door when my friend came in the house and left the dog on the deck, tearing along the seam of the screen. The screen was somewhat shabby, but not torn completely. When it happened my friend said something like, "stop that", but nothing more. No acknowledgement that the dog had literally come through the screen. I felt too awkward to say anything - this is a person who in every other instance has been generous, thoughtful and intelligent. So I let it go. I've replaced the screen since, and need to establish that I don't want the dog to come through the screen again. Which means she has to acknowledge that she can't come in the house and leave the dog outside (she prefers not to tie the dog up).

What is the kindest way to deal with this?

Jul. 26 2012 12:40 PM
Kate from Washington Heights

I would NEVER bring food to eat with dinner (like an appetizer) because I would fear that it would be insulting - like I won't want the hostess' food. I try always to ask, "What can I bring?" and usually people say, "Just yourself," so I bring wine.

Jul. 26 2012 12:38 PM
Elle from Brooklyn

Alma, such a good point. Europeans have a totally different attitude, which can be tough to take for us Americans. Coming and staying for a week seems like no big deal to them.

Jul. 26 2012 12:37 PM
mary from new jersey

It is so important that guests bring food/wine/groceries during their stay. My husband and I always bring and buy during our stay w/friends. We don't ask the same from our guests, yet it is the right thing to do.

Jul. 26 2012 12:37 PM
Dan K from NYC

What about loud sex in the guest's room? Should the host pound on the door and say "cool it"?

Jul. 26 2012 12:37 PM
Alma from Kew Gardens, NY

I grew up in a family that might as well have had a Vacancy/No Vacancy sign in our window. We had a constant stream of guests, some staying as long as six months. Some of them were terrible, some were amazing. My childhood and adolescence was informed by all these different characters from different places in the world. And I once gave up my bedroom to a snot-nosed viola player we called Paganini. I dealt with it and got all A's that year. I watched my parents open their homes and their tables. Now,my parents have far fewer guests, but we have all these hilarious stories to share about our zany ones.
I love having guests. It keeps you on your toes. It inspires me to clean, to try making new foods. It's a beautiful.
This conversation is a little funny to an immigrant's ears. Distinctly American neuroses about toothpaste or sheets. Go with it!

Jul. 26 2012 12:35 PM
Karen from Marlboro, NJ

My daughter's childhood friend from out of town,
we moved when they were in seventh grade, they are now
starting college in the fall, asked to visit for a week. Am I
required to pay for all her activities? All correspondence
was done through the girls.

Jul. 26 2012 12:34 PM

When I invite ppl to stay with me i also feed them. I was stunned when someone invited me to stay with them and expected me to provide my own food. What do you suggest?

Jul. 26 2012 12:34 PM
Anonymous from Brooklyn

Batya...I would be surprised if they even remember making the offer, people say these things to be polite...I would check out some hotels as a backup!

Jul. 26 2012 12:33 PM

Many of the comments here suggest, sadly, that we often spend too much time and energy trying to maintain friendships with people who really don't care.

Jul. 26 2012 12:33 PM
Bonn from East Village

I had to laugh at the scented candle gift, because that's exactly what I got at the end of her visit! I admit that I regifted it immediately to a friend with a big loft, who does massage therapy, so I knew she would use it. For an initial gift the overseas guest stated, "I know you have a small apartment [she had been here before, with a friend no less, and wanted to bring a neighbor she hardly knew this time, but I said no], so I brought something small." It was a HUGE wooden plate that fits nowhere. It now sits in a closet. She stayed for a week. We schlepped all over the city. I was exhausted. Tomorrow, another house guest for three days (but he's a good friend). Then in two weeks, two shifts of family.

Jul. 26 2012 12:33 PM
Robert Plautz from New Yorkn City

What do you do if you are planning on being in or near a particular city where you have friends, you make a call in advance to meet them for, say, dinner or something like that, but they then say they want you to stay with them, "insist:, etc. You know that that is not going to work out or be fun for you (especially if you are a couple). How do you politely decline after you have now called them wanting to get together with them?

Jul. 26 2012 12:31 PM

I was invited at the house of people. My frequent visit is very charming, we do a lot of things together, cook, kayak, swim, and talk. However, this year, particularly, my host kept saying to her husband:Her husband loves opening up a conversation (opinionated many times), but I am opened to "disagree" in a civil way. We never had a conflict of opinions, so I did know where she got the idea to repress any potential conversation, leading to discussions.
"We do not talk politics"
" We do not talk....."

So, she ended up almost shutting her husband up. We did not say anything, but we felt a bit repressed and sometimes bored by the conversations content which were too 'sweet"...

