How to Be a Good House Guest (or How Not to Get Kicked out of the Host's Home)
How To Be a House Guest
When you stay as a house guest in someone else's home, remember the way your host lives might not be the same as the way you live. To show respect, you'll need to adapt to the way their home is run and not the way you would do things if you were in your own home.
In some homes, people do not shower daily. To them, showering daily is a luxury they can't afford. In some areas of the country (or the world), water is an expensive commodity. If you feel dirty without that daily shower, be a good house guest and let your host know upfront that you plan to contribute to the water cost you'll be accruing. Even a nominal amount of $10 can go a long way to reducing any possibility of resentment growing between a house guest and a host. If you do shower daily and your host doesn't, be sure to leave the bathroom very tidy afterwards, dry up any water spills, and to keep the shower as short as possible, as a courtesy. Bringing your own towels is a plus. Then, you don't have to soil the towels of your host.
When eating in the home of your host, even if your host says to help yourself to anything, please be aware that the host is doing the job of a good host by saying that. It's a bit of a dance, you and your host are having. So, in your part of the dance, you say, "No, no, no, I insist on _____." The rest of the sentence depends on the situation. Maybe you are insisting you will buy the groceries, or split the cost of the groceries that you plan to buy together, or you have brought groceries that you want to share with your host. Maybe you are just insisting that you do the cooking and cleaning, since the host is providing the food. But your role is to offer up something that contributes to the dining experience. When your host says you need not do anything, this is when you insist on it! That is the mark of a great house guest. Also, if you are traveling with others, such as when I travel with my teenage son (who has a thus-far undiscovered case of tapeworm), it's very kind and thoughtful of you to bring enough food to feed a small army, or in this case one adolescent male. This is especially true if your host does not have children or would not have previous knowledge that a man-child will eat everything in sight, with regularity, and seem insatiable in doing so.
WHEN BRINGING ALONG A PLUS ONE
When you bring a spouse or child, they are a reflection of you. What they do is the same as you doing it to your host! So if your plus one does something negative (as in the time my young son peed on the cork floor of a host!) do not try to cover it up but hurry, as fast as possible, to clean up, fix up, and apologize for the situation, if your host is present. Does your boyfriend smoke? Make sure your boyfriend smokes outside and far from the host's home and ask him to pick up his butts and dispose of them in the garbage can. Ask him to chew some gum afterwards to be polite. When you go to sleep at night, this is not the time to blast the iPod and "be romantic" with your spouse. You might not think anyone can hear your late night antics. But, in reality, maybe the whole neighborhood can hear you! Save those activities for home and hotels, not for the sleeping quarters of your host.
WHEN YOUR HOST HAS A PET
A certain percentage of the population in the United States consider their dog or cat to be on the same level in the home as a human. Now, don't laugh. It's true. They bathe them, brush them (brush their teeth, too), dress them, and baby talk to them. Some of them even paint their dog's nails and put ribbons in the canine's fur. Now, you and I may know they are simply devoted animals that are generally well-behaved by human standards, but this may not be true to the host. Your host may honestly and deeply feel this furry friend is a genuine member of the family, entitled to his or her own furniture and specialty eating dishes. They may even have a special privy spot right inside the home for doing their bathroom business. Well, why you might feel like rolling your eyes and banning this creature from sitting next to you on the sofa (while staring at you), resist the urge to comment negatively to the host or do anything of the kind. Your host has opened their home to you and, as such, you must be a gracious house guest and handle this like the champion guest you are. Politely pet the creature for a moment and then ignore it. It most likely will go away but even if it doesn't, it won't bother you if you ignore it. It will seek a new friend to bestow love and affection upon it instead. In the case that you're a pet-lover, then so much the better. You and your new pet-friend will be in soon be in love.
WHEN YOUR HOST HAS A CHILD
If you're sleeping in a child's room, don't camp out in there during the day. Stow your personal belongings in a corner so the child can enjoy their own room while you relax elsewhere. Also, be mindful that a child should not have access to vitamins or medications, over the counter or prescribed. Even something that seems innocuous to us, like antacid pills, can harm a child. So, keep your vitamins and pills in a safe place, like your vehicle, or in a locked container. Those little plastic things in the walls are for the protection of the small child so she won't be electrocuted so be sure to replace any you might take out to charge any electronic devices.
SAYING THANKS IS NOT ENOUGH
A top-notch house guest will leave a small token of appreciation when departing. In some cultures, it is not polite to give a gift face-to-face. In that case, leave the gift on the bedside table or on the bed or nearby desk, where your host is sure to find it later. Winning choices include specialty jams, a box of chocolates, or a gift card to a place the host likes to frequent. If your budget is small, it can be as simple as freshly cut wildflowers tied with a ribbon or a small but fragrant candle. Even if all you can afford is to make a homemade thank you card, make it! It's personal, thoughtful, and shows your host that you are the kind of guest they would enjoy entertaining again - the essence of a good house guest.
THE LEAST YOU NEED TO KNOW
- Pick up your bags when you walk in the house. If you roll them, you might roll mud and leaves in, too.
- Arrive and depart on the days you say you will so your host won't worry or want to shoot you. If your schedule changes, let your host know immediately.
- Don't be Mr. Pig-Pen or Miss Piggie. Throwing your clothes and belongings around the room, leaving dishes in the sink and pasta sauce to dry up on the stove top might get you thrown out of the house! Leaving hair on the shower floor after you exit is just gross. And, for the guys, if there's a lady hostess, do put that toilet seat and lid down when you are through relieving yourself. It's the gentlemanly thing to do.
- If you think you're funny but your host isn't laughing, it's time to stop joking around! Be sensitive to your host. If they go to bed at 8pm, it's time to quiet down. If they lock all the doors before sleeping, don't go outside for some air. Wait until the morning. They are doing you a favor so don't upset them.
- Show some class. Offer to help. Ask before using things. Put things you used back the way you found them. Share. Show your thanks upon departure. Those are the signs of a good house guest.