I grew up the daughter of two international flight attendants. It was pretty cool. My parents traveled all over, brought me goodies from different countries and cultures, and I even got to travel to some cool places as well. Through the years, there were times that their schedules would over lap and they would both be gone at the same time. My brother and I were so lucky to have lots of great family friends we got to stay with and it really helped me to be a good houseguest, at least I like to think so. I feel it helped me to be open minded to the way other people live and run their house and to be flexible in these situations.
One family we stayed with was very health conscience and if I remember correctly, vegetarian. We drank rice milk and ate very healthy. As a young kid, I could have been a pain and refused to eat, thrown a fit, or made my mom bring over my food, but I didn’t. I learned to adapt and appreciate their generosity and try new things. Everyone is different, but you can’t bring your expectations and your way of doing things into their home when you are the guest.
So here are my suggestions of how you can be a good houseguest, which you may be soon with the holidays coming up…
Be Observant – You are entering someone else’s home, not a hotel, so be observant and respectful of how they act in their own home. Do they take their shoes off? Then take yours off. Do they eat at the table or on the couch? Follow their lead, it’s always a good idea to try the table first instead of making a mess on their couch. Do they have separate towels for drying their hands and bath towels? Use bath towels for your body and hand towels for your hands. This last one is especially important if you are using a hallway bathroom or any bathroom that might be used by others at any point. No one wants to go to dry their hands to find a wet towel you’ve used to dry your body. Gross.
At any time you are in doubt, ask. It’s better to ask how the host would like something done than to make a mess or be insensitive to their property. The host will appreciate your respect and will not feel you are invading their space or trashing their home.
Clean up after yourself – You are after all a guest, don’t be a sloppy one. Pick up your clothes/jackets, hang up your wet towels in an appropriate place, wash your own dishes or at least put them in the dishwasher a majority of the time, and when you leave do a once over of all the places you’ve stayed and used. Perhaps remove the bed sheets for your host, wipe down the bathroom counter, and don’t leave stray hair in the sink. Yuck. After all your host is opening their house to you, the least you can do is to do like the boy scouts ‘leave no trace and take only memories.’ ok, so that’s a little modified, but you get it.
The host likely spent a while cleaning before your arrival and will likely clean some more after you leave. Do what you can to help and lighten that load for them.
Treat their house better than your own- Do you normally crash on the couch after a late night on the computer or watching movies? Then sleep in until noon? Do you frequently talk during movies or tv shows? Is it your habit to take 20+ minute showers? Don’t do any of these at your host’s house. Sleep where the host has prepared a spot for you, be respectful when watching something together, and don’t be wasteful of the host’s utilities. In general, treat their home better than your own.
True story, we had a ton of family coming to stay with us once so there were multiple rooms and beds made up, my kids were shuffled around to accommodate the guests, and lots of cleaning and work went into it. One of the guests decided they didn’t want to sleep in the bed prepared for them (actually they just weren’t taught to be courteous) so they slept in another bed one night (before other guests arrived) and on the couch another night – greasy face all over my decorative pillows too! This one guest also used at least 3 different bath towels for the couple night stay and left them on the floor in two different bathrooms! They alone contributed immensely to my stress of trying to fit everyone in and the work of cleaning up after them. I am not very apt to have them back…they were not respectful or courteous!
Offer help – Offer your help cooking, washing dishes, cleaning up, or whatever you can. Your host may not always accept your help, but still continue to offer, every time and every visit. Just the gesture of offering shows that you care and appreciate your host. Depending on the length of your stay, you may also consider offering to buy some groceries or reimburse for gas if you are driven around town. Or depending on your relationship with your host, you may consider just doing either of these without offering.
Ask for odd requests – Do you need to wash a load of laundry? Want to see a friend and invite them over to your host’s house? Want to turn the AC/heat on? Ask first, you are in someone else’s home and they may have a certain way they like things done. Be respectful of that and ask before just doing it. Also be aware of the food you eat. If you are helping yourself to something in the fridge or cupboard, it would be polite to ask the cook if that is ok. It would be very rude to eat something that was meant for a meal or recipe and leave the cook out on a limb.
Communicate- This one is two fold. Communicate with your host about when you will be arriving and leaving and any plans you may have. If you are leaving the house and not returning for a meal, let them know so they are not waiting on you. Also, communicate if you’re running a little later than you expected. Again, leaving someone waiting and wondering isn’t polite. Communicate any specific activities you would like to do during your stay and ask what their plans are so you aren’t trumping theirs or taking off with the car when they need it to pick up kids or whatever.
The second part is to communicate, make conversation. Say ‘Good Morning!’ and ‘good night’ and always say ‘thank you’. Thank you never gets old! When you make conversation don’t make it all about you, brag, vent or pass judgment on other people. I’ve had guests come and talk about nothing but how friends and family fall short (according to their judgment). It honestly makes me very self conscious thinking ‘What they’re going to go home and tell others about me?’ There are many extended family members that I don’t know anything good about because all I’ve heard is the negative. There are also some guests who’ve come and gone without asking me a single question about me and my life, what’s going on, what my interests are, etc.
Bring Your Host A Gift – This may be an old tradition, but it still very thoughtful and considerate to bring your host a small gift. Whether it’s a small bouquet of flowers, something for your host’s home, a nice box of chocolates, or some nice fresh fruit, a gift expresses your appreciation for your host. It tells them you acknowledge their sacrifice of time, energy, and resources and are grateful for them.
So the last bit I’ll add is if you’re going to stay with family, for example, if I’m going to stay with my brother and his family, I’m going to direct most of my questions at my sister-in-law. They have traditional family roles and she runs the house and kids. So if I have a question about what towels to use or how to wash which dishes or anything else pertaining to the house and kids, I’m going to ask her and not my brother. Love ya bro, but sometimes husbands, even though they live in the same house, don’t know how their wives like to have things done.
Being a good house guest not only reflects well on you, but it eases the ‘burden’ placed on the host. Now I say burden because no matter how happy the host is to receive you, they’ve had to clean, change their schedule, maybe take off work, buy more food, or something extra to accommodate your stay. A hotel charges you no matter how good of a guest you are, so if you’re staying with friends or family for free, the least you can do to ‘pay’ for your stay is be a good house guest!!
What other suggestions would you add to be a good house guest?