Our House is (not) Your House: How to Be a House Guest in the 21st Century

Staying with friends or your new girlfriend’s parents? As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words. Let them know you appreciate their hospitality.

You call friends to tell them you will be in town for a weekend conference and you’d love to catch up over dinner. Your friends think it’s silly to stay in a hotel when they’ve got a spare room. You’re invited!

“Hospitality is making your guests feel at home, even if you wish they were.” –Author Unknown

This article might be a little on the nose for some of you well-mannered folks, so I’ll skip the Good Manners 101 stuff like “please” and “thank you” and get down to business on some important manners you might have misplaced since crashing on your friend’s couch for the last six months.

Before You Arrive

When you’re invited to a friend’s house for dinner, you know to ask if you can bring anything. Dessert? Wine? Special brownies if you’ve got friends who are into that sort of thing. But as an overnight guest in someone’s home, bringing a gift is extra important.

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Don’t know crap about wine? Check out our series “A Drinking Man’s Guide to Wine

Flowers are a nice gift, but they die. For a nice gift that doesn’t become garbage, you can’t go wrong with a good bottle of wine. (Technically, it’s not garbage if you recycle the bottle.) And since you’re not spending money on a hotel room, go a little crazy.

If your friends have a pet, make sure to bring some treats for the four-legged friend. If the pet has eight legs, get a hotel room.

Before You Arrive, Pt. 2

Why couldn’t I just tack this onto the previous section? Because I’m the writer and you’re not. Nah nah. But seriously, folks … there’s more planning that goes into staying at someone’s home than just showing up.

Your hosts are going to have a few questions.

1. How Long Will You Stay?

Your friends ask because they want to know how soon they can have their house back. So be clear with your schedule when you drop a hint that you’ll be in Toledo for a conference. (I was in Toledo for an entire week one night! Ba dum tish!) You’ve heard the expression, “Don’t overstay your welcome?” Well … that. So how long should you stay?

“Fish and visitors smell in three days.”

–Benjamin Franklin

2. When Do You Arrive?

E-mail your friends the itinerary with your arrival and departure info. If they live an hour from the airport and they’re nice, they might insist on picking you up.

If your flight arrives in the afternoon and they’re at work, you’re on your own.

With free wifi at airports, killing a few hours isn’t so terrible thanks to Netflix.

3. What Do You Want To Do?

If you have time to see the sights while you’re in town, compile a list ahead of time. Mapquest directions to see how far your friends live from that thing you want to see. You don’t want to tell them you want to see a place that is an hour from their home.

Make it known that you do not expect them to rearrange their schedule to entertain you. They might be securities litigators who can’t spare a second of their time to take you to the Toledo Firefighters Museum.

Pre-Arrival

Breakfast can be a touchy subject. Some people go all out when they have guests, cooking French toast (your recipe can’t touch my Aunt Cindy’s) or providing lavish spreads. Others can’t be bothered. Like I said, your friends are securities litigators.

Set the tone from the get-go. You don’t need—or expect—anything fancy. Pick up some donuts from the airport coffee shop and let them know you’ve already taken care of tomorrow’s breakfast. If you’re coming from New York City, bring bagels and skip the airport crap.

You’ve Arrived

You’re staying in someone else’s home. You don’t know their house rules, so offer to take your shoes off before you enter. You might have stepped on something gross, like a flier for that politician you hate. No need to track filth through their home.

Don’t dump your suitcase or jacket on their chair. Ask your hosts where you should put your suitcase when you arrive.

Now is a good time to present that wine. If you want to go the extra mile, hit up Yelp to find highly recommended restaurants in their neighborhood. Tell them you’ve heard good things about Medium Rare and Great Wall Szechuan House, and you’d like to take them out for dinner. Chances are, they won’t let you treat, but it doesn’t hurt to offer.

Show their house more respect than you show your own. That means even if they say, “Our house is your house,” make sure you ask before getting something to eat from the refrigerator. Saying “our home is your home” is just something people say to make you feel comfortable.

“Hospitality, n. The virtue which induces us to feed and lodge certain persons who are not in need of food and lodging.”

– Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary, 1911

Aim to keep their home cleaner than yours.

The Obvious Stuff

I know you’ve got good manners, but in the event that your parents failed to teach you the basics…

Meals

  • Wash your hands before dinner. Everyone saw you picking your nose. You’re not as sly as you thought, ninja. P.S. That’s disgusting.
  • The napkin goes on your lap.
  • “Please pass the salt.”
  • Knife goes on your plate after you’ve used it.
  • Push your chair in when you leave the table.
  • Take your dishes in after your meal. Don’t just put them in the sink. Offer to clean them.

