11 ways to be a great host

By Caitlin Kelly

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After a long journey, time to relax…

Thanks to Jackie Cangro for the idea!

A few suggestions for those of you about to become a holiday host:

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No nagging, chivvying or political battles

Of all years, this is probably going to be the toughest for many of us. If you and your guests hold opposite political views, staying calm and civil is key. Garden-variety queries all guests dread — “So, why are you still single?” are bad enough!

Whatever it takes, try to avoid big arguments. Not much winning likely.

Private time!

Even the most social and extroverted among us need time to nap, rest, read, recharge. To just be alone for a while. Don’t feel rejected if someone needs it and don’t be shy about suggesting a few hours’ break from one another, every day.

A cheat sheet

Offer a sheet of paper with basic info: the home’s street address and phone numbers; nearby parks or running trails; an emergency contact; taxi numbers or the nearest gas station; directions to the nearest hospital, pharmacy and drugstore; how to work the coffee-maker and laundry facilities.

Anything guests need to know to stay safe and avoid creating inadvertent chaos.

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Thoughtful details: nice bath/shower gel or soap, bottles of cold water at bedside, setting a pretty table with a tablecloth, flowers and cloth napkins, a scented candle bedside, extras they might have forgotten or need (sanitary supplies, razors, diapers.)

Good guests really appreciate these.

A mini flashlight in their room

Especially helpful in a larger home, to navigate one’s way to the bathroom, on stairs or into the kitchen for a midnight snack.

A small basket of treats

Granola bars, crackers, some hard candy, almonds. We all get a bit hungry between meals.

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A selection of magazines

Nothing gloomy! Glossy shelter magazines always a safe bet.

Ask about and accommodate serious dietary preferences and allergies

Adding some half-and-half or a loaf of multi-grain bread won’t break the bank. If your guests have long lists of highly specific must-haves, it’s fair to ask them to bring some with them, (if traveling by car.)

If your guests are arriving with multiple ever-ravenous teenagers, maybe discuss splitting the grocery bill; it’s one thing to be a gracious host, but if your normal budget is already tight, don’t just seethe in silence at the need to keep buying more and more and more food.

A frank discussion about what you expect and all hope to accomplish: (lots of nothing? A tightly scheduled day?,  and at what speed

Few things are as grim as staying in a home that has vastly differing standards of cleanliness, timing, punctuality, tidiness, organization — even religiosity — than you do.

Some people are up at 5:00 a.m. every day on their Peloton or email while others’ notion of a holiday mean sleeping until noon. Do your best to coordinate schedules, at least for shared meals, then prepare to be easy-going and flexible.

A card in your room with your home’s wi-fi details and password

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The private home we stayed in in rural Nicaragua, while working for WaterAid. We felt deeply welcomed, and grateful for it!

A true sense of welcome

Most essential.

People know when their presence is really wanted and welcomed — and when it isn’t, (like the dirty cat litter box under my pull-out bed at one “friend’s” home and the empty fridge in another’s.)

If you really can’t bear having others staying in your home with you, (for whatever reason), don’t do it. It can be a difficult conversation and you may have to gin up some solid excuses (bedbug invasion?) but there are few experience as soul-searing (believe me!) as staying with someone — especially if your own home is a long expensive journey away — who doesn’t want you there.

How to be the guest they want to invite again…

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:

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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.

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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.

Tidy up!

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?

Don’t Kill The Cat! Ten Ways To Be A Great Houseguest

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Respect their nest! Image via Wikipedia

As the holidays approach, and hosts everywhere hope for the best, a few handy tips:

Don’t kill the cat, (or dog, or fish or parakeet.) I once rented a Parisian apartment, a tiny studio at the top of six (!) flights of stairs. It came with a cat. Within minutes of setting down my suitcase, the cat was gone. Where? I peered six stories down into the courtyard. Nope. Looked every-bloody-where. Asked a neighbor. Kitty had hidden under the duvet covering the sofa. Great. I might have sat on le maudit chat.

Whatever animal(s) come with your host’s home, treat them with kindness and care. Keep doors locked and windows closed when necessary.

Bring loot. It might be lovely soap, fine chocolate, wine, some CDs, a coffee table book. If you arrive empty-handed, be sure to send a gift or flowers within a few days after you leave. With your hand-written thank-you note, mailed. Even if your hosts are loaded and seem to have everything, you can come up with something they would enjoy.

Help out. This means you, missy. Even if you snooze ’til noon, you’re still fully capable of washing dishes, loading and unloading the dishwasher, sweeping the floor or wiping down the kitchen countertops. Not everyone is as haus-frau-y as me, and I do love a little housework, so I do windows, polish silver and even clean out fridges on occasion.

Buy meals. When you and your host(s) go out to eat or drink, pay for them. If you’re on a super-tight budget, do it anyway, at least once. Be thoughtful about their generosity in inviting you into their home. (i.e. you’re not paying to sleep there.)

Bring food and drink. Again, especially if your host(s) are on a budget, this means less of a drain on their scant resources. If you must consume something very specific (and/or expensive) — soy milk, quinoa, spelt, gluten-free bread? — bring it with you.

Sex. Don’t. Really, it’s just not that urgent. If you must, be quiet and tidy and don’t spend all day locked in your room. Whatever little treasures you enjoy at home, stash ’em when not in use. No matter how wildly in love/lust you are, limit the PDA. It can get a little scary.

No public grooming. Ever. Ever. That includes: shaving, flossing, plucking, picking, moisturizing, depilating, coloring, the noisy and disgusting trimming of your nails, filing/painting/unvarnishing your nails. No one needs to see, hear or smell these behaviors, however necessary.

Find a room and shut the door and do it there. Then tidy up.

Respect the space. Even if you think your host(s’) standards of housekeeping, design or cleanliness oddly high or low, it’s their place. If it’s really that dirty or gross, leave. If it’s so anally all-white-don’t-touch-the-sofa you’re scared to relax, ditto.

Ask about preferences and allergies. I almost ruined my friend’s job interview this week by starting to spray (a little) perfume on my wrists. Turns out she is wildly allergic and would have sneezed for hours.

Adjust your schedule. You don’t have to get up at 5:00 a.m. to meditate or jog with your host(s), but it’s their home and their life you’ve come to fit into for a few days or more. If you normally wake up especially late, make sure this isn’t going to pose a problem for them. Find out who needs the bathroom when and for how long. If you get up much earlier or stay up much later than they do, be quiet and considerate of others’ needs for silence and rest.

Staying with a friend or relative can be a lot of fun and a great way to get to know them better, and vice versa.

It can also, quickly and efficiently, forever kill even the best of relationships as people seethe, sulk and wonder whose idea this was exactly.

Give good guest!