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How to Be a Perfect Houseguest

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If being able to play hostess is one of the greatest pleasures of being a woman, being an excellent guest comes in close behind it. Hospitality is supposed to be a reciprocal relationship—a thing you sometimes give, and sometimes receive. When you act the part of a perfect overnight guest, you’re graciously accepting your host or hostess’ generous gift. Here are a few guidelines for being a perfect houseguest.


Communicate about the invitation. Relationships thrive on communication. If you and your hostess are clear about your expectations before you arrive, you’re more likely to avoid disappointment or hurt feelings.

  • Be clear about your visit. It isn’t necessarily true that guests, like fish, start to stink after three days. But it is true that guests who overstay their welcome create annoyance and inconvenience for their hostesses. Agree in advance how long you’ll be staying.
  • Be clear about your expectations. Let your hostess know how you’re planning to spend your time. When will you be home? When will you be out? When do you want her company? When will you be happy left to your own devices? What would you like to do or see? It is part of your hostess’ job to entertain you, but you can make that easier with good communication.
  • Be clear about your needs. If you have any special dietary requirements or preferences, do your best to be clear up front. As awkward as you may feel about telling your hostess you’re allergic to peanuts or really hate grapefruit, you’ll save her the trouble of making you a dish you can’t or won’t eat.
  • Arrive and leave on time. Whenever it is in your control, stick to the arrival time you discussed with your hostess. When it isn’t, call her as soon as possible to let her know. As for leaving, my parents have a rule to always allow your hostess at least one day of her weekend. Whether or not you stick to a rule this stringent, make sure she has a little time to herself before the work week begins anew.

 Treat your hostess’ home the way you would like yours to be treated. If you wanted to be waited on hand and foot, you would stay in a five-star hotel. Remember that your hostess is welcoming you into her home and you’ll both enjoy your visit.

  • Keep your area neat. Try to put your things away in your suitcase, your bathroom counter clean, and your bed made. When you don’t keep your area neat, you’ll put your hostess in the awkward position of trying to decide whether or not it is appropriate to pick up her guest’s dirty clothes so her room is welcoming and tidy.
  • Help with the housework. I have a tendency to stand around asking what I can do to help. Bad idea. Instead, help around the house without having to ask. Simple chores such as washing dishes or clearing the table are pleasant, non-invasive ways to help.
  • When in doubt, ask. When your hostess opens part of her home to you, don’t assume there aren’t areas and things she wants to keep to herself. Protect her privacy by knocking on doors and asking before you look for something.

Show your gratitude. Don’t wait until the end of your visit to show your hostess how much you appreciate the gift of her hospitality.

  • Bring a hostess gift. Traditional etiquette dictates that houseguests bring a hostess gift as a way to thank their hostesses in advance. Gourmet coffee, fine chocolate, fresh produce, and nice wine are great ice-breakers for a first evening in town. (Although many hostesses choose to share their hostess gifts with the gift giver, they don’t have to.) Emily Post even suggests keeping an eye out for a thoughtful item your hostess seems to want when you’re out shopping together, buying it on the sly, and presenting it to her before you leave. Guests should also bring a small present for their hostesses’ children.
  • Be lavish with praise and silent with criticism. Most hostesses put a lot of time and energy into making you comfortable and happy. Be sure she knows when you enjoy a nice meal or a fun afternoon out. By the same token, make it a rule not to complain if something isn’t perfect, particularly if it’s out of the hostess’ control.
  • Write a thank you note. Thank you notes are one of the best ways to show a hostess that you are truly grateful for her time, resources, and energy. Send a handwritten note of thanks as soon as you return home.

Any more tips of being a great houseguest? What makes you feel especially welcome in someone else’s home? Let us know in the comments.

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