11 Simple Rules of Excellent Houseguest Etiquette
Last week I provided tips on how to be the best host to overnight guests that you can be. Of course, every great host needs a great houseguest.
Think you have what it takes to get invited back again and again? Perhaps you do — but only if you’re following these nonnegotiable rules of houseguest etiquette.
1. Arrive With a Gift
Your hosts have gone out of their way to prepare for your arrival — cleaning the house, making the beds, hiding their naughtiness — so the least you can do is arrive with a gift to show your gratitude. A bottle of wine is perfectly fine (and probably preferred), but you should know your audience before gifting booze. It’s embarrassing to give a bottle of alcohol to a recovering alcoholic. If you’re unsure of the hosts’ imbibing status, opt for something non-offensive like a basket of pastas and sauces or a sampler of jams. (See also: 5 Classy Gift Ideas for Any Time of Year)
2. Buy Your Own Groceries
When I’m staying with friends or family, I buy my own groceries for two reasons: 1) I’m a picky eater, so it’s unlikely that they’ll have much that I like, and 2) It’s rude to eat your guests out of house and home. Once you’re settled, ask where the nearest market is. Schedule some time to stop by and pick up your favorite foods and fridge essentials, like bacon, eggs, bread, lunchmeat, etc. Not only will you save money because you won’t have to eat out every meal, but your hosts will appreciate the gesture — especially when you’re gone and the leftovers are all theirs.
3. Conserve Linens and Towels
At home, I use only one towel a week. When I’m done drying off after a shower, I hang it on the back of the bathroom door so it can dry properly. When I’m traveling, I do the same. A good host will provide you with a towel or two, which is plenty, so don’t abuse it. If you think you’ll need more towels, plan ahead; pack a towel of your own so you can have what you need. As beach towels go, I always pack one from home. I can’t be sure that my hosts will have the kind of beach towel I like, so it’s best to come prepared.
4. Ask About House Rules
When guests come to my home I have three rules: 1) Don’t get locked up, 2) Don’t get locked out, and 3) Don’t burn the place down. Otherwise, my guests are free to come and go as they please and make themselves at home. However, not every host is as lax as I am. Some don’t want you making a frozen pizza at 3 a.m. on a Sunday night when you’ve just come home from the bar. To avoid offending your hosts, ask about general policies and rules. Should the door be locked when you leave? Is it OK to put silverware in the dishwasher? Would you like me to let the dog out if you’re not home? Most people have certain ways they like and do things, so it’s best to ask before you step on any toes.
5. Give the Host Personal Space
While your hosts are happy to see you (hopefully), they don’t want to spend every minute of every day with you. Respect that. Ask them all about their lovely city, but plan to do most things by yourself or with whom you’re traveling. It’s certainly OK to invite your hosts to join you on your excursions, but don’t expect it. Chances are they have to work and other obligations to tend to during all or part of your stay — you’re on vacation; they’re not — so don’t be bummed out if they’re not available. Personally, I enjoy the time alone to explore a new place — nobody nagging about how much walking they have to do, nobody complaining about how hot it is, and nobody interrupting your afternoon because they MUST find a gym to fit in a midday run. I won’t name the person who’s guilty of that last one, but I might be married to him.
6. Lend a Hand Where Necessary
Is your host slaving away in the kitchen preparing a delicious feast? Ask if he or she needs a hand. Does the dog need a walk? Volunteer to take the pooch for a stroll. Does somebody need to go on a beer run? Offer your excellent (and sober) driving skills to accomplish the task. Whatever the case, let your guests know that you’re happy to help out where you can. They might say no the first or second time out of politeness, but eventually they’ll want to pawn off some of their chores on you. And you should be happy about it — because you could be spending an arm and a leg for a hotel, but you’re not.
7. Keep Common Areas Clean
My biggest pet peeve when hosting guests is crumbs on the counter. It drives me bonkers. Mind your Ps and Qs when staying with friends and family. Whatever you would do in your own home, don’t do it at your hosts’ home. Put the toilet seat down. Wash your dishes by hand or put them in the dishwasher. Make the bed. Turn out the lights when you leave a room. There’s nothing worse than following guests around the house, picking up after them. Your hosts probably won’t say anything to you regarding your messiness or lack of consideration, but you can be sure that you won’t be invited back because of it.
8. Treat the Hosts to a Nice Meal
If you’re a whiz in the kitchen, prepare your signature dish (and wash the dishes afterward). If you’re not so hot at culinary art, ask your hosts what their favorite restaurant is and treat them to a nice meal. This is a time when you can all be at the same place at the same time to catch up. Conflicting schedules considered, this might be the only chance you have.
9. Strip Your Bed Upon Departure
Do your hosts a favor and strip the linens and place everything — including your dirty towels — in a pile. It’ll save them a few minutes of work when they have to spend an hour or so washing, drying, and remaking the bed. However, I would ask the hosts if they’d like you to do this first. Some hosts don’t want you removing the linens because they don’t want you to see the completely normal and acceptable stains (sweat, urine, etc.) on the mattress and pillows. Because, even though these stains and normal and acceptable (are you going to buy a new mattress every time your dog pees on it? I don’t think so.), it may cause the host unnecessary embarrassment — and you definitely don’t want to do that.
10. Leave a Parting Gift
During your stay you should’ve gotten a good sense of what your hosts want, like, or need. Use this information to purchase a small parting gift that shows your gratitude and decency as a human being. The last time I stayed with friends, I left a half-dozen freshly baked cookies from a great restaurant in the area. Whether they liked them or not, I don’t know — but it’s the thought that counts in this case.
11. Send a Thank-You Note
Once you’ve returned home, make it a point to reach out one more time to let your hosts know how much you appreciate their hospitality. They didn’t have to host you. They could have made up a million and one excuses why they didn’t have room for you. That they opened their home to you says something — they wanted to host you, and you should make one lasting impression to ensure that they view you the way they should, as a thankful and appreciative guest. A quick note that expresses your gratitude will suffice — if only so you have someplace to call home next time you’re in town.
Have tips on how to be a great houseguest? Let me know in the comments below.
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