Wednesday, April 20, 2011

How to Be a Good House Guest

Just arrived, tired but punctual!
 Just arrived, tired but punctual!
When visiting someone's home, whether they're close family, more distant relatives, friends, colleagues – and even if you're paying to stay in a Bed & Breakfast (B&B) or to share an apartment – it is important to be a gracious guest. It could make all the difference between a pleasant stay, or never being invited again. Following these tips will help to make your stay enjoyable for yourself and your hosts.


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    Be specific with dates of arrival and departure. Don't keep your visit open-ended.
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    Arrive when you say you will arrive. Don't show up earlier. Your host may not be ready for you and an early arrival could inconvenience them considerably. If for some unforeseen reason you caught an earlier connection or you had an extra day's vacation and want to arrive earlier, call them first. If they sound hesitant, tell them you will be happy to leave the plans as originally agreed upon, then find something else to do with your extra time. (This will also depend on who you're staying with; mom and dad probably won't mind at all but a friend or colleague may have other commitments, so don't ask them to change their plans.)
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    Avoid showing up several hours or even the day after you said you'd arrive.This may upset many hosts who worry about what might have happened to you, or are put out because they may have rearranged their schedules to accommodate you. This fills the air with bad vibes. Again, if you are delayed for any reason, call them and explain. They'll understand, but only if you've given reasonable explanations for your change in plans.

