Be a Good House Guest

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

When visiting the home of another person, whether they're close family, more distant relatives, friends or colleagues, demonstrating your appreciation is important. It could mean the difference between a smooth stay or never being invited again! Here are some general tips on making the stay pleasant for both yourself and your hosts.

A rrive when you say you will arrive.

* Be specific with dates. Don't keep your visit open-ended.


Just arrived, tired but punctual!

Just arrived, tired but punctual!

Don't turn up earlier. This is the worst thing you can do as your host may not be ready for you and it could inconvenience them considerably. If, for some unforeseen reason, you caught an earlier connection or you had an extra day's vacation and you'd like to arrive earlier, call them first. If they sound hesitant, tell them that you'd rather leave the plans as originally decided and find something else to do with your extra time. This will also depend on who you're staying with; mom and dad probably won't mind at all but a friend or colleague might be in the middle of work or social arrangements that could be very difficult to change.

* Equally, don't saunter in the day after you said you'd arrive. This can really upset some hosts, who worry about what might have happened to you or are put out because they may have rearranged their schedules to accommodate you. This fills the air with bad vibes. Again, if you are delayed for any reason, call them and explain. They'll understand, but only if you've given good reasons why.

Don't overstay your visit. Your hosts are not on vacation like you are, and even though have graciously welcomed you into their home, have probably spent an excess of their time and money with extra food and drink, utilities, rearranging their normal routine and the like.

Bring a gift to say thank you at the outset. Arriving with something as a way of thanking your hosts in advance is a thoughtful and caring gesture. It demonstrates your appreciation of their caring contribution in making your stay a good one. Considerate, inexpensive gifts include: a bottle of wine, a box of chocolates, a basket of fruit or flowers. If you don't want to carry anything extra, have it delivered just in advance of your arrival.

Keep your guest area neat. Do not roll your suitcase inside the home. Take care not to soil the carpet or bedspread with oil, salt, or grime from the bottom of your suitcase. If provided, use a suitcase stand. Make your bed before appearing for breakfast. Keep your suitcase and belongings as unobtrusive as possible - especially if the room is visible to your hosts in passing by. Just shutting the door to a messy room is not an option. If you are given a sofa bed in a living area, it is especially important to arise when your hosts do, and accept that others have to live in the house, too. Make up your bed and tuck your suitcase out of the way to keep the common space neat. If you need closet space, always ask permission first.

Be reasonable about sharing a household bathroom. If the house only has one bathroom, ask when it is convenient for you to use it. If the family is working, going to school, etc., the last thing you want to be doing is getting underfoot. Come to an arrangement as soon as you arrive and be flexible about the use. Consideration is also expected if you are sleeping in a living area near the only bathroom; remember, others may need to use it after you go to bed. If there are more bathrooms, make sure that you use the one allocated to you and treat the other bathrooms as private.

* If towels are not placed out for you in the guest room, don't presume that the fancy towels in a shared bathroom are for you. Politely inquire, "What towels would you like me to use?" If you are provided a guest bathroom, still keep it neat and always hang the towels up in an orderly manner.

Don't keep the hosts up late. It doesn't matter how long it has been since you last saw them, or how many exciting stories you have to tell them. Let your hosts get to bed for a decent night's rest. You may be feeling so excited at seeing them that you don't even notice your own exhaustion from traveling, so it will benefit you to go to bed at a reasonable hour, too. Likewise, don't sleep in and make your host family tiptoe around you. The yachting rule is: When the Captain is up, everybody is up.

Always offer to help at mealtimes. There is nothing more debilitating than having guests who sit around waiting expectantly for all meals. This is when a stay crosses over from being homey to like being in a hotel. It doesn't mean crowding the host out of the kitchen, but it does mean collecting plates, carrying out dishes, offering to wash up or stack the dishwasher, cleaning off the counters, and taking the garbage out. You could even offer to cook a meal or two yourself. If you're not sure what to do, ASK! Even if the host may say "nothing", insist that you do at least one thing. Very few hosts can say no to this offer!

