Lorelei often writes about her personal failings, and the things she, her friends, and family have learned or experienced through the years.
Whether it’s a dinner party, gathering, or vacation stay, there are things we can do to help continue getting invitations to other people’s homes. While we cannot always conform to everyone’s standards, there is nothing wrong with taking a moment to consider our hosts. Personality clashes aside, sometimes it’s the little things that can make or break the time we spend with others. These tips come from personal experiences or those of my friends and family. Maybe they can help you in your goal of becoming the perfect guest . . . or at least a better one.
You receive a nice invitation to a wedding, a party, or some other event. After glancing at it you toss it on the table and it is forgotten. Maybe you decide you will not attend and toss it. Or you decide you will go, note the date, but never think about it again. The problem is that there was an RSVP included in the invitation. People rely on RSVPs to make sure they have enough food and drink, seating, or space. When people do not respond the hosts do not know what to expect. So even if you decide you cannot attend, let the host know. It can be quite disconcerting to plan for a certain amount of people to attend or stay with you and more than expected show up.
It does not matter if you were invited, dropped in, or came with a friend; your hosts will likely be happy to see you. Make sure you appear happy to see them as well. We often take that fact for granted and do not show appropriate cordiality to our hosts. Try to make eye contact. Smile, offer a warm greeting, and when appropriate, maybe even a hug. In some cases, it might be a good idea to bring a small gift. Nothing elaborate; a box of candy, flowers, or a beverage—whatever seems appropriate for the occasion. This is especially nice if you are an unknown visitor attending with a friend or new to a group. It is not only a nice gesture but also aids as a conversation starter.
Be cognizant of the time of the event. Most invitations include a time or time span. If possible try not to be more than ten minutes early. Those hosting are often preparing themselves or readying for their guests right up to the last minute. Likewise, do not be more than ten minutes late. Being late may mean a meal or event must be held up while others wait for you to arrive. You might also miss out on something you would not want to. This is especially true for themed events, weddings, funerals, and game nights. In some cases, the host might announce instructions, pray, or be trying to figure out seating and does not want to repeat everything either publically or privately just because you were late.
When first entering someone’s home, stop just inside and look around for a second. Is there a pile of shoes by the door? It might be nice to ask if you should remove your footwear. There’s no better way to annoy someone than leaving a dirty path across their new carpet. In areas like Hawaii, this is a customary action and is done automatically. Also, ask if there is somewhere they would prefer you put your jacket or purse. Do not just flop your things over the nearest chair or table unless told to do so. This can be damaging to their furniture, look messy, or create a problem for seating and serving.
Do show up on time. While there is usually a window of time before the meal, it’s not always the case. It does not hurt to ask what time dinner will be served just to make sure. Many a dinner party has been ruined because the guests were told dinner was at 6:00 pm, and they came an hour later. If the host or hostess says dinner at 6:00 pm, then it is perfectly okay to ask what time you should arrive. They may suggest you show up right at dinner time. In that case, arrive a few minutes early even if you have to wait in the car. Dinner should not be ruined because you got caught in traffic.
It’s a nice gesture to ask if you can bring anything for the meal. If they decline, it might be appropriate to bring a bottle of wine or another befitting gift. However, if you do bring wine, do not expect it to be opened for the meal. The hosts may have other plans or want to save them for later. If it is important to you that they have it immediately, maybe it is not the right occasion to bring it. If they do serve it, do not insist everyone try it. People have different tastes or may not drink at all.
Do not eat before you come; this can be very offensive. If the host has gone to the trouble of preparing a meal, the last thing they want to hear is that you have already eaten. This was a personal experience for me and not only was I upset, but I did not know what I would do with so much leftover food. If it is unavoidable and you have previously arranged plans to eat, then explain that you would love to attend but that you will have already eaten and only plan to visit.
Do not get upset if you dislike what is served, simply eat around it the best you can. Having said that, it is completely appropriate—if in a smaller group—to tell your hosts what eating requirements you have. Most people will completely understand if you have allergies, are vegetarian, vegan, or have other concerns regarding food. If it's a larger party, it would be fine to ask about the menu but best just to eat what you can from what is offered as the hosts are not likely to change the menu for one or two people. If you cannot eat what will be served, make sure to tell them you will not be eating so they can plan accordingly.
Do not bring food to share that you were not asked to bring. The hosts may have laboriously planned the menu, spent extra time preparing something special, or done extra shopping. When an unexpected item arrives, it may not only insult the host but take away from the menu they have carefully planned. As stated above, if you would like to bring something check first to make sure it is okay.
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Remember, this is not your house. Visitors often treat others’ homes as they would their own which can lead to trouble. Even for those who live similar lifestyles, there will be differences. Do use the coasters if they are available and even if they are not, do not set that sweaty drink on their fine wood end table (even if it does not look fine to you). Always ask or follow the lead of the host.
Your feet should remain on the floor or a footstool. Do not prop them up on the coffee table or throw your leg over the arm of the chair. Do not play with the items on the end table, take a seat on other non-seating furniture, or search through drawers. Again, follow the lead of the host or ask before you grab the cool-looking figurine next to you. Items may be fragile or sometimes they are special in some way to the owner and what is in the drawers is private.
In the Kitchen
When staying for more than one day, take care in the kitchen. If you cook, be sure to use the right utensils for the cookware. Nothing will set the household chef off more than if you use metal in a coated pan, or use the rubber spatula in hot grease. When you are done cooking you should tidy up after yourself, do not leave a mess to be cleaned up by someone else. Do not eat from the cabinets or refrigerator without permission. That pie is not necessarily for you! And when (not if) you help clean up or empty the dishwasher, do not just put things away in random places. If you do not know where it belongs set it aside or ask where it goes.
Before showering ask where the guest towels are. After using, hang the towel up to dry in the bathroom or take it to the laundry. Do not take it back to your room and hang it over a chair, leave it on the bed, or in a heap on the floor. The same goes for washcloths and clothing such as bathing suits.
Put the toilet seat down, then put the cover down too. I had no idea this was an issue until someone on social media posted they were upset about it This may seem petty but there are a couple of good reasons for it. First, many germs are spread when a toilet is flushed, and putting the lid down reduces their dissemination. Second, if there are pets or children in the household an open toilet can be unsafe or unsanitary. If you miss the bowl, take a moment and wipe it up.
Also, make sure any tissues are tossed away. It’s gross to walk into the bathroom and step in someone else’s wet or clean up used tissues. If it is a shared bathroom, do keep your items cleared off the counter and try to shorten your showering time.
Whether sleeping on a bed, hide-a-bed, or couch, keep it neat. Wake up and make the bed or at least straighten it. When it’s time to leave ask the host what to do with the sheets. Do not automatically disassemble the bed; the host may not want to deal with it immediately, and it’s best to leave the room neat.
Some Final Thoughts
Find the good. Do not criticize your host's home. If they ask you for suggestions or your critique, that’s one thing, but do not offer your “expertise” on how they should decorate, arrange furniture, etc. Along those lines, do not criticize the area of town the host lives in. You do not want to make them feel you do not feel safe at their home - even if it’s true.
Likewise, do not talk about how well off your hosts are because of where they live. This can make people feel uncomfortable. Maybe they do live better than you but they should not have to feel guilty about it. In conversation do not argue over politics, religion, or anything else for that matter. It’s one thing to have a discussion but if things start going sideways drop it and move on to something else. When things get steamy the party may be over. Even if they put on a good face, there could be underlying grudges.
These are only some of the things that can make us better guests. What kind of mistakes have you made? What would you like to see from your guests?
© 2018 Lorelei Nettles