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    Be courteous by letting your host(s) know your plans and communicate clearly about your comings and goings from their home. If you will not be with your hosts all the time, discuss your plans to make sure that you are not going to inadvertently inconvenience them. And don't leave their home, even for a short outing, without telling them! Your host should not have to guess whether you went out or you're in your room with the door shut.
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    Don't overstay your visit. Your hosts may not be on vacation as you are (most have to work while you play), and even though have graciously invited you into their home, they have already rearranged their normal routines on your behalf. Their hospitality also requires their investment of time, energy, and money for extra food and drink, utilities, and other costs.
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    Bring a gift to say thank you when you arrive. Offering something as a way of thanking your hosts in advance is a thoughtful and caring gesture. It demonstrates your appreciation of their important contribution in making your stay a good one. Considerate, inexpensive gifts include a bottle of good wine, a box of chocolates, a basket of fruit, or a bouquet of flowers, or perhaps a music CD by artists from your region or country. If you don't want to carry anything extra, consider having something delivered before your arrival or buying something on the way.
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    Be flexible and adaptive. The living space designed to accommodate you on a short-term, temporary basis is the full-time home of your host(s). Make a conscious effort to adapt to their preferences and patterns. To be clear, ask about their expectations of you during your stay. (For example, if you are expected to share meals with them, what time they prefer you to turn out the lights, etc.) It is especially important to arise when your hosts do, and accept that others have to live in the house, too.
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    Keep your guest area neat. Do not roll your suitcase inside the home. Take care not to soil the carpet, sofa or bedspread with oil, salt, or grime from the bottom of your suitcase. Make your bed before appearing for breakfast, or peel back the covers to air the bed if that's how your host prefers it. Keep your suitcase and belongings as unobtrusive as possible - especially if the room is a shared space, or visible to your hosts in passing by. Be neat. Just shutting the door to a messy room is NOT an option. Put dirty laundry in a laundry bag or plastic bag. Make up your bed and tuck your suitcase out of the way to keep the common space neat. If you need closet space, always ask permission first.
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    Keep yourself neat: Hygiene is everything! Family members may tolerate each other's personal habits because they have had years to get used to them (or learn to tolerate them). Expect to shower daily and be especially aware of body odor. What may be "no big deal" or "natural" in your own household, may be offensive in your host's household, and most hosts will be reluctant to approach you about it. Have you been working outside? Have you been sweating or wearing shoes without socks? You may wish to keep your shoes outside the door, change your shirt and put on more deoderant. Brush your teeth morning and evening (or if you have eaten something like garlic or onions). Also be aware that your dirty laundry retains the smell--wash them as soon as possible. *Take daily, but short showers--it is also rude to run out the hot water or run up the electric bill for your host.
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    If you have your own bedroom, keep the door open when you are not in it, with the bed neatly made and your belongings neat and tidy.
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    Clean up after yourself. Do NOT leave your dirty dishes in the sink. This is just rude, even if your host does. You should leave the kitchen cleaner than you found it, but hopefully it goes without saying that you clean your dishes as soon as you're done with them.
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    Be reasonable about sharing a household bathroom. If the house only has one bathroom, ask when it is convenient for you to use it. If the family is working, going to school, etc., the last thing you want to be doing is getting underfoot. Come to an arrangement as soon as you arrive and be flexible about the use. Consideration is also expected if you are sleeping in a living area near the only bathroom; remember, others may need to use it after you go to bed. Flush the toilet and put the lid down, don't leave a dripping faucet, and turn off the light when you're finished. If there are more bathrooms, make sure that you use the one allocated to you and treat the other bathrooms as private. Be clean. Check that you have not left hair on the floor, or toothpaste splatters in the sink.
    • Guys: It's most hygienic to just sit down to pee. But if you want to pee standing up lift the seat first and wipe the rim afterwards.
    • Girls: If you want to hover-pee, take a short look for sprinkles after you are done.
    • If towels are not placed out for you in the guest room, don't presume that the fancy towels in a shared bathroom are for you. Politely inquire, "What towels would you like me to use?" If you are provided a guest bathroom, still keep it neat and always hang the towels up in an orderly manner.
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    Be clean yourself and try to make sure that you do not pass anything to your hosts. If you have anything contagious, you should take care with hygiene (use shower sandals, use alcohol gel if you have a cold). If you are traveling with children, and they get something contagious, cancel your trip unless you absolutely have to go. Nothing is as cheerless as a family struck down by a stomach flu because a guest brought it.
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    Don't keep the hosts up late. It doesn't matter how long it has been since you last saw them, or how many exciting stories you have to tell them. Let your hosts get to bed for a decent night's rest. You may be feeling so excited at seeing them that you don't even notice your own exhaustion from traveling, so it will benefit you to go to bed at a reasonable hour, too. Likewise, don't sleep in and make your host family tiptoe around you. Be considerate. Bring your own earphones for listening to music or for watching TV, so as not to disturb your host, who may prefer some quiet time, or doesn't share your appreciation for music or certain TV shows.
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    Always offer to help at mealtimes. There is nothing more debilitating than having guests who sit around waiting expectantly for all meals. This is when a stay crosses over from being homey to like being in a hotel. It doesn't mean crowding the host out of the kitchen, but it does mean collecting plates, carrying out dishes, offering to wash up or stack the dishwasher, cleaning off the counters, and taking the garbage out. You could even offer to cook a meal or two yourself. If you're not sure what to do, ASK! Even if the host may say "nothing," insist that you do at least one thing. Very few hosts can say no to this offer!
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    Don't make assumptions. Unless you are specifically told to "help yourself to anything" in the refrigerator or pantry, always ask before taking something, and never take the last of anything. This is especially true of left-overs which are not easily reproduced, and expensive items. If you must eat your host's food while they are unavailable for consent, a good idea is to pick up some more to replace what you ate. Some people are more or less concerned about this, and often it is based on convenience of the grocery store (e.g. if the store is far away, and you eat the last of something, your host is more likely to be annoyed than if the store is 2 blocks away and easily accessible), and the income level of your host(s) (e.g. if your hosts make a lot of money and spend without ever worrying, they are less likely to be concerned about rationing the food than someone who makes very little money and lives on a tight budget). In most cases, your host will likely not say anything if you commit one of these faux-pas, but that does not mean they don't notice, and in an effort to avoid any tension or inconvenience to the host(s), you should assume "you ate it you bought it". Also, do not assume that it is OK to go through your host's closets, drawers, etc. when you need something. Ask where you can find it or if they can get it for you.
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    Offer to make contributions. Even if you're not eating at your host's home, offer to purchase the groceries (after all, you still need their toilet paper!). This is usually the most burdensome additional cost for your hosts. Remember that they have probably already been shopping for extra groceries and spent a considerable amount of time and money to get ready for your visit. You could either bankroll their next supermarket trip, or you could offer to go out and buy things for both yourself and for them (ask them for a list). If your host is embarrassed to give you a list, make regular financial contributions, like accompanying your hosts to the supermarket and paying at the checkout or leaving money out in an obvious place on a regular basis clearly indicating it is for groceries. If your host does not accept this make sure you buy grocery items regularly that are consistent with the items they use in the home. For longer stays of more than a couple of days, assisting with the grocery bill is crucial! Whatever the length of your visit, you should at least offer to take your hosts out for dinner. It should be the restaurant of their choice, although if you suggest it the right way, they'll also might enjoy a restaurant featuring local cuisine that they think will impress you as a visitor.
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    Be aware of cultural/personal/family differences. For example, you may be a carnivore staying with a vegan family, but it is polite to try what they offer to serve you; and do not criticise your hosts' preferences.
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    Be appreciative. Show appreciation for the local food/sightseeing and other offerings. Do not criticize or compare anything in a superior way to how things are done where you live.
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    Do your own laundry. Don't be embarrassed about asking whether it is okay to do your laundry at your host's place. They understand that after a few days you'll have dirty underwear. Don't make the request sound like you're hoping they might add your laundry to their laundry chores. And never presume that the washing machine or dryer is available; always ask your host when the most convenient time is for you to do your laundry, emphasizing that you don't want to cut into the household's normal routine.
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    Entertain yourself. Your hosts are offering you their home but not necessarily their time. Let your hosts make it clear whether or not they have the time to take you to places or to spend entire evenings with you. They may work from home and need to take calls without the TV blaring from the other room, they may work during the daytime away from home, or have other commitments. Don't presume that you can rely on their generosity to drive you to places or to show you around. Be prepared to catch public transportation and taxis. Alternately, rent a car for yourself, especially if you plan on seeing many of the local sights, or if you are more active than your hosts. Your hosts may have already visited the sights many times before, especially if they live in a tourist-destination town. If they do take you to sights they have seen, make sure you pay their admittance if there is a charge. After all you would have had to pay much more if you went on an organized tour or were paying accommodation costs. Sightseeing costs are additional for hosts as a direct result of having you as a guest.
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    Be home on time. Unless you have made a clear arrangement with your hosts that you'll be coming and going as and when you please, give your hosts an idea of when you'll return. If your hosts are providing you with an evening meal, be there at least half an hour before meal time. This gives you time to assist with the meal, help set the table or carry out other household chores. If you're late for a meal, call first and explain. Better yet, if you've been out sightseeing all day, and know that you'll be home late, don't come home hungry, assuming that your host is waiting to feed you. Have dinner while you're out, or bring dinner home with you, (pizza will do!) and bring enough for your hosts. Be extra quiet on arriving back late, and if given a key, use it. Then, turn out the lights and make sure to lock the door behind you.
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    Be careful about Internet and phone usage. If you need to use the internet or phone at your hosts' home, rather than assuming you can use their facilities, inquire what is the best way to make calls to other areas. If they suggest their phone, make sure you ask them first if this is okay with them. Ask them if they have dial-up or broadband and if your usage for a certain amount of time will cost anything. If there are costs involved (especially with long-distance calls), make sure you leave adequate payment. Better yet, use your cell phone. Regardless of the financial implications, sitting on the internet all night is just plain rude. If you do use your hosts' computer, be thoughtful and just check your e-mails, your favorite updates and then shut down and return to the conversation. If you need to read your email, why not source the internet at a local cafe or library rather than your hosts' home? This will be less intrusive and not interrupt their schedule, i.e. children's homework, etc.
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    Leave a thank you gift on your departure. Again, nothing expensive if you have had a brief stay, just a small token of appreciation to show that you appreciated their hospitality. The value of the gift should be relative to the length of your stay. Flowers, a bottle of wine, fresh berries or a hand-written card are nice tokens. Do your homework, and try to choose something that you know they will like. Give some thought to how you would like your hosts to remember you. Do you want to be invited back? If you can't get to a shop to buy a suitable gift, consider having flowers delivered. Remember certain flowers in some cultures are associated with mourning - show sensitivity and good sense.
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    Strip your bedclothes on leaving. You're not staying in a hotel and your host will have to wash your sheets and towels when you leave. Make it easier by removing sheets, pillow cases and any other linens. Place them in a neat pile on the foot of the bed or in the laundry hamper. Better yet, start washing them for your host. After all, they'll have to do it after you leave anyway. You've probably been washing your own clothes during your stay, so you'll be familiar with using the washer and dryer. If you're staying long enough that your sheets require washing during your stay, do them yourself and remake your own bed. Make sure you factor utility costs and cleaning products into any remuneration you will give to your hosts. Does your host use a housecleaning service? Offer to pay for it. You may even offer to contribute to the cost of cleaning supplies and laundry costs (especially if your host lives in an apartment building where coin-operated washer/dryers are expensive to use).
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    Leave quietly and thoughtfully. If you have to leave really early in the morning, say your farewells the night before. If you're departing late at night or early in the morning, book your own transportation. Do not expect the host to run you to the airport/bus station unless the host suggests it, even if you are leaving at a reasonable hour. If you leave when the hosts are at work or are out, make sure you have made prior arrangements to leave the keys somewhere safe and that you're sure how to lock the place up properly.
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    Don't outstay your welcome. A short stay is a pleasant stay and leaves everyone feeling good about each other. As Ben Franklin once said, "Fish and visitors stink after three days." If you are staying for a longer period, consider putting the arrangement on a business footing, or finding ways to leave and stay elsewhere for a few days to give your hosts some private time.
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    Send a thank-you note. Send a small card or an e-card to say thanks when you return home. Yes, it's a lot of thank-you's, but it's polite to acknowledge the fact that your hosts opened their home to you, and it keeps the potential open for a repeat stay when your visit is remembered amicably by all.
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    Do not invite other people to the residence without consideration for the host's thoughts and opinions. It may be possible that the host wants a quiet night in their own home and having loud or even rude guests that they didn't invite personally as an affront and even a challenge to their authority.
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    Don't behave as if it's your own home. The host may have children and they may untidy your bed, meddle with your belongings etc.Don't make a fuss about it. Just play with them! But they may climb on top of chairs, tables etc which you mustn't do. Some hosts are very concerned if you hurt their kids. So be very careful with your language towards them.


