Guest Etiquette- The Door Is Always Open?
Why is it when you hit a certain age you’re expected to stop crashing on people’s floors? I prefer friends’ houses to hotels. They are warmer, cozier, and more entertaining. I haven’t seen your enchanting face in ages except on Facebook. I know guest etiquette; don’t you want to see me in person?
Of course, it’s usually cheaper to stay with friends and I am a frugal sort but that’s not the point. If I’m not staying with you, you might not see me. That would be terrible. Maybe that’s what you’d prefer. Wait, seriously? What kind of friend or sister are you??
In the summer, it’s relatively easy to make other arrangements when friends are unaccommodating. You can sleep in your car if you have to. But the gray, chill days of winter make it too damn cold for car camping and let’s be real here, winter camping is not all it’s cracked up to be. However, when the most expensive part of any road trip is that heated roof over your head you can’t blame a person for looking up old friends for a place to crash.
Ironically, “you’re welcome to stay here,” is one of those phrases thrown out by anyone and everyone much the same way a passerby utters, “How are you?” or “Guzentite.” Ninety percent of the time, they don’t really mean it.
I got called to Los Angeles last minute over a holiday weekend and my so-called friends and relatives scattered like roaches. There was not a vacant room or couch to be found. I had to suck it up and stay at a crappy motel…. for nearly $200 a night! Turns out, “You’re welcome to stay here,” really meant “we want to sound gracious but please don’t ever ask.”
WTF? Was I an awful guest? I felt like exhibited best guest etiquette – cleaned up after myself, took my hosts to dinner, brought a welcome gift, stripped the bed- but maybe I was missing something.
I took to the street and asked the masses if they could offer any advice to their future guests what would it be? Some flat out said, “Stay at a hotel.” Real helpful, Guys. Still, their responses demonstrated that I need not take empty invites personally. Most “grown-ups” just don’t want you staying in their neat and well-ordered home. Since my home is far from well-ordered I guess I love having friends visit.
More productively, here’s some guest etiquette compiled from gracious homeowners on how to be the best guest possible.
Ask For House Rules Up Front-
When your friend says (and means) that they would love to have you, not only thank them but ask for their expectations so there’s no weirdness once you arrive. This allows your host to lay down some boundaries of what you can do and when. They can make their expectations clear and you can choose if that works for you before you ever cross the threshold. Shoes off when you enter? Quiet after 9 p.m.? No surprise guests? No drinking? Is it ok to walk around in your pjs? Understand and honor those expectations.
Your Vacation Isn’t Theirs-
Many hosts hate the expectation that they have to drop everything and show you a good time. Guests assume since they’re on vacation their friends can take unlimited time off, so make sure you let your host know you’re psyched just to have a place to sleep and you can entertain yourself.
You’re not staying in a hotel where the maids enter every day to fold towels and vacuum. Put on a neatfreak hat during your stay even if you are the ultimate slob. Keep your “stuff” contained in its duffel, fold your own towels and make your bed. If you cook or use the dishes, clean them and put them away. Your goal is to make the place look like you aren’t there. “A good guest will ask if you need anything or if they can help in any way,” said Park City, Utah, host Deb Dekoff. “We allow them to help out. It makes for a nice stay for everyone.”
In addition, help with cleaning up after meals, strip the beds when you leave and bring your own towel.
Buy and eat your own food and while you’re at it cook or treat your hosts to at least one dinner if you can. Your friends aren’t expecting anything lavish. They know you’re staying with them to save money and dining out – especially in a resort town – could cost you as much as a hotel night. Buy the groceries, make dinner for all and do all the cleanup. That’s just as good if not better than a night on the town on you.
Figure Out Your Own Transportation-
Budget for a rental car or Uber if you’re not near public transportation. Ask for the best place to park if you have your own car and respect the answer. Do not park on the driveway means don’t park on the driveway.