Bathroom

  • Replace your towel neatly on the rack.
  • Clean up any water that might have escaped through that sneaky shower curtain.
  • If you’re sharing a bathroom, keep your items in your Dopp Kit.
  • Put the seat and the lid down.
  • If you shave or have hippie length hair, make sure you clean the sink after shaving or combing your Rapunzel-like locks.

Time to Go

What a great weekend. Your conference was a pain in the ass, but at least you were able to return to the comfort of a friend’s home instead of some stuffy hotel with more DNA sprayed on the sheets, remote control, telephone, and doorknob (people are into some weird stuff) than the Jersey Shore house.

Strip the sheets before you leave. Don’t roll them up into a big pile. Don’t toss them on the floor. Fold them neatly and place them at the edge of the bed. Place your bathroom towels on top of the sheets.

If your friends were generous enough to lend you their second car to get yourself to the conference, fill up the tank before you return the car to its space. Be sure to return the keys.

Give them a parting gift—your favorite book (you might find a recommendation in my bio) or a CD you think they’d like. If you go the book route, leave a small note inside thanking them for their hospitality … unless you think they’re re-gifters.

Did your friends tell you to clap your hands to turn on the bathroom light? After you clapped three times and the lights didn’t come on, they laughed and told you the switch was on the wall. Hit up a hardware store and buy them The Clapper. You can’t go wrong with a funny parting gift.

Once you’re home, dust off that classy stationary and write your friends a thank you note. Offer to reciprocate their generosity should they ever find themselves in your hometown.

“Visits always give pleasure – if not the arrival, the departure.”

– Portuguese Proverb

Kenneth Suna is a writer and full time, self-employed stock trader who lives in Washington, D.C. His first novel, Roman, was recently published. Follow him @KennethSuna.

  • aks

    Those boots. Where do I find a similar pair?

  • http://www.primermagazine.com Andrew

    AKS, They’re my Frye Dakotas. I’ve been beating them to hell for years and love them. Check out the piece I did on them:

    http://www.primermagazine.com/2010/spend/frye-dakota-midlace

  • aks

    Andrew, they look great. I have been shopping around for a replacement pair ever since my Clark’s bit the dust and was just about ready to pull the trigger on a pair of Red Wings when this caught my eye.

    Decisions, decisions.

  • Ryan

    Great timing! I’m going to stay at my girlfriends parents’ house this upcoming weekend. Thanks for the extra tips.

  • Curt

    I just want to point out that staying at your friends house, instead of a hotel room, may not be saving you money.

    Breakfast
    Dinner
    Wine
    Dog treats
    Flowers
    Parting gift

    I was wondering how one would go about terminating your stay earlier than expected with said friends. For example, something awkward happened and you guys cant make eye contact anymore (caught you pooping or worse…)

    Good tip with the folding of sheets/towels after your stay. I feel like a dick now that I think of all the times I didn’t do that.

  • Jeff Ehmann

    Ken,

    I enjoyed the piece, especially your humor.

    When my good buddy from my hometown visits with his Wife, they will actually leave before my Wife and I wake up the following morning, thus sparing us the breakfast routine.

    They will strip the sheets from the bed and place them in our washer (an upright pair located in the alcove as you leave through our garage.)

    This allows both families to have a productive following day, since we all have kids in college.

    Cheers.

  • http://www.itsamiracletheyaintdeadyet.com Kenneth

    curt — good question. my advice would be to tell a little white work related lie: “my office needs me back home as soon as the meeting ends.” make sure you reserve a hotel room before you excuse yourself.

    you run the risk of bumping into your friends, but after they caught you poopin’ i’m sure you will all be used to awkward encounters.

  • John

    I’ve been fortunate enough to rely on the kindness of friends many times and do most of this already, but sometimes I go a bit overboard. Rather than show up with wine, I typically have a half-case shipped to their home mainly so I don’t have to carry it with me or bother with finding a good wine store in some of these less-than-urban areas. It’s always a nice surprise for the hosts.

    Second, I always cook dinner one night and it its usually homemade Italian gravy, pasta, etc. Always clean as you go so that their kitchen doesn’t resemble a bombed out massacre and they get all nervous.

    Finally, I’ve always stripped off the sheets prior to leaving but have found that if I get up before my hosts (I’m an early riser), I go ahead and wash/dry the sheets and replace them. Just makes it easier for them after I’ve gone.

    Nice article!