Jul. 26 2012 12:30 PM
Elle from Brooklyn

Dana, were the gruesome details really necessary? Hope you feel better now.

Jul. 26 2012 12:30 PM
Anonymous from Becky

MAUDE - you should let your guests know that you have an indoor animal!! Everyone doesn't like indoor pets...I know I don't, nasty, I mean they don't wear underpants...

Jul. 26 2012 12:29 PM

I've had many friends over the years move to Israel. Each has "invited" me to come when I'm in the country. Now I'm going soon and writing these people asking to stay a night or two. Feels awkward, but I'm taking them at their word. Besides, we're Jews. We're all "family!"

Jul. 26 2012 12:29 PM
mary from rockland county, ny

When a guest makes a comment that is contrary to my political ideas I pull a
"Hyacinth" (Keeping Up Appearances) A comment like, Well that's very nice dear, but what do you think of serving broccoli instead of spinach?

Jul. 26 2012 12:28 PM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

What do you do if your guests spend all their time on cell phone calls and text messaging - apart from not inviting them again?

Jul. 26 2012 12:27 PM

i had a friend call and invite herself for a week to my studio apartment along with a friend. i said no to the friend and found myself fighting boundaries all week long. she showed up broke, didnt offer to pay her share at many of our joined outings and would text me constantly for ny directions etc even though i brought her a map etc.
i like being clear and saying no but how do you say no to someone so presumptious who is an old friend who takes liberties like shes family (and leaves menstrual blood on the toilet)

Jul. 26 2012 12:26 PM
Gretchen from Staten Island

As my Spanish grandmother says, "house guests and fish begin to stink after three days" (or something like that) - a lesson in being aware of not over-staying. I should also note that my grandmother is pleased to have family stay - for longer than three days, on occasion.

Jul. 26 2012 12:26 PM
BB from Brooklyn

TIme Shares? Thats drama city.

Jul. 26 2012 12:26 PM
anonymous from Manhattan

I'm in my late 30s and have been lucky enough to have use of a small family beach cottage for the past 10 years or so. My predicament largely pertains, I believe, to my generation of New Yorkers more than the guest's and host's, though this sort of thing may occur among their acquaintances from time to time as well.

If I invite guests for the weekend, odds are between 40 and 50% that they will acknowledge my invitation at all. Those who say they will frequently cancel at the last minute and some never even call or text--or return my call or text!--and just don't bother to show up. Obviously, these last especially are the "never invite again" group, but the fact is that with few exceptions of people who were very well brought up (or love the beach), the ONLY guests I can depend on coming who are my age are either those who do not live in New York city or those who have young children. Everyone else is waiting to see if something better will come along that they can't miss that weekend.

Jul. 26 2012 12:26 PM
Rachel from Sunset Park

I have a situation where the host was the most rude person ever. I went to visit my 2 cousins and my uncle. One of my cousin's wife was so rude. I had brought bagels from NYC, paid for a pizza dinner for 13 people, brought items to make a salad, brought items for cocktails, my own sheets and air mattress...she never said hello to me. I was calling my husband to see what I should do.

I stayed 2 nights. Left first thing in the morning. When I was leaving my cousins and uncle joked that I am always welcome no matter what the wife thinks...

I wrote a very nice thank you note and decided that I was too uncomfortable to make it the next year, but welcomed them all to my house the next year.

Jul. 26 2012 12:25 PM
Maude from Park SLoe

a dinner guest got extremely angry with me because I hadn't warned her that I had a cat, which she was allergic to. Was it my responsibility to warn her that I have a cat, or her responsibility to ask (since she was obviously extremely allergic)
Thank you!

Jul. 26 2012 12:24 PM
Elle from Brooklyn

JustHavingFun - every time I visit my mother, I ask - strip, make it up, or leave it alone? I definitely think it's the polite thing to do.

Jul. 26 2012 12:24 PM

What about a FB comment from a old friend that you haven't seen in years that says in the comment "
Come visit us"! And then you respond, okay, maybe sometime later in the year. And then there is no response. Should I write back to clarify? Or leave it alone.


Jul. 26 2012 12:23 PM

Best sign I every found:
Bed and Breakfast: You do both

Jul. 26 2012 12:23 PM
george from Astoria

This guy is a such a bullshit artist.
If you friend brings a bad bottle of wine to the house and you cant tell him straight up his bottle sucks and yours is better and that we will be drinking the better bottle of wine then he is not really your friend and you shouldnt be inviting him to your house for the weekend.

