Gracious Guests, Hospitable Hosts
Modern etiquette for houseguests
Photo by Charlie Neuenschwander
Warmer weather brings with it increased travel opportunities. Comfortable temperatures make journeys more pleasant, and school vacations provide the chance for families to venture away from home, sometimes to visit relatives. Sometimes, too, we host them.
Services such as Airbnb also mean that many times, a trip can mean staying in a private home rather than a hotel. On the other hand, you might be broadening your own horizons by hosting others who are looking to visit your locale.
Being on your best behavior while in temporary living situations is a good goal. Etiquette expert Carey Sue Vega said that sometimes, many of us need more guidance than we care to admit.
“In the era we live in, unfortunately, many of these things weren’t modeled at home — there wasn’t an opportunity to learn them,” Vega explains. “You may think you’re a polite guest or host, but if you didn’t see a full example of that … how do you know? Some of it is common sense, yes, but you have to find gaps by researching, investigating.”
Vega has a thriving coaching business, teaching children and adults etiquette basics, as well as specifics about navigating various sectors of life, such as the higher-level business world and getting familiar with the intricacies of college, from dealing with deans to learning about roommates.
She’s also spoken and blogged about hosting, and the practice of being a good guest, and offers some tips for people on both sides of the travel trade-off.
Hints for Hosts
Give your guests space. Travel is exhausting, and while the chance to interact is part of the fun (mostly), people also need the chance to rest. A room of their own is ideal, or time to be alone, if dedicated space isn’t possible. Make sure there’s enough physical space for guests’ belongings, as well, even if you have to box up some of your own things temporarily.
Provide some comforts – and necessities. Something usually gets forgotten when packing, and having some basics such as shampoo, toothpaste and travel toothbrushes on hand can help your guests feel their best. Plenty of towels, toilet paper, etc. in the bathroom should also be standard, and extras including bottles of water can help them feel more at home, since they won’t have to ask. If your guests are going to be there long term, think about having an extra key made, or giving them a spare if you have it, so that comings and goings can be handled with a minimum of stress.
Supply diversions. In the age of televisions, tablets and smartphones, we forget that sometimes a switch in our media can be relaxing; lay out some magazines, books and board games, in case your guests want to unwind a little more simply on their own.
Bring a gift. It doesn’t have to be huge, but a gesture of thanks goes a long way toward expressing your gratitude. Small and consumable is best when you don’t know your host well (or if you do, and know that they prefer useful items), but Vega said that if you have the means to wow someone, personalization is best.
“I get on eBay and find an odd serving piece in my aunt’s silver pattern to take to her when we visit,” she says.
Unique twists on this can often include members of the family that may normally be overlooked; Vega said that one of the most-appreciated hostess gifts she ever received was from a guest at a Christmas party she gave. Instead of the standard bottle of wine, the individual brought a book for her young son.
Offer help. This can be financial or practical. Even if it’s been expressed that you don’t have to pay your hosts for anything, pitching in with dinner or dishes is a way of showing appreciation. Cleaning up any messes you make should be standard, as well as respecting expressed boundaries (“The kids nap from 2 to 4 p.m.”). Ask if your hosts would like you to do your own laundry, or do anything else when it’s time to leave, as well.
Say “Thank you.” In addition to expressing your gratitude when it’s appropriate during your visit, Vega suggests a handwritten note after your stay is finished. Just like providing books and magazines, it may seem outdated, but often the practices that have fallen off are the ones most appreciated … and the ones we need to re-implement.
Whether you’re a guest or a host, Vega insists that the best bottom-line advice is the same as it is for campers: Leave it better than you found it. Whether it’s your host’s home, or your guest’s feeling of welcome – leave it better than you found it.