Houseguests over the past couple of weeks have reminded me of a few of the rules — the give and take — of hosting and being hosted. Today’s post is on the role of the gracious guest.
In the power hierarchy of the guest-host relationship, guests are at the bottom. A gracious host will make you feel that you and your wishes are at the center during your stay — but a wise guest is one who makes his host’s wishes his own, thereby honoring his host.
This simple question — “Am I honoring my host?” — should usually steer your behavior down the right path. See how after the jump.
+ Respect personal space. Your host is making room for you in his life; honor him by taking up as little space as possible. This means:
- keeping your belongings out of the way in the space provided for you
- keeping your belongings tidy — don’t let them creep
- keeping activities, music or conversations quiet
- not offending his nose with unclean bodies or clothes, avoiding strongly-scented products or food items
- limiting time using shared practical space, such as kitchen and bathroom
- leaving shared spaces clean after use
- giving your host the right to continue living, working and socializing normally during your visit
+ Respect personal belongings. Your host is providing you with a bed, perhaps bedclothes and towels, the use of their kitchen, bath and living room. Perhaps they have lent you maps, books, a sweatshirt, a phone, their computer, their bicycle, even their car. Honor your host’s generosity with his possessions by:
- treating his possessions better than you treat your own
- making the bed, washing the dishes, cleaning the hair out of the drain
- using lent resources frugally
- returning borrowed items promptly after use
- replacing any items that were damaged or abused
If you plan to use anything more than three times which accrues cost per use — milk for your coffee, gas for the car, long-distance telephone calls — you should plan to replace at 150% and consider finding an alternative source.
+ Follow your host’s lead. Respect the rhythms and lifestyle choices of your host. You will more naturally fit into this lifestyle if you:
- rise when your host rises and retire when he retires
- plan to be out while your host is working or socializing, home when your host is home (though planning some time alone for your host in his own space is respectful as well)
- consider activities together when your host has/makes time, but are prepared to entertain yourself with your own means 100% of the time
- consider meals together when your host has/makes time, but are prepared to feed yourself with your own resources 100% of the time
- plan your showers opposite of those of your host (i.e. shower at night if your host needs to get ready in the morning), or at the very least let your host shower before you
+ Make an offering. To illustrate to your host how thankful you are for his generosity and accommodation, honor him with gifts.
- One gift should be something your host can consume or that you can enjoy together during your stay: a bottle of wine, a bouquet of flowers, a box of chocolates. Specialty items from your region are a worthy and interesting substitute.
- The second gift should be something that will remain after you’ve left: a houseplant, a magnet, a photograph, a book, a mix CD of music from your country.
- If your stay is longer than three days, offer to prepare at least one large meal for you and your host. Expect both to cook and to clean up afterwards.
- If you are planning a longer stay, treat your host to an activity undertaken together — such as a ticket to the ballet or a sporting event, a trip to the zoo or a museum exhibition, or simply dinner out.
- If you don’t have the chance to leave a small thank-you note before you leave, be sure to send one afterwards! A nice touch is to include a photograph or two from your visit.
+ Give your host every reason to enjoy your visit. Make good conversation. Share talents and interests. Be a good listener. Communicate plans clearly. Do the dishes. Strip the bed before you leave. Avoid mooching or being presumptive about time or resources. Keep a positive attitude during your stay.
Following these five fundamentals and letting the question “Am I honoring my host?” guide your behavior may not make you the perfect guest, but it will show your host the respect he deserves, pave the way to a conflict-free visit and likely ensure an heartfelt invitation to stay again.
If the above has you worried you’ve been a lousy guest all these years, three sites with even more great advice include Couch Surfing’s primer on “How to be a good guest,” The Digerati Life’s “Cut Down on Travel Costs as a Gracious Houseguest,” and The Dollar Stretcher’s “Being a Responsible Houseguest.”
Have you had guests who turned your home into a Madhouse? What are your pet peeves when company comes knocking? And which thoughtful touches from visitors have made a lasting impression? Share your thoughts in the comments.