The holidays are just around the corner, and for many of us, they involve traveling. Will you be bunking at someone’s home? Are you wondering if you need a refresher course on houseguest etiquette? Well, today’s your lucky day! Not only do I travel quite a bit, I’m also an innkeeper of sorts, since my house happens to be a popular lodging spot for out-of-town family and friends. With the benefit of all this knowledge, I’ve put together a room-by-room, 5-step guide on how to be the perfect houseguest. No need to thank me. I consider it a public service. Now, pack your bags and let’s begin our journey…
#5. The Front Door (Don’t be cheap)
We all know you should never show up empty-handed to a dinner party. But did you know that when you’re a houseguest, your arms should be so loaded that you have to ring the doorbell with your nose? Its true!
What should you bring? Well, if your hosts don’t have small children, then it’s appropriate to bring something for the house such as a bottle of wine, fine chocolates, a gourmet food basket, a Vitamix Professional Series 750… Sometimes people bring a more personal gift, strictly for the hostess, something like a bath set consisting of expensive shower gel, body scrub, body lotion, perfume and body oil in the Bobbi Brown Beach fragrance, or anything from the Fresh brand of products (available at Sephora), or jewels. You know…stuff like that will surely be appreciated. And no, I am not hinting here at all. I swear!
If your hosts have children, you must, must, must bring something for them! It’s important to be on the children’s good side if you have any hopes of enjoying your stay. For children in the baby/toddler stages, you can bring a cute outfit. If they’re older, nothing but toys will do. A five-year-old welcomes a sensible sweater only slightly more than a poke in the eye. And choose that toy wisely, or you might end up with mashed potatoes in your shoes or “short sheets” on the bed. Which brings us to…
#4. The Bedroom (Don’t be a slob)
Whether your hosts give you a spacious annex with a king-size bed (a/k/a The Presidential Bungalow) or stick you on an air mattress in the basement next to the washing machine (a/k/a The Bob Cratchit Suite), know that:
a. it’s the best they have to offer
b. they’re saving you a bundle on hotels
c. beggars can’t be choosers
Regardless of where you end up, you will coo, “This is perfect! Thank you so much!”
While occupying that space, you should make the bed every morning. Yup, you heard me. Show some respect for your host by keeping your room tidy. And put your clothes away. If you don’t have a closet or dresser in which to put your garments, then contain everything to your suitcase. You wouldn’t want your host tripping over your stuff if she needs to go into your room for some totally innocent reason…not for snooping, naturally.
And for god’s sake do not put your wet towels on the furniture!!!! Moisture and wood go together like pancakes and nail polish remover, while wet towels and mattresses make for musty bedfellows. Hang them in the bathroom.
At the end of your stay, ask for clean sheets so you can strip and remake the bed. You should then deposit your used linens and towels in the laundry room. Make your mother proud by taking this added work off your hosts’ shoulders. Assuming they are hospitable, they’ve probably done enough for you already. And if you’ve been under their roof for more than three days, you might already be pushing your luck. So this small gesture will be warmly welcomed.
#3. The Bathroom (Don’t be disgusting)
The potential for grossness resides no place more intensely than in the bathroom. If you have the luxury of a private bath, you have a little more latitude, but don’t get carried away. This is not carte blanche to leave globs of hair gel all over the floor or neglect to flush (I’ve seen it all.). At some point, someone will have to clean that bathroom. Don’t make them hate you. I’m serious!
If you have to share the bathroom with your host’s family or other guests, you must be even more diligent. Vanities and countertops should not be littered with your junk. Pack a toiletries kit and take it with you when you enter and exit. Capice?
If something has “happened” and the “situation” requires you to scrub the toilet, please do so – including under the rim and seat. Not kidding. I see no need to plunge any deeper into this subject. I’m sure you get the picture, and I will spare you by not posting one as an example. You’re welcome.
The best way to be sure you’re doing the bathroom thing correctly is to make a game out of it. Think of it as a crime scene and you are the perp. Before making your getaway, remove any DNA evidence that could place you in that room – rinse your toothpaste out of the sink, wipe off the counters, look for stray hairs…
And while we’re on the subject of hair, let’s get something straight: unless a hair is attached to a human body, it is gag-worthy. Following your daily ablutions, look around. Ladies, are your lush locks adorning the shower walls? Gents, did you leave the bar of soap looking like a Chia Pet? Are your follicles in the sink or on the floor? They are? Excuse me for a moment while I retch.