Jul. 26 2012 12:23 PM
Marsden from Manhattan

I have never quite understood the play between asking to be invited or waiting to be invited?


Jul. 26 2012 12:23 PM
Elle from Brooklyn

Mark, I'm laughing out loud at your story - a very good illustration of why you should NEVER get involved in other people's relationships.

Jul. 26 2012 12:23 PM
paul bolotovsky from nyc

what a LAME topic...

Jul. 26 2012 12:23 PM

I have two guest aftermath questions -- I recently rented a beachhouse for a week with my boyfriend. My sister accepted an offhand invitation (by me) to spend a day with us and ended up staying two nights. She was fine as a guest but it certainly wasn't the same as having the place to ourselves. So, 1) in the future, how can I get out of that? And 2) I feel I need to make this up to my boyfriend -- any thoughts?

Jul. 26 2012 12:22 PM
Elle from Brooklyn

Mariah, yes, they are jerks, and no, there is nothing else you can do except tell them to come an hour earlier - works like a charm and saves you a lot of aggravation.

Jul. 26 2012 12:21 PM
JustHavingFun from Washington Heights

Offer to strip the bed or not?

Jul. 26 2012 12:20 PM
Anonymous from Brooklyn

I have been a house guest and tried to do all the hosts (my brother and his wife) did, followed their schedule for dinner, going to bed at night, rising in the AM....after dinner sitting around watching movies with the family my brother gave us all bottled water and I noticed I did not hear or remember hearing the cap safety tabs "pop" day I noticed my sister in law washing out the water bottles we used, refilling them and putting them back in to the refrigerator!! I threw up a little in my mouth!! ended the stay earlier, made a polite excuse to leave early and went home!! Yucccckkk!! They also had a cat who nuzzled the spout of the huge bottle water dispenser that they kept tucked in the corner...uggh nasty!

When anyone visits me EVERYTHING they use is new to them, towels, soap, linens etc..OMGoodness I could NOT believe my brother and his wife did this!

Jul. 26 2012 12:20 PM


That is not a friend! A facebook "friend", maybe, but not a real friend.

Jul. 26 2012 12:20 PM
Steve from Brooklyn

How do I graciously invite myself over an old friend's house? She regularly asks me to visit when we see each other (invariably she visits me in the city). I just haven't had the time in the past to take her up on it. But now that I've lost my job I suddenly find myself with loads of time to kill.

Jul. 26 2012 12:20 PM
Elle from Brooklyn

We recently visited my in-laws on the Cape and for the first time, stayed in a hotel instead of at the house. We've said we were going to do this for years, and we finally did it. Best visit we ever had.

Jul. 26 2012 12:19 PM
b from bk

come on people lighten up.

Are your guests your friends?
if so then take a chill pill.

If you you people are so uptight then don't ever have guests over.

Jul. 26 2012 12:19 PM
mark in manhattan from NYC

Here is a situation that I almost came up against: The new girlfriend (who I had not met) of my best friend was organizing a surprise birthday party for him, and invited me along with some other of his friends and family members. A few days before the event, she calls me and wonders about the status of their relationship, because she had gotten cold vibes from him. I called to speak with him and try to find out what was going on, without of course mentioning the party. Question: Suppose he told me that when he was going to see her on Saturday (he thought it was just her taking him out for his birthday) he was going to break up with her. If I had that knowledge, was I obligated to tell him about the surprise party? I certainly would not want to be the one to tell her about his plans.

Jul. 26 2012 12:18 PM
Mariah from Avon by the Sea

I love having my friends for dinner, but they are always late, like by an hour or more. I have explained to them why this doesnt really work but they still do it everytime. Is there anything I can do besides telling them to come an hour before I want them to? Or are they just jerks?

Jul. 26 2012 12:18 PM
Mailu from NYC & LI

We have a weekend house and have guests nearly every other weekend. We are careful not to raise expectations of our guests. They are not staying at a hotel, they are in our home - and we do not have any help. I do not expect my guest to clean or cook but they need to understand that *I* will be doing these chores while they are there. We are also clever enough to invite great cooks & serious foodies. We may be mediocre cooks, but we will offer good wine!

Jul. 26 2012 12:17 PM
Sonali from Brooklyn

I was invited to spend a weekend with friends in Rumson, NJ some years ago. The host, knowing very well that I'm vegetarian, served me a steak for dinner. I ignored it without comment and just ate salad & side dishes. The host became angry with me for not eating the steak and said " Sonali, you are a guest in my home and will eat what I serve you". Unbelievable!

