Thursday, 24 November 2016

On Being a Good House Guest

Growing up, we didn't have holidays as a family, as such. I have a hazy memory of our family joining friends of my parents at their beach house one summer. And after we moved interstate, we did a lot of travelling back to our home city to stay with various family members, but we didn't plan holidays which meant hotels or the like, so we were invariably staying in the homes of extended family members if we were away from home. 

As an adult with my own home, I've hosted friends and family and been a guest in other people's homes over the years too - mostly lack of funds has made that a necessity for me, as hotels have been largely out of reach. Dragon Dad has had a different adult life, and holidays with hotels have featured in his recreational time, so there's been a bit more of that for me to experience since we got together. Also, he's not all that keen about staying in other people's houses, so his preference, even if the reason for our trips is to see family and friends, is to stay in a hotel so that we have our own space when we're not actively spending time with people. 

It's not always easy hosting people in your home, and, come to that, it's not always easy being a house guest. While this post is a bit of a rant - having been woken at an ungodly hour this morning by our departing house guests, who opened the bedroom door to do that while it was still dark - the tips I'm going to share on being a good house guest are not exclusively a response to our recent guests - they come from a myriad of people over the years. 
Not our spare room, but isn't it pretty?
1. Be clear about your arrival and departure dates and times

Hosts need to plan any number of things around having someone stay in their house - preparing a room, or rooms; shopping for food; coordinating different activities; and so on. It is not considerate to be vague about when you're arriving and how long you're intending to stay. It was the day after our recent guests arrived that I discovered they were staying for the week...

2. Let your hosts know if there are specific food needs required

One of our recent guests has a nut allergy - which I discovered by accident (fortunately before I'd added the nuts to the main course of the first night's dinner) when the other one passed the kitchen bench where I was preparing dinner, and noticed the bowl of nuts sitting amongst the ingredients. Allergies can be life threatening, and no one wants a food allergy incident on their conscience. There are a stack of dishes I make with nuts in them that aren't as obvious as that night's dinner, so we could have had a real issue. The next person we have coming in a few weeks is a vegetarian - something she was clear about in our very first conversation. She has no issue eating in restaurants that serve meat, or having people at the same table as her eating meat, but she doesn't eat it. She wants to take us out for dinner while she's staying, so has asked me to check out some possible venues that will make that an easy option that's nice.

3. Let your hosts know the sorts of things you plan do to while you're staying

This can be tricky. Ostensibly, people come to stay to see you, as well as whatever sights and activities that may be fun to see and do. But there does need to be some coordinating of routines, and making sure that everyone's happy. If your priority is to be always out and about, doing stuff that's of no interest to your hosts, it may be more sensible to book a hotel room, and arrange to catch up at a specific time for a meal or particular activity. Otherwise, your host can feel as if they're merely providing a free bed, and that's a bit rude.

4. Be observant of your host's routines

While you are on holiday, your hosts may still need to be attending to their regular routines - work, school, medical appointments, etc. That may require early nights, mean that they have limited time to spend with you that needs to be prioritised when you make arrangements for your own activities, and or that there will be times that they really aren't available which can't be altered. Check in with how best to arrange time to spend together, and stick to that. There will be time for you to do your own thing while your hosts are at work. Be aware that they have probably been looking forward to seeing you and spending time with you, especially if you've not seen each other for a while, and that they will be disappointed if you don't make time to do that.

5. Be respectful of household customs

Remember it IS your host's home, not a hotel. Don't just come and go without being mindful of things like mealtimes, if you know that your hosts make a point of regularly having sit down meals together. Unless you say otherwise, they will be expecting you to be part of that. 

6. Offer to help out

You've got free bed and board for your trip - it is common courtesy to offer to help with meal preparations, or cleaning up afterwards. As a kid, staying in my godmother's house, it was expected of us kids to clear the table and stack dishes - and when we were tall enough, to wash them after dinner. My mother and godmother had shopped for, and made dinner for up to ten people if my whole family were staying, so pitching in and helping with clean up was a completely reasonable expectation. 

7. Do some research about how to get around where you're staying

You may have a car, or you may need to use public transport, or a combination of both while you're staying. Don't just expect your hosts to drive you around, particularly if you're off doing your own thing. Refer back to point 4...

8. Bring a gift, or take your hosts out for a meal, or both

Something to say, 'Thank you for having me/us.' It doesn't have to be anything madly extravagant, or over the top. It's the gesture that's important. No matter how much you love your hosts, and they love you, it isn't always easy to share other people's space. Common courtesy requires a gesture that says 'thank you for your trouble'. 

As I write, we have someone coming to stay in a couple of weeks for a few days, another over the Christmas break, and a possible third just after that. We have a spare room that's set up for guests - it will, once we find the right desk, also eventually double as Dragon Dad's office, but for now, it's just the spare room. So it's easy to set that up for the incomings. Feeding people is one of my joys, so having extra people to feed never bothers me. And seeing people I've not seen for a while is always nice. So, at my end of the equation, I do everything I can to make our guests comfortable. And that's the other part of having guests - doing what I can do as a host to make their stay pleasant. We've stayed with people, at times, where it's been horribly clear that they really don't like having people in their space, and that can feel very awkward. I guess what it comes down to in the end, is that sharing space with guests, which ever side of that you're on, requires courtesy, mindfulness, and respect. And then, it can be nice.



  1. Also if you come to my house, remember it is my wife's TV. She owns the remote control. My vest advice, if you touch it you take your life in your hands.

    1. HAHA Rick! Clearly, you know your place :-)

  2. Hear! Hear! Especially point 1. Knowing end dates are vital to one's mental health when hosting parental units with passive aggressive tendencies.

    1. I hope this is something that isn't still happening for you... I've been there - 3 1/2 months of an in-law, and DD was out of town for most of it so I was dealing with it alone - GAH!! Mental health - what mental health...?!

  3. Fantastic overview! Thanks for this