Offer to make contributions. Even if you're not eating at your host's home, offer to purchase the groceries (after all, you still need their toilet paper!). This is usually the most burdensome additional cost for your hosts. Remember that they have probably already been shopping for extra groceries and spent a considerable amount of time and money to get ready for your visit. You could either bankroll their next supermarket trip (and it's nice if you accompany them, too) or you could offer to go out and buy things for both yourself and for them (ask them for a list). For longer stays, assisting with the grocery bill is crucial! Remember, you're getting free accommodations! Even for shorter visits such as a weekend, at least offer to take your hosts out for dinner. It should be the restaurant of their choice, although if you suggest it the right way, they'll also be deciding on a restaurant featuring local cuisine that they think will impress you as a visitor.

Do your own laundry. Don't be embarrassed about asking whether it is okay to do your laundry at your host's place. They understand that after a few days you'll have dirty underwear. Don't make the request sound like you're hoping they might add your laundry to their laundry chores. And never presume that the washing machine or dryer is available; always ask your host when the most convenient time is for you to do your laundry, emphasizing that you don't want to cut into the household's normal routine. If this means spending a weekday morning at the house doing laundry instead of visiting a museum, well, so be it.

Entertain yourself. Your hosts are offering you their home but not necessarily their time. Let your hosts make it clear whether or not they have the time to take you to places or to spend entire evenings with you. They may have work to finish at home, they may have work during the daytime, or other commitments. Don't presume that you can rely on their generosity to drive you to places or to show you around. Be prepared to catch public transportation and taxis. They'll probably be able to help you find a timetable or the nearest bus depot or subway line. Alternately, rent a car for yourself, especially if you plan on seeing many of the local sights, or if you are more active than your hosts. Your hosts may have already visited the sights many times before, especially if they live in a tourist-destination town.

Be home on time. Unless you have made a clear arrangement with your hosts that you'll be coming and going as and when you please, give your hosts an idea of when you'll return. If your hosts are providing you with an evening meal, be there at least half an hour before meal time. This gives you time to assist with the meal, help set the table or carry out other household chores. If you're late for a meal, call first and explain. Better yet, if you've been out sightseeing all day, and know that you'll be home late, don't come home hungry, assuming that your host is waiting to feed you. Have dinner while you're out, or bring dinner home with you, (pizza will do!) and bring enough for your hosts. Be extra quiet on arriving back late and if given a key, use it. Then, turn out the lights.

Be careful about internet and phone usage. If you need to use the internet or phone at your host's home, ask them first if this is okay with them. Ask them if they have dial-up or broadband and if your usage for a certain amount of time will cost anything. If there are costs involved (especially with long-distance calls), offer to leave payment. Better yet, use your cell phone. Regardless of the financial implications, sitting on the internet all night is just plain rude. Be thoughtful and just check your e-mails, your favorite updates and then shut down and return to the conversation. If using your host's computer, don't access any questionable websites that may invite viruses, undesirable email spam or worse (you know what I mean!)

Leave a thank you gift on your departure. Again, nothing expensive, just a small token of appreciation to show that you appreciated their hospitality. Flowers, a bottle of wine, fresh berries or a hand-written card are nice tokens. Do your homework, and try to choose something that you know they will like.

Strip your bedclothes on leaving. You're not staying in a hotel and your host has to wash the sheets (and towels) when you leave. Make it easier by removing sheets, pillow cases and any other linens. Place them in a neat pile on the foot of the bed. Better yet, start washing them for your host. After all, they'll have to do it after you leave anyway. You've probably been washing your own clothes during your stay, so you'll be familiar with using the washer and dryer. If you're staying long enough that your sheets require washing during your stay, do them yourself and remake your own bed. Does your host use a housecleaning service? You may even offer to contribute to the cost of cleaning after you leave.

