Have you ever visited or hosted good friends, only to realize that some friendships are better off with distance? There is truth to the adage that fish and guests stink after three days. As someone who enjoys traveling and has many international friends, house visits and homestays have become part of my life. I’ve experienced fantastic visits, horrendous ones, and everything in between. Today, I’d like to share some insights on what guests appreciate.
A few days ago, I returned from a visit that was not without complications. Some unexpected assumptions from my hosts took me (and my budget) by surprise, and I questioned whether the standards for hosting houseguests have changed. I have many years of experience both hosting and visiting, but I scoured the internet for advice on hosting etiquette. I found extravagant advice (buy your guest her very own fluffy robe and slippers!), over-the-top advice (download this packet to fill out a comprehensive file on your home, neighborhood, local tourist information, emergency numbers, and insurance information), and painfully obvious advice (spend time with your guest). Clearly, there is a need for this kind of information.
Due to geographic distance, special events, and the desire to spend time with loved ones, we will all have to be a guest at some time or another. (Unless you are wealthy enough to afford hotel stays wherever you go, which I am not.) I think most people want to be a good host, but they may not realize what can make a guest uncomfortable.
Of course, guests can make a host uncomfortable, too…but that’s for tomorrow. 🙂
Be realistic. As a host, you might want to cram every possible attraction into the visit, but crowded itineraries can leave both you and your guest tired and cranky. Do you spend more than you can afford, take time off work when you have an impending deadline, or try to ignore a knee injury that causes you pain? It may sound noble, but by overextending yourself you will unconsciously place more pressure on your guest to have a good enough time to justify your sacrifices.
Be clear about house rules and boundaries. Do you have a toddler or a pet? Guests who do not have children or pets of their own may not know to lock the safety gate, keep doors closed, or refrain from feeding inappropriate snacks. Do you expect guests to use self-service for meals and cleanup, or is your kitchen off-limits? Do you remove shoes, or are you nauseated by the odor of bare/sock/stocking feet? Some hosts view their kitchen as sacred space and are offended if a guest tries to help. Everyone has different house rules (and you may not be aware of them until they are violated), but take the time to give your guests a heads-up about expectations.
Explain the idiosyncracies of your home. My bathroom has a faulty fan and a pathological ability to grow mold. In other words, taking a shower or bath means wiping the walls with a squeegee, leaving the fan on for half an hour or so afterward, and keeping the door open. Your home may have a toilet lever that needs to be held down to flush properly, a sticky door lock that needs extra coaxing, or nearby construction workers who start jackhammering at 7 AM. Let your guests know so they aren’t surprised.
Don’t expect guests to adore your small children. Many people, including me, love children. However, even the most diehard child lover may not necessarily want to be woken at 5 AM by your six-year-old banging the door open with requests to play. Because of my health issues, I cannot come in contact with diaper wipes or most soaps and personal products. That means, much as I might wish to, I can’t give your child a bath or change her diaper. I once took an eight-hour car trip with a friend who seated me in the back, next to her three-year-old son, and proceeded to talk with her husband in the front seat for all eight hours. That was a long trip, and I’m a confessed baby addict. As a guest, I appreciate when hosts allow me playtime with their children but don’t use me as a free nanny.
Don’t expect guests to adore your pets. This concept is shocking to many, but not all people love pets. Some are actually terrified of pets, especially dogs. When I visit one friend, her large Labrador dog steps on my feet, licks me in unmentionable places, barks, noses through my bag, and hovers one pace behind me. Another friend was offended when her three tiny dogs barked at me and I didn’t pick them up. If someone doesn’t dote on your pets (as long as it is not rudeness or insults), let it go.
Provide meal options. One family I visited didn’t eat meals together but instead ate snacks whenever they felt like it, individually. While they invited me to eat anything I wanted, I felt uncomfortable rummaging through their fridge and cupboards. On a recent visit, my hosts took me to restaurants (of their choice) for all but two meals of my visit…and I was expected to pay my share. I was caught off-guard, especially because the restaurants were out of my price range. Not everyone has unlimited budgets, and if you don’t feel like cooking you can always offer to take your guest to the local grocery store so they can buy food. Making a grocery store trip is a good idea regardless, since your guests may have special dietary needs.
Don’t involve your guest in conflict. One of my most uncomfortable visits was when a friend and her husband put me in the middle of their fights. I like my friend and her husband equally, and it was incredibly painful to hear them yell at each other. As a guest, few things are worse than planning for a vacation and ending up on Geraldo. Of course, sometimes conflicts happen and you can’t help it. Maybe a heart-to-heart with your guest, if you are good enough friends, will give you some perspective. But if you only want to vent, consider how awkward your friend will feel when she is staying in the same house as the partner you just put down.
Be honest, but be compassionate. Even the nicest guest will get on your nerves at some point. My personal pet peeve is guests who don’t help out with meal preparation and cleanup (but more on that tomorrow). Is it something that you can’t tolerate, or can you let it go? If it will bother you enough that you need to say something, say it early rather than in the heat of anger. Remember that your guest is not on her home turf, may be feeling uncomfortable, and likely does not know what you expect.
The Six Bests of Being a Host, According to Ana:
#6 Internet access and charging ports.
These days, this is nearly a basic need. I greatly appreciate when hosts ask me about internet setup. That way, I don’t have to feel awkward asking them for a wi-fi password. If for some reason they don’t or can’t allow me to use internet, I appreciate knowing ahead of time so I can take care of things in advance.
#5 Target/Wal-Mart/grocery store runs.
Whenever I pick up a guest at the airport, we stop by Target/Wal-Mart and/or the grocery store on the way home. That way, my guest can pick up any essentials she forgot to pack and any food or snacks she prefers. This is especially helpful for guests with allergies or strong dietary preferences.
#4 Respect for your guest’s boundaries.
You may adore your small children and pets, but not everyone does. One thoughtful host, seeing I was overwhelmed by her three dogs running all over me, asked her husband to bring them to a different room. Another host warned me that his live-in elderly aunt had dementia and might ask me offensive questions, and he gave me advice how to handle it. Yet another host, when I asked if something were wrong, said that her husband was having a hard time and needed some space. I appreciated this kind of information and understanding from all of my hosts, and it made the trip much smoother.
#3 Anticipation of your guest’s needs.
It’s a small thing, but I love when hosts give me enough washcloths for the days I will stay. Almost all the time, they give me one set of towel and washcloth. Then I feel awkward asking for more, unless they’ve shown me where to get them. I don’t own a coffee maker, so I let people know they can walk next door to buy some or pick up instant coffee at the store (another reason store runs are a good idea).
Put a plunger in your bathroom (or the guest’s bathroom, if you have a separate one), and perhaps a few…ahem…personal supplies. It is a truly terrible experience to flush the toilet in a host’s bathroom and watch the water continue to rise. 😉
#2 Honesty about limitations.
A friend once informed me she would visit at my busiest time, and she wanted us to drive two hours to do an expensive activity that didn’t interest me. I politely told her that she was welcome to visit, but I would be at work all day and she would need to arrange for her own transportation. Another friend of mine likes guests but hates playing tour guide, so she gives her guests a house key, city and public transportation map, and a suggestion that they meet up for dinner.
And the #1 best characteristic of a good host…
Enjoy time with your guest. If you are having a good time, so will she.