  • Some hosts are not bright and chipper first thing in the morning, and may be accustomed to quite private time. If you are unsure, err on the side of giving your host a little private time, they may be accustomed to it.
  • If you have special dietary needs, bring your own food. Offer to take care of your own special dietary needs and be clear about what this means by way of food preparation. However, be ready to prepare them yourself. If you couldn't bring the items with you, ask your host where you can purchase them.
  • At times, with certain differences between your lifestyle and your hosts', you may feel like you're treading on tiptoes, but remember, it should be possible to reach a tolerant arrangement for a comfortable stay. Be open, honest and considerate. If it becomes clear that your stay is irritating, discuss with your host how you might make things more agreeable for them.
  • Always offer to help in the kitchen. Be sensitive - if it becomes clear when you're asking to help that your host is a one-person-in-the-kitchen cook, leave it alone. (Keep in mind, this is rare!) However, if this is the case, there are other ways you can help out in the house. Be lateral in thinking about ways to help. Respect their customs and choices, just as you'd want yours respected in your home.
  • Some hosts are very fastidious about tidiness and cleanliness. Apart from being as tidy as you can be, also be careful about offering to do cleaning for them apart from picking up after yourself, clearing the table or washing the dishes. If you notice (after you've been there a few days) that the floor needs to be swept, or the carpet needs to be vacuumed, offer to do it. Gauge it from what you know of their usual way of keeping house, and be considerate and tactful.
  • Pay attention to the security instructions in your host's home; you don't want to expose them to an insurance liability if you didn't lock up properly. Take good care of any keys that they loan you. Offer to replace what you have used.
  • If your host offers to provide your transportation, at least pay for their gas! With gas at around $2.00-$3.00 (U.S.) a gallon, a good rule of thumb is to give at least $20.00 (U.S.) Offer more if it's a long drive. Remember, it's a round trip drive for your host when they pick you up or take you back to the airport or bus station. It's still no doubt cheaper for you than taking a shuttle or taxi, and should not be at your host's expense. Always be generous. Remember, it is insulting to your host to make a token gesture that only covers a very small proportion of their costs, unless you are going to be able to return the favour within a short timescale. When you provide a cash donation towards gas and food, make sure you adequately acknowledge additional expenses, such as the extra costs in meeting you at the airport e.g. parking, and costs of any day trips they may have taken you on, as well as the basic food and utilities. Otherwise you run the risk of making your kind hosts feel very taken for granted and 'used'. It is preferable to make donations regularly during your stay at the time costs are incurred, with a small additional thank you at the end of your stay. Your hosts will appreciate this; they will experience your gratitude and respect you for making regular contributions.


