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

House Sparrow
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!

Turkey, Stuffing, Drrrrrrrama! Home For The Holidays And All Those Smoldering Resentments

WASHINGTON - NOVEMBER 20:  A turkey named 'May...
He's not the only one getting carved up...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Admit it, the very thought of heading home for Thanksgiving — let alone Christmas or Hanukah — fills some of us, perhaps many of us, with utter freaking dread. Dread!

I’ve spent the past two days talking two dear friends, both women, one with a father-in-law from hell, one with a Dad-from-hell, off the window ledge. As someone who’s also fled her own family, even on Christmas Day itself, once driving like a bat out of hell to rural Pennsylvania where a dear friend’s family took me in, I get it. I’ve already arranged for one of these women to come to our own dysfunctional little menage for Christmas dinner so she can flee her Dad’s drumbeat of criticism. This is a woman who’s gorgeous, brilliant, kind and lectures to academic conferences all over the world. Her fatal flaw? No husband.

Even poor old Bailey on “Grey’s Anatomy” last night got lambasted — at the Thanksgiving dinner table yet — by her own Dad.

Gotta love the holidays. All regression, all the time! Because I’m Canadian and my sweetie’s family lives far away and we’re not that close, we head to friends’ homes each year for Thanksgiving.

We’re thinking of starting a new business, being mid-career journos in a dying field as it is. Rent-A-Guest. Seriously! We’ve got terrific stories: flying on Air Force One, meeting the Queen, dancing with Nureyev — and, most important, we’re really distracting! Want to cut off those pesky, predictable and inevitable questions: “when are you guys finally having kids/getting a new house/job/boyfriend/girlfriend/losing weight”? Make sure you’ve got a few funny, anecdote-laden pals with no emotional ties to anyone at the table. Think of us as your psychic sponges.

Here’s a funny, too-true piece from The New York Times about how hellish the holidays can be. Think it hit a nerve? Oh, yeah — the Times cut off comments after 162 people weighed in. In less than two days.