If you’ve used a water glass while brushing your teeth, please return it to…
#2. The Kitchen (Get out and stay out)
The kitchen is the heart of a house, and while it may be the place where everyone gathers, remember that it is also sacrosanct to the person who owns it. I don’t know any serious cook (male or female) who is not possessive and controlling when it comes to his or her kitchen. So don’t insinuate yourself there.
If you’d like to repay your hosts by treating them to a meal, take them out to dinner or pick up some take-out. If you’re unwilling to do either, I’m wondering how you got invited in the first place. But if you are that kind of houseguest, there are other ways to repay someone for their hospitality without opening your moth-infested wallet: offer to help make the salad, set the table, fill the water glasses or take out the garbage. If you are incapable of performing any of those tasks, please lose my number.
But let’s say you’re pretty handy in the kitchen and think that your hosts will be overjoyed if you surprise them by whipping up a meal without their permission – you envision their wide-eyed gratitude when they wake up to the smell of a gruyere frittata in the oven, bacon crackling in a pan on the stove, coffee perking away…
STOP! This scenario only plays out successfully in the movies. Why? Because on a movie set, a trained chef is baking that frittata in something other than the host’s prized $300 professional-grade skillet that no one is allowed to touch (or even gaze upon), and an entire crew is busy wiping grease from the stovetop, sweeping crumbs off the floor, polishing surfaces, etc. In the movies, when the hosts glide into the kitchen (looking artfully tousled and rosy-cheeked), the table is laid with fresh-squeezed juice, a gentle curl of steam wafts off a basket of hot fluffy muffins, the pinkest of pink grapefruits gleam in the sunlight and, most importantly, there is not a dirty dish, or a crumb, nor a smear anywhere in sight.
Now, here’s what happens in real life: Your hosts stumble into the kitchen, hung-over from the night before. They are visibly annoyed that someone has roused them at an ungodly hour by slamming cabinets and clanging cookware. And as they peer through their half-opened, puffy eyes, they see is that you have violated their space. You’ve used the sacred skillet. You’ve cut the grapefruit directly on their $11,000 limestone countertop (the acid of which has left an indelible scar – not to mention the deep gash from the once perfectly-honed knife that you have forever ruined), everything is covered in a layer of sticky, and to top it all off, they don’t even like frittata. Grateful? That won’t be the first word that pops into their heads.
Think I’m exaggerating? Let me tell you a little story…
There once was a woman, from New Jersey, who had her kitchen completely remodeled (let’s call her Martha). To show it off, she decided to throw a bridal shower for her niece. During the party, one of the guests (who we’ll call Nimrod) took a metal meat mallet to a bag of ice, smashing it on the brand new granite countertops (granite which Martha personally and lovingly selected on a road trip to a quaint little quarry deep in the heart of Vermont). We all suspected something was wrong with Nimrod, as she kept announcing having “to pee” about every 10 minutes. Turns out, she was neither pregnant nor diabetic. Instead, Nimrod was sneaking off to shove cocaine up her nose – giving new meaning to “visiting the powder room.” While that might explain her moronic and potentially calamitous maneuver, it certainly does not excuse it. And that bring us to…
#1. All Remaining Rooms of the House (Don’t be a hot mess)
If you cannot control your liquor, then by all means, lay off the sauce while you’re a guest in someone else’s house. And I think it goes without saying that you should leave all your bongs, ghanja, ruffles, etc. at home as well.
If you keep your head on straight, chances are excellent that you will not break anything, throw up on the heirloom Oriental, cause a lot of commotion by getting arrested, or spoil everyone’s good time by requiring CPR during your stay. After all, you want to be invited back, don’t you?
That’s all there is to it, friends. Follow my 5 simple rules and you’ll be the kind of guest that everyone will be fighting over (No, I want her to stay with me!), rather than the one everyone will be fighting over (She still has not reimbursed me for that bail money!)
As Gandhi probably should have said, but didn’t, “Be the guest you want to see in your own house.” And…um…don’t forget that Vitamix.
Related article: Giving & Thanking, A Modern Guide To Thanksgiving Etiquette