How To Be The Perfect House Guest
Oh the Holidays! A time for endless parties, trips, first time meetings and spending your one time a year to relax feeling anything but. I started traveling with friends in elementary school and boyfriends in high school and I remember how uneasy I felt when visiting their parents and relatives for the first time. It wasn't because I didn't want to be there - I was delighted to be invited! But figuring out when and how to say, "thank you" when you're younger can be intimidating.
As I got older I found some tips and tricks for being sure my gratitude was evident, my respect for my hosts was top notch and I was invited back for another visit. Here is what works for me!
DO NOT SHOW UP EMPTY HANDED
Whether it's a simple jar of a jam, maple syrup from your hometown or flowers you grabbed last minute at the grocery store, something is better than nothing.
When your hosts come to pick you up or when they open the door, greet everyone first and then hand your small gift to the woman of the household (if there is one).
Follow it up with saying, "A little something for your table!" and if you feel comfortable expanding on that say, "Thank you so much for including me."
MY FAVORITE THINGS
Rugged Ridge Forest Maple Syrup: $7
This wood fired organic syrup is made by my friend Josh and I am not giving him a shout out because he's an ex. Josh and his team put their hearts into caring for their sugar bush and everything from growing, tapping, wood firing and bottling happens on Josh's land.
Stonewall Kitchen Honey Mustard Dip: $7
This is my favorite dip for fruit, meat, pretzels or on its own with a spoon. You can find it in most grocery stores even though it comes from Maine!
Roses ($3-$5 per stem)
Stick your hand in and feel around the bottom of the rose just above the stem. It should be firm like a tennis ball. Roses that are limp are already dead.Look at the little green petals that surround the bud of the rose. If they are up, the rose is healthy. If they have fallen horizontally to the side the rose is blooming. If they are pointing downward and are near the stem the rose is already dead!
Hydrangea ($10-$18 per stem)
Pronounced (high-drain-juh) comes in every color but this can be tough. If it's not processed properly (the way the florist cuts and prepares the stem which should be peeled about 3 inches up like a carrot and then whacked about 5 inched up the stem) hydrangea can wilt overnight in warm homes.If you see this in a bouquet know that light green, red, purple and dark blue last the longest.
Gerber Daises ($1-$8 per stem)
Always a crowd pleasure and they come in a variety of colors
Want to take it up a notch? Ask/look for Calla Lillie's, Cymbidium (sim-bid-ee-um) Orchids, Pin Cushions, Peonies (pee-nees) or lilacs. These flowers are elegant and long lasting.
SOUND LIKE A PRO WHEN CALLING A FLORIST
"I'm looking to spend around fifty dollars and would like a (low and lush OR tall) arrangement in (colors). Please don't use any filler flowers - no babies breath, alstro or carnations." Alstro is short for alstroemeria (alstro-mare-ee-uh).
"I'm looking to spend ($100+) on a (low and lush or tall) arrangement in (colors). I'd love to use more high end flowers like callas and maybe some cymbidiums (sim-bid-ee-ums). I would also love some accent leaves - if you have any calathea (cuh-lay-thee-uh) leaves to line the vase that would be great and please don't use any fillers."
If you have more time to prepare, a bottle of wine, an assortment of cheese and olives or bakery/homemade cookies or muffins are always lovely options.
Pitch in with the dishes, give the kitchen floor a quick sweep or take the dog out for a walk. It's little things that hosts so appreciate! Even though it may seem redundant, be sure to ask you hosts before every meal if there is anything you can do to help. Chances are that they will want you to relax but you must always offer to help!
KEEP IT CLEAN
My mother is totally guilty of this this! She always gives our guest bedrooms a quick peek to see the condition they're in mid-visit when we have guests. Now that I have my own home, I find myself mortified when my house guests leave everything in shambles. Maybe I'm a little uptight but it irks me because I spend a lot of money on a weekly cleaning lady.
Make sure your room is picked up Throw the comforter over the bed when you wake up, throw your clothes in a pile or back in your suitcase and make sure the bathroom sink is rinsed clean with no toothpaste on the mirror.