  • Always replace anything you damage. Even if it was an accident, you are responsible and should make it right for your host by fixing the item, replacing the item or leaving a monetary settlement. Doing so shows that you respect another's possessions. Not addressing it can leave long memories of the issue, and it will certainly get around in family or friendship circles.
  • Always keep your personal possessions -- clothes, toys, wallets, etc. -- out of the common areas. The host may not be the neatest person in the world, but he or she will certainly not appreciate seeing your things cluttering up the living room, dining room or kitchen counters.
  • Do not interpret your welcome into someone's home as permission to enter rooms, or look in closets, or intrude into any areas where you haven't been explicitly invited. Respect a host's privacy by erring on the side of caution--even when visiting friends or family.
  • Never, ever, gossip about or criticize your hosts, their homes or family members, especially during your stay. It's disrespectful and rude. You'll only declare yourself an ungrateful guest, unlikely to be invited even by those with whom you gossip.
  • Were you invited by your hosts for this visit, or did you invite yourself? If you have invited yourself, which is most often the case, these steps are paramount to being allowed to return for another visit. Even if your hosts invited you, keep all of these steps in mind and sincerely do them. Remember, you're on vacation, they're not. Make offers to help and follow through. Your actions, or lack of them, will be filed away in your hosts' memory banks, and good or bad, will be remembered when you ask to return!


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