Monday, June 10, 2013

How to Be a Good House Guest

We've all experienced the mixed feelings associated with going to visit friends: the half-excitement of anticipation mixed with the half-dread of everything going massively wrong and ruining the friendship forever.

We've all been there are time or two. Maybe you've gone to visit relatives whom you absolutely love until partway through the trip, when you suddenly remember why you live so far away in the first place. Or you've gone to meet the parents of your significant other only to find yourself toeing the line between the keen desire to make a good impression and the crippling fear of trying too hard and coming across as a massive tool.  

Whatever your situation, do not despair. I'm here to help. 

I write this post while sitting on the borrowed coverlet of a borrowed bed in borrowed loft-style bedroom in the middle of a six-week road trip during which I will stay nearly every single night in the homes of different friends; thus I write from an ever-expanding knowledge base brimming with insightful factoids concerning how to be a good house guest.

No, there is no need to thank me. I offer this as a public service.

How to Be a Good House Guest:

1. Pack light. Perhaps the best advice ever given regarding traveling is that one person should be able to carry one person's stuff. Forget the length of the trip: if you're one person traveling with two suitcases, a backpack, a purse, and a shoulder bag full of odds-and-ends, you may want to consider whether travel is actually right for you. After all, when you're planning to spend time in borrowed space, you never know where you may wind up. You may find yourself--as I have this week--in an attic bedroom accessible only by ladder.  Therefore when it comes to packing, the rule is this: the lighter the better.

Bear in mind that most people already have many needed items just lying around their houses already, and if they like you well enough to let you stay over night, they probably like you well enough to let you use anything that you find lying around (hair dryers, plates and cups, shoes, toothbrushes, etc). Especially if they don't realize that you're using them!

2. Be transparent.  Even if you're just staying for a short time, it's probably smart to make your likes and dislikes known right away.  After all, how can your hosts cater to your every whim if they don't know what your whims are! To that end, I recommend sending a GOOD IDEA/BAD IDEA checklist at least two weeks in advance in order to alert your hosts as to your special needs and give them time to prepare. This is especially important if your host household contains children, since children often require a few days to practice certain elements of your checklist, such as learning not to speak aloud before you've had your coffee, etc.

If you forget to add something to the list beforehand, feel free to make constant verbal updates throughout your stay. Use clear, simple statements such as "I like this," and "I don't like this."  For example, if dinner consists of bratwursts and sauerkraut with a side of beans, feel free to point out which elements of the meal appeal most to you --"I like this" (*point*)-- and which ones don't --"I do not like this" (*point*). I'm certain your host will be vastly appreciative of your efforts to make yourself clear. If you feel the need to elaborate as to why these items should have appeared on the BAD IDEA checklist, feel free. Open lines of communication can only be a boon.

3.  Keep a predictable routine. No matter the routine of the household that you're temporarily joining, I feel that it's important for you to follow your own routine. Not only does this assert your individuality (thus inspiriting any children in the household to "be themselves" when they grow up), but it also gives your friends, family, and new acquaintances a true picture of who you really are and of what your life is like. 

After all, how will your family and friends be able to grasp your true personhood if you become enmeshed in helping them live their lives? Likewise, how can your hosts fulfill their duty to cater to you as their guest if you are busy catering to them

The mind boggles! 

Thus when it comes to meal times, leisure activities, and personal grooming, I strongly recommend that you keep your own schedule. Get up when you like, eat when you like, shower when you like, sleep when you like.  I'm certain that your friends will appreciate the chance to see the "real you" in action.

4. Don't offer to help.  It implies that you think your hosts aren't doing a good job on their own.

Whether or not you choose to put any of my other recommendations into practice, remember this last one: be grateful to your hosts for letting you in. I don't just mean for letting you inside their homes. I mean be grateful that they let you inside their lives, entrusting you with something of inestimable value--a chance to view their lives from the inside out. 

The truth is that if you can learn to do that, then you've learned what it means to be a good house guest.

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