Some pals of mine are having a tough time at the moment with a house guest who is unhappy. With pretty much everything – the weather, their home, the food, the entertainment, the alternatives. She comes with more baggage than suitcases. As we all do when we travel. But, her baggage is serious – and there is a good chance that this trip may be one of her last. Surely all the more reason to have a wonderful time? But it isn’t that simple. Travel magnifies our insecurities and fears, and we humans are complex emotional beasts. When we are far from home it’s easier to splat our discomfort all over someone else – than to address it in ourselves. And the inevitable result is a disastrous holiday experience all round.
Living in London, New York and Cape Town means I’ve had my share of guests. Some have been miserable gits. Some were great and welcome back any time. I have been an ok host, but I have also been a miserable bugger, too. Reference the first paragraph: my nonsense. To the friends who experienced that – I apologise. I’ve learned to get over myself.
At one point in London we had to institute a hard and fast rule – we would accept staying (versus paying) guests if they were ‘blood or best friends’. The amount of “just one night”ers who were showing up, eating us out of house and home, drinking our booze and leaving sticky white stains on our sofabed, had escalated to such a point that I once contemplated moving out of the house into a hotel. Then one of them drank a bottle of cognac, given to me by someone very cool, and I was furious. He was out that night.
In honour of my friends who are doing their best, and in the hope that their guest does beat her cancer, here are my “10 Hard and Fast Rules on How to be a Most Excellent House Guest”.
1. Be mobile. Hire a damn car. If you can’t/won’t drive – take enough money for plenty of taxi fares. And go out, on your own. Don’t expect your hosts to take you everywhere. Don’t go everywhere with them – let them do their own thing. Get out of their house and their hair as much as possible. Unless they indicate otherwise, they consider this your holiday – they’re going about their regular lives.
2. Be clean. In your room, in the bathroom, in shared space. Make your bed, pick up your towels, wash your own knickers. Leave just one floater in the bowl, and they’ll never look at you the same way again.
3. Be helpful: do the washing up: without having to be asked. Just do it. Make it the thing you do. As sofamother is fond of saying: “This is not a hotel.”
4. Be positive: no negative comparisons: ever. Their house may be darker, colder, smaller, bigger than yours. You’re staying there for free. Shut up your face. No moaning. Hate the towels? Sorry for you – suck it up. Pillow hard – buy yourself a soft one, use it, and pack it when you leave. Make a subtle plan.
5. Be generous: buy stuff: groceries, wine, spirits, cakes, chocolates, fresh bread, flowers, milk. Ask cheerfully before you leave the house on your solo jaunts – “hey, can I bring anything back with me?” Then bring it. And bring enough for everyone. Do not refer to something you have bought as “my” whatever it is. Do that and your host will defile it, and watch you eat it.
6. Be a host: take your hosts out. Doesn’t have to be anywhere fancy. Treat them to a coffee, a lunch, a fabulous ice cream cone. Pay.
7. Be smart: no getting involved in your host’s personal business. No flirting. And stay the hell out of their bedroom. Regardless of how much you have all had to drink. It will end badly.
8. Be enthusiastic: enjoy outings. Embrace the mundane as much as the fancy and smile. No shrugging shoulders when asked where you want to go. No muttering in the back of the car. No complaining when you get there. No waiting in the car at places of interest. Your host will want to feed you to a baboon. Trust me on this.
9. Be classy: never ever take a casual lay home. Just don’t do it. No.
10 Be gone: leave when you say you will. Do not extend. Go home, already.
11. Be thankful: a note, some pre-ordered flowers, a card, a gift. or even better – all of the above.
Especially if you have been visiting sofacasa and you are hoping to get invited back again.
PS: This post is dedicated to camparigirl, who is a most excellent guest, who is always most welcome. And who is a year older today. Happy Birthday Wahini.
(All images found uncredited in the public domain.)