house guests National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

A Gracious Guide for How to Be a Good House Guest

It was shocking if not surreal. The email message was from a woman I’d never met and whose name I recognized only because a few months earlier she mailed me a book she’d written.

The message announced that she and her family were planning a cross-country road trip to Disneyland and would just love to stay with us since (at the time) we lived nearby and oh wouldn’t that be so much fun. She gave a tentative date they would be arriving. 

Everything I know about what not to do as a house guest, I learned from that experience, from the moment they drove up to the time they finally departed—far too many days hence.

house guests National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

House Guests Cousin Eddie and Family from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

In the interest of full disclosure, because I have friends and relatives who read these posts, be it known that all other house guests we have ever had in all of our lives have been wonderful. Exemplary. Do not worry. This is not about you.

INVITATION

It need not be engraved on parchment, but you do need some kind of indication that you are invited to be a guest in another’s home. Do not send a cryptic message (“Looks like we will be in your area in a couple of weeks!”), hoping that will wrangle an invitation. And for goodness sake, don’t just show up. That would forever designate you as either an interloper or freeloader. 

SPECIFIC DATES

Nail down the dates of your visit and then stick to them. When your host does not offer specific dates, trust me that does not mean to say as long as you like. Listen for subtle clues (“We’ll be super busy toward the end of July”). You may need to split your time with someone else or find other accommodations for half of your trip. 

DO NOT BE VAGUE

If the two of you plan to arrive with the four children, two dogs, and the new kitten—spell it out. Do not assume your host will just know this intuitively. Be very clear on who will be joining you in this visit.

RESPECT YOUR SPACE

Arriving with 16 suitcases and enough toys, devices, and equipment to keep the children entertained for weeks on end tends to appear that you’ll be taking over the entire house. Bring only what you need and will fit into a guest room and then make sure it all stays there. You’re not staying in a hotel, so don’t treat your friend’s home like one. A good rule of thumb: When you’re not in your room, it should look like it did when you arrived.

HOUSE RULES

All homes have some rules of some kind. If your hosts remove their shoes at the front door, notice that and follow suit. Don’t eat in the living room; do not allow the children to jump on the furniture. Or open and then go through every cupboard and drawer in the entire house (yes, they did and to the delight of their mother who remarked that the children are just so curious). 

MIND THE CHILDREN 

Talk to your kids—before you travel—about manners, respect and being neat. Let them know you expect them to pick up their clothing and offer to help carry groceries or set the table.

TRANSPORTATION

Make sure you have worked this out before your arrival. Do not expect that your hosts’ vehicles are part of the deal. Rent a car or figure out public transportation ahead of time.  Should your hosts offer use of a vehicle, return it clean, washed and the gas tank full, regardless of how many miles you put on it or time you spent in it.

PITCH IN

Do not expect your hosts to do all the work. See what needs to be done and offer to help. And if the hosts prefer for you to sit back and relax, respect their wishes. Just don’t make things especially difficult for them.

TOUR GUIDES

You can graciously invite your hosts to join you at Sea World, but don’t expect that to happen. And don’t assume they will have discount tickets for you. Or that they will watch the children while you go out for a few hours. Remember they are neither your babysitters nor your tour guides. 

LEAVE A FRAGRANCE

Upon your departure, you and all who arrived with you want to make sure you leave behind a fragrance—not an odor. And I mean that literally and figuratively. Clean up after yourselves without being obnoxious. Don’t assume you need to do all the laundry and clean the house before you leave. Just use your common sense. A lovely parting gesture is to leave a handwritten thank you and appropriate gift (flowers are nice) to let your hosts know how much you enjoyed your stay.

I have another book in my library—one I cherish and read often, mostly because it is so entertaining, well-written and educational! Years ago its author, Darlene Dennis, sent it to me. Honestly, if you have ever had house guests or assume you may in the future, you need to read Host or Hostage: A Guide for Surviving House Guests. You’ll laugh, you’ll learn, and in the process become a gracious host.

Question: Have you ever survived a house guest nightmare? Tell us about it in the comments area below. Sometimes negative lessons are those that teach us the most because they teach us what not to do in the future!

