When is it OK to give etiquette hints to son's girlfriend?

We recently invited our son's girlfriend of 2+ years to join us for a family road trip up the coast for a few days.  They are both 19 and living at their respective homes now that colleges are closed. She is in our bubble so she comes over to our house a couple of times a week.  She is very shy. She doesn't have many friends and she rarely says anything. I like her -- she's sweet and she knows a lot about a wide variety of different topics, so she's interesting to talk to if you can pry conversation out of her.  But there are couple of things about her that are bugging me that came to the forefront on the trip, to the point that I'm not sure if I'd invite her on another trip.

Number one problem is BO. Just plain old overpowering underarm BO, not other types of stinky.  She's kind of a hippy. I don't think she believes in deodorant and she doesn't seem to shower or change her clothes all that often, even if it's been hot for a few days. I can keep my distance when she comes over to the house, but being closed up in a car with her for 3 hours was pretty unpleasant. 

Number two: She never, ever thanks us for anything. Not for the many dinners she's joined us for, not for inviting her on our weekend getaway. She isn't a bother at all, and she always helps out if I ask her to, but it seems like she doesn't know she's supposed to thank the host. A couple of times at dinner after my kids have said "that was great, mom!" I've prompted her with "did you like the ___?" and she just chirps "mm-hmm!"

She was raised by a single dad and I don't know him very well, but I gather they are close and she has always had a lot of independence and responsibility.  While she is extremely introverted, she is also adventurous and is the kind of person who does her own thing regardless of what others may think. I admire this, but I feel like she's young, and she ought to have a few basic etiquette tools at hand for future interactions with humans and career prospects. I could ask my son to mention it to her, but I dislike the idea of discussing her personal habits with him, and besides he clearly has no problem with it. So ... what would you do? Play the mom card? Or drop hints to my son and hope he picks up on it and relays it to her?

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ooh, tough one.

Re the BO, I would be frank with my son that this is making her unpleasant to be around, which is so sad because you really like her.  It's got to be an issue for her socially, and it will certainly be an issue when she is looking for a job (assuming that one day there will be in-person employment).  I'd ask my son whether he wants to bring it up with her, or if he would rather you did, and if the latter, if he has any ideas for how you do it.  You could also ask him if she has allergies or some medical problem. Heck, you could ask her that. From your description, she sounds like the kind of person you could be pretty frank with.  Or you could try a sitcom type solution where none of the rest of the family bathes or changes clothes for a few days, and then you invite her over and see if she gets the hint. 

The 'thank you' thing is hard.  Maybe I say that just because I've had the same issue with my stepson, who is in his late 30s. You practically need to put him in a headlock and give him a noogie in order to get a thank you out of him.  He's oblivious to even the broadest hint; for example, when he and his family are leaving after we've given them a lavish meal, I'll say "thanks for coming over" -- rather than responding "thank you for having me, it was great," he'll say "You're welcome."  (When you ask him how the meal was, he says "fine.") You could try telling her, hey, the cook needs some love! Tell me great that meal was!  Or announce "whoever says the best thank you gets out of cleanup duty."  On the vacation front, we've had a similar issue with my younger son's girlfriend.  We paid for her car to be repaired (out of partly selfish motives so that our son wasn't doing all the driving for the two of them) and kind of expected a thank you. But nope. When we asked her how the car was running, we were told it was fine.  OK.  You feel bad, because you aren't doing it for the big thank you, but still... It may be that she doesn't think to thank you because she feels so much a part of your family? 

Good luck!

Unfortunately, I don’t know if it ever ends up being welcome or productive for the person in the “mother-in-law” type position to offer this kind of feedback. I would be irked, too, by the things you mention, but it may be best to just appreciate her positive aspects (and they sound admirable), and to accept her as she is. Even if it might benefit her in some situations to make the adaptations you’d like to see, the advice should probably not come from you (directly or indirectly). Your son and her girlfriend may well be hurt to know you feel this way, and the offense will likely not be forgotten easily. It sounds to me not worth the potential feelings of rejection/judgment. 

My rule of thumb is more compliments than criticisms. Five times as many if possible. So start by complimenting her. She has many good qualities that you list in your post. You can mention those. This will build a stronger relationship with her. Then choose one critical thing that you want her to work on. Tell her gently and privately. Listen to any response she has. Then drop it. If things improve, do it all over. Start with compliments again and so on. Each cycle may take a week or a month. Don't rush. Be kind. 

Yep, a tough one. My son, also an extreme introvert, also has trouble saying thank you. He is effusive with just our little family, particularly after meals, but even close friends and extended family will rarely hear a solid 'thank you'. He hates having attention drawn to him when in a group, and won't speak much at all [in the group] except when asked a direct question. Is it possible that the GF falls into that category? If so, the idea of asking for appreciation doesn't seem too out of line. It would certainly help my son if someone humorously said to him something like "Hey, wasn't that meal terrific? I thrive on appreciation, so hand it over please!" 

As for the BO, I think if you can't get your son to get her to take more showers [maybe they'd enjoy that!], then you need to grin and bear it. Pressure your own kid if you need to. :-)

I agree with the advice about asking your son if the BO bothers him and whether he would be comfortable bringing it up with her. And maybe a conversation about how you hope you have done a good job in teaching him manners and that you trust he thanks people when they are hosting or paying and then lead into a conversation about how you notice that the GF doesn't say thank you very often and that you wish she would.  It reminds me of when I was 20 (I am now 61) and I went to stay with my boyfriend's family during the summer.  I shudder when I think back on how afraid I was to speak to even ask questions about some of the household expectations. I was terribly shy and didn't say much mostly because I lacked confidence and was so afraid of doing/saying something wrong, and I wanted so badly to be liked by his parents. I think if my boyfriend's parents had said something to him about my actions and he spoke to me about it, I would have been terribly embarrassed but happy to know. It can be a difficult situation because young people are not always that willing to have an open conversation that might be uncomfortable for them. My daughter's boyfriend stayed with us one summer and he let her pay for everything when they went out. His rationale was that we gave her an allowance but his parents did not, so she had money. He couldn't say he didn't have money because they were both working as camp counselors. She just always wound up offering to pay but complained to me. I tried to talk with him about it in a very open conversation about different people's relationship with money, reciprocation in paying when dating, etc. I felt he was too reluctant to express his views and I have no idea what he thought about what I said, so I was just having a one sided talk. Certainly if your son's girlfriend is more conversant, you could share some of your views, maybe as 3-person anecdotal stories of someone else not saying thank you or having BO. I'll never forget that at my wedding 30 years ago my maid of honor's husband, who never wore deodorant and was dancing up a storm on the dance floor, was later remembered by all of our friends as "the guy who didn't wear deodorant"!