The Gracious Guest

No guest is so welcome in a friend's house that he will not become a nuisance after three days.
- Titus Maccius Plautus

My neighbor just left, she had called a half hour ago seeking sanctuary from her own home. She had houseguests who had taken over her house and her life. You know the type. Somehow she had been transformed from host to cook, maid and tour guide. Their stay of only a few nights seemed like years. How can you be sure your visit is a welcome one? Here are a few tips to make your stay memorable as well as pleasurable.

Communicate ~ Prior to your arrival, be sure to speak with your host to make sure your visit is a welcome one and you have agreed upon arrival and departure dates. Ask if there is anything you need to bring. Not every home stocks enough linens, towels and pillows just in case of visitors.

Be the Bearer of Gifts ~ You should arrive with gifts for your host. Some typical hospitality gifts include flowers, wine, chocolates, homemade treats, decorative hand towels, or items from your hometown.

Help Around the House ~ Make yourself useful by helping around the house, clear dishes, load the dishwasher, tidy rooms you have been in, or (if the host is agreeable) make dinner. In addition to helping around the house, take the host out for a nice meal at least once during your stay.

Make Yourself Scarce ~ Be sure to give the host time during the day. Retire to your room for a nap, read a book or take a long walk. Even better, take the day to see the sights. Invite the host, but be sure to leave them the opportunity to decline. "I am off to see the Statue of Liberty today. If you would like to join me, you are more than welcome, but please don't change your plans on account of me. I know how busy you are right now."

Always Ask ~ Being a guest in someone's home does not automatically grant you access to anything in the closet, cupboards and cabinets. Be sure to ask first if you need or wish to use something belonging to your host.

Use the Magic Three ~ When you are a guest in someone's home, be sure to use the magic three phrases often. "Please," "Thank you" and "Excuse me."

Do Strip ~ The bed, that is! When you are leaving, strip the bed. The host's linens should be folded neatly and left either near the door of the room or in the laundry room. Check the room and the bathroom for your personal effects and be sure to tidy them before your departure.

Thank Again ~ You may have already thanked the host profusely in person, but don't stop there. Be sure to send a written thank you note to the host once you have returned home. Remember, a gracious guest is a welcome guest.

Q: Dear Mannersmith ~ My husband and I visit my in-laws frequently. I think we should bring a host gift every time we stay over. My husband feels that this is family and no gift is necessary. What do you recommend?

A: Niceties around family are even more important if you want to keep the relationships positive. If your in-laws clean, cook and entertain during your stay, you should be sure to thank them appropriately. A host gift, a dinner out or a gift certificate to a favorite restaurant are great ways to show your appreciation for their efforts.

Q: Dear Mannersmith ~ I will be staying with friends for over a month while I get situated in a new city. I have offered them money for rent, but they will not hear of it. How can I show them that I am not taking their hospitality for granted?

A: You are smart to consider the scenario now. There are many non-monetary ways to show your hosts you are grateful to them. As an extended guest, you should ask which household tasks you can do for them. You should also note what groceries and supplies they purchase so you can do the marketing for them once or twice during your stay. Since yours is an extended stay, be sure to make yourself scarce. This may include going elsewhere on the weekends so your hosts have a chance to relax. And once you departed, you should be sure to send a long letter thanking them for their hospitality. Depending your relationship, an additional gift may be given. This gift would be along the same lines as a traditional host gift (see above), on a slightly grander scale.

Q: Dear Mannersmith ~ How do I teach my children the proper way to be a guest in someone else's home?

A: The best way to teach children about manners is by setting a good example yourself, both in your own home and when with others. When going out, prepare your children by talking out your actions so they will understand what you are doing. "We are bringing this apple pie to grandma’s house because she has done all of the work making a big dinner and we are going to help by bringing dessert." "When we are at Aunt Alison’s remember to ask to be excused from the table." "Since Johnny was nice enough to ask you over to play, we are going to bring him this book as a thank you gift."

Q: Dear Mannersmith ~ Friends of mine have just left after staying a week. They have visited before and each visit is slightly more disastrous than the one before. This past trip, they brought along, unannounced, two additional people. My nerves are shot. I do not want them to stay here again. I would like to keep them as friends, just not as overnight guests. What should I say the next time they ask to come for a visit?

A: Tell them you cannot wait to see them and here are the names of two hotels close by to your home. One of the most wonderful things about etiquette is there no need to provide additional information. However, if these are close friends, who press you as to why your home is no longer open, a light answer is best. "It was wonderful to see you last visit, but I was so tired I am sure I was no fun to be around. I want to make sure I am able to give you my full attention!"