How Not to Be ‘That’ House Guest
A friend of mine called recently in a bit of a huff. “You should write a column,” he started out, which is how many of my conversations with friends frustrated with this or that at home begin, “on what more houseguests need to know.”
My friend is a widower who lives part time at his second home at the beach, where he has a steady stream of company. Apparently, many assume that a man alone at a beach house must be in want of guests. He’s not.
“I mean doesn’t everyone know the three-day rule?” He asks, referring to the maxim that after three days both guests and fish start to stink.
Apparently not, because a couple he knew had just told him they would like to come for a week. “Oh, I did my best to dissuade them,” he said. “I told them about my two cats and ornery dog, the limited restaurant options …”
They came anyway, with their dog. He endured. They’re still friends.
But his story reminded me how touchy this guest business can be, and reminded me of my own bad behavior. Recently, following a ladies’ neighborhood get together, my husband asked how it went. “Great!” I said. “I ate too much and talked too much. I might never be invited back, but I had a great time!”
What I lack in self-restraint, I make up for in self-awareness.
Shortly afterward, I invited the same gals to my house for a quick meet and greet to welcome a new neighbor. The happy-hour reception started at 5 p.m. My friends didn’t leave till 11 p.m., which I took as a compliment. However, what was funny to us, wasn’t to our husbands. Mine had sequestered himself upstairs for what he thought might be an hour or two and thought he’d never get out. Another drove by to make sure his wife hadn’t been kidnapped.
The runaway evening prompted one guest to drop by the next day with a set of paper cocktail napkins that read, “Please leave by 9.”
“You need these,” she said. We cracked up.
Hosts want to be gracious. Guests want to be considerate. But the success of any host-guest get together depends on many unwritten (though we’re going to write them here) rules.
And so, as a public service just ahead of the holiday season, and on behalf of all the long-suffering hosts out there who are too well-mannered to tell their guests what they’d like to, and because I am a huge advocate of opening our homes for entertaining, I am presenting here a list of 15 gentle reminders for future overnight guests to note.
To compile the list, I tapped the two deepest wells of knowledge I know, the savvy, sophisticated women in my book club, all consummate entertainers, and my Facebook friends. They embraced the task, and came up with this collective wisdom on how not to be that guest.
1. Ask don’t assume. Don’t just say, “Hey, I’m coming.” Mention you are looking to come to town, then wait to be invited. If you hear radio silence, book a room.
2. Be clear about your timing. “Don’t be loosey-goosey with your arrival and departure schedule,” said one friend. “It matters for meals, and planning.” Hosts have lives, too.
3. Don’t arrive early. Don’t overstay.
4. Don’t count on a ride. With the easy availability of Uber and Lyft, don’t expect your hosts to provide a courtesy airport shuttle. The exception is elderly family or friends who don’t use ride apps.
5. Mind your shoes. Not everyone wants your shoes in their homes. Ask when you enter what the host prefers, or look around the entryway to see whether others have removed their shoes.
6. Mind your own business. Don’t snoop. Don’t go into personal areas. Don’t rummage through the medicine chest to cure whatever ails you. And don’t look in your host’s pantry, then tell her how much sugar is in her food.
7. Take your stuff home. Don’t leave behind your personal toiletries (your face cream, your toothbrush) in a guest bathroom, or your clothing in the guest closet, so “it will be there next time you visit.” Uhh, your hosts may have visitors other than you.
8. Don’t say you’re up for anything when you’re really not. Plan some activities you would like, so your host isn’t responsible for your entertainment.
9. Pitch in. Set and clear the table. Do the dishes. Offer to cook. Buy groceries. Ask how you can help. Add value.
10. Be neat. Don’t leave your stuff lying around the house.
11. Speak up about your diet issues. “I’m over guests who don’t say they have food allergies or aversions,” one friend said. “Then when the meal you prepare or the food you bought isn’t something they can eat, they say, ‘Oh, but I didn’t want to be difficult,’ because then they are!”
12. Don’t commandeer the home. Be respectful. Don’t change the TV news channel to your news channel. Don’t clean out cabinets, or reorganize the dishes in the dishwasher because you like your way better. Don’t put your host’s clothes in the dryer because you need the washer. Get it?
13. Be sensitive to morning routines. If you’re up early, and your host isn’t, keep the noise down, and make your own coffee. Leave or make some for them, too.
14. Deal with your dirty laundry. Hang up your wet towels. Ask before you leave whether your host would like you to strip or make the bed, because you’re not going to leave the bed unmade with dirty sheets, right?
15. Be good company. Knowing that the person who talks the most has the best time, ask your hosts about their lives. Listen more, talk less, and everyone wins.
CAPTION: Funny, Not Funny ─ If your guests tend to stay late, and you have to be to work early, you may want to keep a stash of these meant-to-be-a-joke-sort-of cocktail napkins on hand. Photo courtesy of Marni Jameson.