Bring a Token of Appreciation-
Does your friend have a thing for whiskey? Coffee? Chocolate? Surprise them with a welcome gift or send them a thank you treat after your visit. “I had one guest get me an orchid-of-the-month for three months. I loved it as I don’t have plants,” said Tammy Manassa. “Repeat guests don’t buy me gifts but take us to dinners but I don’t expect it so it’s fine with me if they don’t buy anything. It’s not about this. It’s about sharing our home with people we care and want to be with.” Still, a little gift, maybe some “real beer” if you’re coming to Utah, goes a long way when trying to keep the door open for future visits.
Leave yours at home unless the host begs to see your four-legged baby. But do treat the hosts’ pets like they are royalty. Offer to petsit or take them on walks. “Be kind to my animals and you’re always welcome back,” said one local. If you are allowed to have your dog, make sure you pick up poop, offer to clean carpets if there’s an accident (which you better hope doesn’t happen) and replace items that may get chewed.
Your friends are not your babysitters. If you want a night out without those chillens, hire a sitter. Even better, if your friends have kids, you be the sitter and give them a night out.
Visiting friends should be a lively time of bonding. Don’t hide in your room and avoid those moments whether they involve cocktails and boardgames or watching a movie.
Don’t Outstay Your Welcome
Let your hosts know exactly how many days you intend to stay. No matter how awkward it might be to ask for a place for a week, it’s even worse if you say, “I just need something for a couple of nights” and you’re still there on night three. Your hosts have things to do, places to be and possible other guests to host. They need to make plans and not worry the whole time about when you are leaving. Get out of their hair when you say you will. Don’t ask for extra days once you’re there. If they offer, great but most hosts don’t want to be rude so they will say ok if you ask. You just won’t be welcome again.
If you find yourself in my position where you think you are an amazing guest and your friends just don’t see it, there is an alternative. Couchsurfing.com is a network of vagabonds and boondockers who are looking to pay it forward. They spent years roaming the globe and crashing on couches and they want to repay the favors. It’s free and it beats AirBnB if you don’t mind living with strangers for a beat. Just remember to mind your Ps and Qs. If all goes well you will have new friends to host you the next time around. And if it doesn’t you will know why as the hosts are allowed to review their guests.
And most importantly….
Repay The Favor
If some generous homeowner has hosted you- once, twice, three times, whatever- don’t be surprised when the tables are turned and they decide to come for a visit themselves. Be ready with fresh sheets and open arms. A zillion excuses like “this is not a good time,” “the catsitter has the place that weekend”, “if only you had given me more notice” tagged with “you can find another place to stay, right?” will only get you crickets the next time you ask for bed space.
Creative Thank You Gift Ideas
The best gifts are the thoughtful ones that show you “get” your hosts. A friend let me stay at her house while she was out of town but there wasn’t a single guest pillow in the place. I bought two and left them for her. Another time I noticed all of my friends’ coffee mugs were chipped and mismatched. I set them a nice set of four mugs when I got home.
If you’re a coffee drinker not only should you bring your own but bring an extra bag of your local java to gift. Here, there’s Park City Coffee Roaster but if you are anywhere near Hood River, Ore., or Jackson Hole, Wyo., you better bring a bag of Stoked Roasters or JH Coffee Roasters. Both delicious packs of perk.
There are so many brands and labels that your hosts will get a kick out of. Help them discover your local favorite like High West Distillery’s Rendezvous Rye or Gramercy Cellars Syrah. Nothing says, “Thanks,” better than a bottle of wine or whiskey. Or a six-pack or two of craft brew like Durango’s Modus Hoperandi IPA. Just make sure your hosts imbibe.
One gift people love but seldom buy for themselves are house slippers. Acorn makes some of the best; you will earn accolades when presenting the fun, cozy, classic slouch boot. It’s the perfect winter gesture when you’re sitting around the fire toasting to good times. BTW, you don’t have to be right on the money with sizes but try to find out beforehand rather than guessing.