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  1. Unhappy says:

    Mom-in-law. She finally came so we didn’t have to be the ones always buying airline tickets. Feet up on the couch with her shoes on. Buys snacks just for herself. When we go to her house and out to eat, we have to pay for our own. 4 times we went out and not an offer from her. Swatted at our dog because he begged food because she was eating on the couch. Opened the closet, shoved all my clothes aside to make room for her blouses instead of asking “Could I hang this up?”

    Reply
    • Mary Hunt says:

      Oh dear, this sounds like more of a sit-com than real life visit. Being a mom-in-law myself, I’m taking notes for what not to do!!

      Reply
  2. Janet Szuta says:

    Sorry to say, Mary, your bad houseguests will not think this column is about them. Obnoxious, inconsiderate people never think it’s about them!

    Reply
  3. PatriotPeg says:

    i am one of the lucky ones. my first experience and only experience w/drop in, stay-over guests, was about ten yrs ago. i was gob smacked when they arrived after a let me-know call from the corner mcdonald’s. they arrived w/a grand child. i was forced to let them use the master, as it has a king bed. i told them we had plans for the morrow. they asked if i would mind if they stayed on their own!!! the gall!!!!! the answer was, i am afraid it is not permitted. good bye. they have never called us again.

    Reply
  4. Patricia Stariha Roy says:

    Best hosting lesson I got came from my father-in-law, who learned it the hard way, after they had moved to Florida, close to Disney World. Greet your guests at the door, or even in the drive, or at their vehicle, before they have luggage out, with this phrase. “We are so glad to see you! How long will you be here?” And don’t let them in until you have a firm answer. And hold them to it.

    Reply
  5. Cathy says:

    I’ve had an acquaintance say they were coming down to visit me in Florida and were going to stay awhile. I just said, “no”. It wasn’t a good time and we were just too busy to let them stay. I wasn’t even close to this person by any stretch of the imagination\, and I actually didn’t care for her very much. The audacity of some people blows me away.

    Reply
  6. PHOW says:

    I’ve never had a stay-over house guest, but if someone asked or just showed up, I’d have not one problem with saying, “Thanks, but NO THANKS.”

    Reply
  7. canceledcheck says:

    My granddaughter came with her boyfriend for Christmas. The plainly stated house rule was No Smoking in the house. We were waiting for them to join us for dinner and the smoke alarm that was tied to the security system goes off. The dummy boyfriend had sat right underneaths the smoke alarm to smoke. After the fire department showed up, he was almost in tears. He was so nervous during dinner that he proceeded to spill an entire bottle of red wine over my best white Christmas table cloth.

    Reply
  8. EastTNMtns says:

    Here are some additional tips if you want to be a good houseguest. If your host works from a home office, don’t just assume they can take time off the whole time you are visiting. Whether your host is self-employed or employed by an outside compalny, “home office” does not does not mean they don’t have to be working regular hours. If your host has to be at work in their home office during your visit, please try not to disturb them and keep the area near their office space as quiet as possible. Also, bear in mind that your smart phones, tablets, etc.all use bandwidth, which may be limited (especially if you live on a mountain like I do!). Your host will probably be happy to give you a guest password to their wi-fi, but keep usage to a minimum during your host’s working hours. Tip for hosts: Get a router that allows you to selectively block certain devices if they are using too much bandwidth. When the kids are here, I block their devices during my working hours, then unblock them when I log off work for the day. They don’t even have to know you blocked them. When they say they can’t get online, just tell them there’s not enough bandwith where you live (for me, that’s the truth!).

    Reply
  9. Mary Norton says:

    The only time I had drop in guests was years ago when we lived in northern Arkansas. I never had any time alone due to working full time, taking care of a house, a husband, and three children, volunteering for cub scouts and girl scouts, and fulfilling my church callings. One evening my husband and children all had events to attend, there was a program I really wanted to watch on TV, and I did not have to be anywhere. I the evening all to myself. Unfortunately, my sister’s in-laws decided to take a road trip and drop in to visit. I was upset but hid my disappointment and did my best to make the woman feel at home. She was married to a man who did my treat her right and who I really did not like. I was even civil to him. They stayed for a few hours and then drove back home. I learned years later that this woman always talked about how kind I was to her and how much she had enjoyed being with me. I have forgotten about the program I wanted to watch but not that woman’s memory of her visit.

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