Leave quietly and thoughtfully. If you have to leave really early in the morning, say your farewells the night before. If you're departing late at night or early in the morning, book your own transportation. Do not expect the host to run you to the airport/bus station unless the host suggests it. If you leave when the hosts are at work or out, make sure you have made prior arrangements to leave the keys somewhere safe and that you're sure how to lock the place up properly. If your host offers to provide your transportation, at least pay for their gas! With gas at around $4.50 (U.S.) a gallon, a good rule of thumb is to give at least $20.00 (U.S.) Offer more if it's a long drive. Remember, it's a round trip drive for your host. It's still no doubt cheaper for you than a shuttle or a taxi, and should not be at your host's expense.

The Golden Rule: Don't outstay your welcome. A short stay is a pleasant stay and leaves everyone feeling good about each other. As Ben Franklin once said, "Guests, like fish, begin to stink after three days."

Send a thank you note. Send a small card or an e-card to say thanks when you return home. Yes, it's a lot of thank-you's but it's polite to acknowledge the fact that your hosts opened their home to you, and it keeps the potential open for a repeat stay when the stay is remembered amicably by all.

* If you have special dietary needs, bring your own food. Offer to take care of your own special dietary needs and be clear about what this means by way of food preparation. Your host may ask for recipes; be diligent in providing these promptly. However, be ready to prepare them yourself. If you couldn't bring the items with you, ask your host where you can purchase them.

* At times, with certain differences between your lifestyle and your hosts', you may feel like you're treading on tiptoes, but remember, it should be possible to reach a tolerant arrangement for a comfortable stay. Be open, honest and considerate. For instance, if you're a smoker (and especially if your host isn't), please step outside, away from open doors and windows, clean up any dirty ashtrays on the patio, and refrain from putting out and leaving any cigarette butts in the yard. If it becomes clear that your stay is irritating, discuss with your host how you might make things more agreeable for them.

* Leave any recreational (illegal) drugs at home!

* Always offer to help in the kitchen. Be sensitive - if it becomes clear when you're asking to help that your host is a one-person-in-the-kitchen cook, leave it alone. (Keep in mind, this is rare!) However, if this is the case, there are other ways you can help out in the house. Offer to take on the table-setting, child-minding, dog-walking or errand-running while dinner is being made. Be lateral in thinking about ways to help. Respect their customs and choices, just as you'd want yours respected in your home.

* Some hosts are very fastidious about tidiness and cleanliness. Apart from being as tidy as you can be, also be careful about offering to do cleaning for them apart from picking up after yourself, clearing the table or washing the dishes. If you notice (after you've been there a few days) that the floor needs to be swept, or the carpet needs to be vacuumed, offer to do it. Gauge it from what you know of them and be considerate and tactful.

* Pay attention to the security instructions in your host's home; you don't want to expose them to an insurance liability if you didn't lock up properly. Take good care of any keys that they loan you.

* Bring your own toiletries! Unless they provide you with new guest soap, or deodorant and shampoo, ask before using theirs. It is not polite. This especially includes cosmetics.

* Always replace anything you damage. Even if it was an accident, you are responsible and should make it right for your host by fixing the item, replacing the item or leaving a monetary settlement. Doing so shows that you respect another's possessions. Not addressing it can leave long memories of the issue, and it will certainly get around in family or friendship circles.

* Always keep your personal possessions -- clothes, toys, wallets, etc. -- out of the common areas. The host may not be the neatest person in the world, but he or she will certainly not appreciate seeing your things cluttering up the living room, dining room or kitchen counters.

* Do not interpret your welcome into someone's home as permission to enter rooms, or look in closets, or intrude into any areas where you haven't been explicitly invited. Respect a host's privacy by erring on the side of caution--even when visiting friends or family.

* Never, ever, gossip about or criticize your hosts, their homes or family members, especially during your stay. It's disrespectful and rude. You'll only declare yourself an ungrateful guest, unlikely to be invited even by those with whom you gossip.

* Were you invited by your hosts for this visit, or did you invite yourself? If you have invited yourself, which is most often the case, these steps are paramount to being allowed to return for another visit. Even if your hosts invited you, keep all of these steps in mind and sincerely do them. Remember, you're on vacation, they're not. Make offers to help and follow through. Your actions will be filed away in your hosts' memory banks, and good or bad, will be remembered when you ask to return!


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