Follow suit - Everything has a place Hang up your jackets, kick your shoes off by the door and put food containers back where you found them.
I know I know...but when we're out of our element it's easy to forget even your most basic manners.
Remember: Your hosts will be fretting over how comfortable they are making you feel, so by keeping things neat and tidy it shows not only that you respect their home but that you recognize their efforts to tidy up before you arrived and you want to minimize their clean up efforts when you leave.
ASK THOUGHTFUL QUESTIONS
Finding yourself a bit tongue tied during mealtimes or cocktail hour is totally normal. If you are a first time guest chances are high that your host will ask you tons of questions about yourself. Don't forget! It's important that you ask them questions as well.
Here are some thoughtful questions I like to ask:
"Tell me about the history of your home."
"I love your town! Whats its history?"
"If you had to choose your three favorite places you've traveled to, what would they be?"
"Your pet is so sweet. How did you find him/her?"
"I saw your picture in the (room). Where/when was it taken?"
AVOID AWKWARD MOMENTS
In a cramped home or a high stress visit, it's bound to get awkward and it typically happens during a group conversation or a meal. I don't need to tell you how to remain neutral on political and social issues but here's what I've found helps:
Families are complicated and none are perfect. If things get tense I typically put my head down until the parties are done speaking their mind. I will continue to sip my drink and eat and if someone says, "Sorry Samantha! Clearly we don't all agree!" I follow it up with a small laugh and a smile and say something like, "Not to worry! Better out than in, I always say. I'm just glad to be here and this wine is divine!" Keep it light, show you understand and aren't bothered and carry on. If it's a little scuffle, do try not to run out of the room. That will make your hosts feel guilty and could escalate the fight or make the rest of the trip awkward.
If this is not a little scuffle and there is yelling and screaming involved, I typically will leave the room quietly and quickly or go outside until everything calms down. If you can, do avoid getting on your phone in a way that is visible or audible to the people who are fighting. People tend to behave even more aggressively when they are already feeling vulnerable (like when they're fighting) and think someone might be telling someone else about what's happening.
Going off of the above, it's important to take a moment to yourself and if you have your own private space during a visit so you can decompress, you're lucky. If you have your own bedroom, take a little cat nap from 3-5 in the afternoon with the door closed. If you don't then it can be little things like going for a quick walk alone to call your parents or friends. If there are little kids around, bring your purse up to your room and keep your door closed to avoid little ones throwing your things around the house. It's totally normal to need a moment to yourself and I'm certain your hosts won't mind you taking some time for yourself! For all we know, they might need a little down time as well.
LEAVE IT THE WAY YOU FOUND IT
At the end of your visit, you should quickly run through the following:
Strip your bed! Sheets, pillow cases, blankets and comforters and any towels you used should be brought downstairs to the laundry room after you wake up on your final morning. Then, ask your host if they would like you to remake the bed with different sheets.
If you used a family car, please do fill the tank back up or at least put in $10. I usually go by how much gas it took for them to pick me up and drop me off plus however much I've used their vehicle.
Grab a dozen eggs and a gallon of milk and maybe a bag of chips or snacks and bring them to your hosts. If you want to make your hosts breakfast, that would be lovely! But you don't have to. Simply replacing these basic items will be greatly appreciated.
Clean the bathroom sink, mirror and counter with a little warm water. Make sure you don't leave hair or globs of toothpaste in there!
Within three days of returning home, always always always write a handwritten thank you note or an email thanking your hosts for their hospitality.
Dear Susan and Jim,
Thank you so much for your warm hospitality! I had such a great time visiting. My favorite part of my moment was when we had that delicious turkey dinner and shared travel stories. I feel so lucky to have been welcomed into your home.
Hope to see you both again soon,
I know most of this is a given but we've recently discovered we have a large high school and college aged audience who are now having to practice their young adult manners away from their parents for the first time. I hope you'll pass this along to someone you care about.