How to train house guests or be one

Written by admin on July 26, 2011 – 4:05 pm -

Summer is here, and more than a few people would like to come visit if you live in Paris, New York City or have a country house almost anywhere. Mention beach, and you may find yourself with new and dear friends.

Free is better:

There may be B&Bs galore or inexpensive hotels close to where you live, but free digs are cheaper yet. Besides, staying with friends feels better than a hotel. Whom would you trust to steer you to the right places—a friend or a concièrge? Friend only have your interests at heart when they recommend a restaurant (and possibly a desire to get you out of their hair for a couple of hours) while it is possible the concièrge gets a free meal or a referral fee from the resto for his efforts.

Be sensitive:

House guests can be wonderful when they know and really understand the rules. If you hear the least bit of hesitation in your host’s voice when asking whether or not you may stay, move right on—not right in—and try someone else. If you have enough friends, you’re sure to catch one in a weak moment or at least when they’re cracking open their second bottle of wine.

One of my friends loves having guests. I accuse Sally of running a hotel, but attribute her being the hostess with the mostest to the fact she was in the Foreign Service and was stationed in some hardship posts where she was delighted to have company and had hot and cold running staff to look after them.

She’s left the government, but has a large house and works in an office. When her working day is done, it’s done. She’s trained her guests to shop for and prepare dinner or, better yet, make reservations. It always seems right to me that the person who makes the reservation should ask for the check—and pay it.

Sally leaves for the office before people are up and the refrigerator is stocked with the essentials for breakfast. As I do, she takes the initial order for what they want before they arrive and stocks coffee, tea, milk (regular, low-fat, and the list goes on), juices, fruit, breads and expects them to restock their own special brand of organic Swiss muesli.

House guest etiquette:

Guests don’t need to feel that pots and pans and dishes will break if they look at them cross-eyed. No one likes to return home to a sink filled with dirty utensils. And please don’t use the excuse, “I wasn’t sure how you like to load the dishwasher.”  Load it carefully, run it when it’s full, and please (if you’re staying with me), unload it and put the dishes, glasses and silverware where they belong. If you leave two “mystery items” on the counter, that’s OK. They will be put away in the proper place.

Unless you’re in the boondocks without a car, find a grocery store, a place to buy wine and liquor and go all out and spoil your host(s) with flowers, unless there are so many in the garden they’d be redundant. It’s OK to deadhead the roses and cut some and put them in vases inside the house.

Bathroom manners:

If you’re staying in a Paris apartment, chances are pretty good that bathrooms are at a premium. A WC is not a library and please don’t plan on making it one unless you’re home alone. Do pick up your towels and please show others courtesy. To be blunt, the toilet brush is there to be used, and please don’t leave the toilet seat up.

Unless you can close the bedroom door:

I don’t want to get personal but unless your room is separated from the living quarters, please make your bed in the morning, pick up your clothes and try to keep the room in order.

Apartments and houses (and this is certainly more prevalent in countries outside of the U.S.) tend to be small so your mess becomes visible to others. If it’s me, color me cranky. Tripping over other people’s stuff makes me feel as if I’m camping.

Do not feel it’s offensive to strip the bed when you’re leaving. Place your sheets and used towels in a pillowcase. If there’s a spread, make up the bed (sans sheets) until there’s time for someone else to do it – usually in preparation for the next guest.

My son and daughter-in-law have shoes off rule in their house. I’ve adopted it and keep a basket by the front door since I hate seeing shoes strewn everywhere. Some adults may be taken aback, and if they’re coming to my once-a-year dressy dinner party, they may wear shoes. But the reality is that floors tend to creak when a building is more than 120 years old as is my Paris apartment. No one loves hearing footsteps above them or finding shoe polish on their upholstery.

A friend of mine asked me to compile a do’s and don’ts guide for people who rent her country home. Clearly it wasn’t the same you’d send to guests. But, come to think of it, I may just write one specifically to friends and (some very recent) acquaintances.


Yes, children are frequently part of the house guest package. But they should be their parents’ responsibility. Other adults should not be responsible for entertaining them, cooking for them or cleaning up after them. Parents should bring their off springs’ favorite toys (please nothing that squeaks or makes ungodly noise) and please no magic markers that are indelible and your hosts will never be able to forget them long after they’ve come and gone.

Another plea to parents: Take a look when you arrive at your destination and if you see things your children will find irresistible, quickly ask your hosts if you may remove them before something breaks. Not everyone’s house is child-proofed.

If your children has special food preferences, bring them with you. Fruit Loops cereal is not necessarily standard fare.

Being a guest:

Some people love staying with others. Unfortunately, I don’t happen to be one of them because I feel as if I have to wash the kitchen floor, paint the ceiling, and take out the trash before the wastebasket is full.

And since I’m the guest, I feel it’s my responsibility to pay for dinner. After one go-around as a house guest, I calculated it cost more to be a guest than if we’d stayed in the town’s hotel. Plus, I feel terribly embarrassed asking whether or not someone has Wi-Fi since running Bonjour Paris isn’t a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. job (especially when living in another timezone. If it were, I could take a real vacation! What a nice thought… er, fantasy.

Please add any tips or thoughts you might have for being a good host. Ditto for being the perfect house guest. It’s an acquired skill.

There are so many permutations my head is spinning. Having had 86 consecutive nights of guests when I first moved to Paris, I’m still suffering from shell shock. And that was 23 years ago.

Posted in Consumer Traveler |