By Caitlin Kelly
It’s the season of invitations — to a summer share, a beach house, a cottage. Maybe you’re finally meeting the parents.
While it’s lovely to be invited into someone’s home, it’s also a potential minefield of hurt feelings and unexpressed emotion. We’ve stayed with friends many times, most of whom live in fairly tight quarters, so being considerate and tidy really make a difference.
“You’re so low maintenance!” said one grateful hostess. We try!
A few ways to leave a good-to-great impression on your hosts:
When they ask about your dietary preferences, remember — it’s not a full-service restaurant
Some people have genuine allergies that are life-threatening and others simply have a realllllly long list of their very strong preferences. If you absolutely must have a specific food or drink, bring it with you. It’s rude to impose your individual will on a larger group of people gathered for a good time; when we stayed with friends who served steak for dinner, but invited a vegetarian friend, he happily joined us and ate only vegetables.
Be a good sport. It’s their home!
One of our hosts insisted we wear slippers (or bare feet) to keep the floors clean. No biggie, as they had a huge basket of nice clean slippers by the door. Everyone has their quirks and habits.
Sex? Keep it fully private and really quiet
No, I’m not a prude. Ask any host about the worst guests they ever had, and the screamers and moaners will likely top the list. It’s great you’re so deeply in love (or lust), but sharing space with people you might not know very well is neither the time nor place to enjoy a noisy sexual marathon.
If you’re bringing your children and/or pets, have a full and frank discussion before arriving about what your hosts need and expect from them, and you
Just because you adore them and find their 300-decibel shrieking/barking normal/charming doesn’t mean it is. People who have chosen to “get away” are hoping to flee their everyday stresses, not add new and fresh hells to their time off.
Buy groceries, pay for them or split food/drink costs with your host
Ditto for taking them out for a few very good meals. Even if one dinner costs you $150, that’s less than a decent hotel room in many spots at high season.
Bring a gift
Never arrive empty-handed. A great bottle of wine, some beautiful soap, a lovely coffee table book on a topic you know your hosts will enjoy. On our most recent visit we offered a set of gorgeous Laguiole steak knives; the ones we brought were different colors than these ones, but very welcomed. The one before that we gave our hosts a small handmade pottery serving dish.
Detach from, or put away, your electronics
While many of us now spend ours day on social media, time away with friends or relatives means enjoying (or trying to!) actual face to face conversation, in the house, walking through the woods or wandering the beach. Everyone needs and deserves quiet private time, but focus on the people who’ve invited you, not only your technology and distant amusements. And no phones at the table!
Write a thank-you note, on paper, and send it within a week
Sure, you can email and people probably expect nothing more. But choose a pretty card or use your personal stationery and highlight the things you most enjoyed.
No one writes thank-you notes anymore?
Polite people who want to be invited back do.
Help out wherever you can
Wash dishes or cook a meal or walk the dog or baby-sit for a few hours. Maybe you can help mow the lawn or weed the garden. They’ll probably say no, but might well appreciate the offer. It’s a home, not a hotel.
Avoid all public grooming
I once stayed with a younger friend who sat on the sofa watching television with his wife — while both of them flossed their teeth. To me, a more private person, it was just gross. You may walk around your own home clipping, cleaning or polishing your nails or brushing your teeth in transit, but in someone else’s space please keep all of it within the confines of a bathroom with a closed door. No one wants to see or hear the evidence of your later stunning public appearance.
Bring your own beauty, health and grooming supplies
If the place you’re visiting is miles from the nearest store, and you must have some essential item, be sure to buy it and bring it with you. No one wants to ruin their host’s plans with last-minute dashes for basics. Yes, they might have it, but — (tampons, diapers, nursing pads, Neosporin, etc.) — they might not.
No matter how welcome and relaxed you feel, pick up after yourself — coffee cups, dishes, newspapers, towels, sand-filled sneakers, wet bathing suits…
Bring a small flashlight
Perfect for midnight runs to the kitchen or toilet or while navigating unfamiliar stairs or paths. Our trusty headlamp has proven so handy so many times!
Avoid arguments — with your spouse/partner and your host(s)
Seems obvious. Some couples bicker as easily and normally as they breathe which can make less contentious people uncomfortable. Nor is a shared dinner table the best place to argue your views on gun control or other sensitive matters. Relaxation is the order of business, not sharing your deeply felt and hotly argued views on economic policy.
Do you enjoy being a guest?
What other tips would you offer a guest — or host?
8 thoughts on “How to be the guest they want to invite again…”
I think you’re one of my favorite people in the universe right now, perfect list… and those Day-Lewis cookbooks would make an excellent gift, love how they are a mix of memoir and recipes.
Wow. Thanks! 🙂
That cookbook is one of my favorites. I’ve made a few of the recipes and really like them. It even has a red ribbon to mark your place.
i do enjoy being a guest, and having guests, as long as they are thoughtful, just as i try my best to be. your advice is excellent and seems like most should be doing this, though i know from experience not everyone adheres to such an approach. it is not good for either party if a visit is stressful and you’re right, it is highly unlikely there will be a return invitation in those cases. you are so good with practical and very real world advice, caitlin, i think perhaps you should have an advice column of some sort. a modern, intelligent, and clever ‘dear abby’ type –
I bet you’re a great guest! I’m always very grateful for hospitality — and we’ll be staying with friends and family for our vacation next week.
I’d love to have an advice column…have never thought of pitching one, though.
Good ideas. Do I like being a guest? Depends on the host. I find lately it’s just too hard to be a good guest between my son w/the peanut allergy and figuring out where to leave our dog, so we tend to minimize staying at people’s houses as much as possible. Sometimes if it’s driving distance I try to just stay for a long day rather than an overnight. I also find I have a mental limit of a few days of being displaced and away from all my stuff or my space and usually the host is the same …so I guess the only additional tip is to pay attention to non-verbal cues and not overstay your welcome 🙂
It really depends, too, on how welcoming your host is. Some people really love having guests (we do, even with a one bedroom apt.) and others make clear that others are an imposition. I do love hotels, but it adds up to a lot of $$$$. If someone has a larger space and a proper guest bedroom (and even a bathroom) that really helps.
I just had a sister for 2 weeks in my 1-bedroom condo. Being sisters, some of the best behavior manners were excused, but mostly not. It’s been decades since we co-habitated and she and I have very different styles of living. I cook, she doesn’t. She is an extremely finicky eater. So, B’fast and lunch was up to the individual and on the nights I didn’t feel like making a dinner (of whatever she will actually eat more than 2 bites of), she was welcome to graze on whatever she found in the kitchen. We took turns sleeping on the couch and set a bathroom use routine. I cleared out a drawer in my dresser and in the bathroom for her and set aside two weeks of my priorities to spend time with her. She paid for groceries and gas (she also doesn’t drive), spoiled the hell out of my cat and took the daily phone arguments with the hubby back home outside. She routinely trumped me at cards every night, but that’s another story.
Sounds like you worked it out well!
We are now on vacation, and seven of our days are with friends or relatives, so it’s game on.