Jul. 26 2012 12:16 PM
Tim Saternow from Midtown Manhattan

I think the correct quote is, "Fish and visitors stink after three days." Benjamin Franklin

Jul. 26 2012 12:15 PM
Louise from Norwalk

The couple who brought a dog, unannounced, no warning, and then when the puppy peed on the floor, they said, "No he didn't". Like there are random puddles of dog pee on the floor of our house

Jul. 26 2012 12:15 PM
Elle from Brooklyn

To Amy - STAY AWAY! This is a recipe for a nightmare.

Jul. 26 2012 12:15 PM
Man Upstate

I recently invited a friend to spend the weekend at my place upstate. A few days before he was going to arrive, he stated: "Oh, I invited my friend (someone he'd just started dating) to come." Didn't ask if that was alright or if I'd mind. Houseguest Fail!

Jul. 26 2012 12:15 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

To Rebecca from Long Island

The whole purpose of the Jewish dietary laws was to separate Jews from Gentiles. If they couldn't break bread together, they probably wouldn't intermarry either. And the Israelites and Jews were supposed to be separate, but equal. Not to intermarry with Gentiles and thereby become lost as a a separate and unique people. Your husband should have known and explained in advance they wouldn't going to eat in your house and should have prepared a list of kosher restaurants or other places where they could eat. It would save you a lot of work too, not have to prepare anything to eat for them. And I bet the Israeli kids are pretty rumbunctious and noisy too, huh? I had and raised a kid in Israel. They can be pretty rough, rude in and your face.

Jul. 26 2012 12:12 PM
susan swiger from Morristown NJ

Visiting Cincinnati and my son and new daughter in law for three day weekend. During one evening we'll be going out to resturant for dinner with son, daughter in law and with her parents. Who should pay for dinner out? Should I pick up tab for her parents as well? susan

Jul. 26 2012 12:12 PM
William from Manhattan

My favorite quality in a host is one who is clear about the schedule for the day. I'm game to try almost anything, so if the host announces a plan for part of the day, that's great. But it is boring to sit about not knowing what expectations for the day are going to be.

Jul. 26 2012 12:06 PM
Amy from Montclair, NJ

What do you do if your children don't get along with your house guests' children?

Jul. 26 2012 12:04 PM
Rebecca from Long Island

My husband's brother's family recently visited us from Israel. There were eight of them, the youngest of whom is age 13, staying in our three bedroom house for a week. What complicated the situation is that they are a family of Orthodox Jews who keep Kosher and observe Jewish laws that my husband and I don't follow. I was raised Catholic but don't practice any religion now. I found it difficult and uncomfortable having house guests who, for the most part, could not eat the food I prepare or even use my dishes and cookware. As an Italian-American, preparing meals and serving them to guests is the basic equivalent of hospitality for me and I wasn't able to do those things. I found it frustrating that our guests were able to follow their traditions but the rituals and practices that I rely on as a good host were moot. I must say, my brother-in-law's family was gracious and they begged me not to feel badly about not being able to cook for them. I still found it uncomfortable, however. Any suggestions as to how I can cope better the next time I am in this situation?

Jul. 26 2012 12:02 PM
William from Manhattan

My wife and I have houseguests every summer, and we've come to appreciate specific qualities in our visitors.
Helping to cook is good, but offering to take charge of one dinner is fantastic.
Also, when feasible, it is wonderful when guests find things to do by themselves for a few hours each day. Much as we love our friends, having some time each day to get our own things done keeps us cheerful.
Finally, ask your host about laundry. If your hosts do it, they'll probably be grateful if you can do your sheets and towels and get them back to your room before you leave. If there is a housekeeper who does the beds, then taking your sheets to the laundry room may just mix up the sheets.

Jul. 26 2012 11:57 AM
Ann from Upper West Side

Please, please, please say something about people who don't reply to invitations and those who cancel at the last minute! They're the bane of my existence, and I'd purge them from the guest list except no one would be left. (I know this isn't exactly houseguests....)

Jul. 26 2012 11:32 AM
Mary from The East Village

This isn't as much a houseguest question as a "handling the relatives" question. My relatives who live outside the city consistently tell us that we can come over whenever we need to "get out of the city". While I understand that it's a welcoming invitation, it doesn't always come off that way, especially when it comes from relatives who don't like NYC and complain about people who live here. It's not easy for us to get out of the city without renting a car, going to a relatives' house in the burbs isn't quite "getting away" and frankly, I really like being in the city.

Am I just being touchy about this? Maybe "...and if you ever come into the city, just give me a call and we'll get dinner!" is the best response.

Jul. 26 2012 11:32 AM

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