the art of house-guestery

every time we have house guests or are guests in someone’s home, i learn a little something more about myself and how i want to be as a host and/or guest. we just said goodbye to some dream house guests. the pleasure of having them got me thinking about what the differences are between house guest situations that leave me burnt out, and those that leave me inspired.  i came up with the following advice for myself. i’m not sure how universal this advice is, so don’t blame me if your next visit with your japanese grandparents-in-law doesn’t go well because you followed my advice.
on being a host

  • do what you can do to make things clean, lovely, and welcoming, as long as you are feeling happy and generous while doing it.
  • don’t stress yourself out striving for a level of perfection (or even lack of squalor) in an exhasting cleaning and cooking frenzy. it’s awkward for your guests if they feel like they are making your life difficult.
  • buy/make good food, beer and coffee so it feels abundant and celebratory. (if you can afford to and it feels good.)
  • don’t over extend yourself or think you need to cook every meal, do all the dishes, and be everybody’s mommy.
  • give a little orientation so your guests know the wi-fi password and how you like things done and can make themselves at home.
  • elicit help with cooking, dishes, baby bouncing if your guests haven’t already offered. take them up on the help when they do offer.
  • be clear about what works for you and what doesn’t, don’t expect your guests to read your mind. if you need to go to bed, go to bed. if you need quiet to put the baby down, say so.
  • take a little vacation from everyday life. relax and enjoy your company.

on being a guest

  • give what you got. bring a little something or ask if you can pick anything up on your way. tell stories, give appreciations. if you have a nice camera, take a portrait, if you’re handy, fix a door knob. make it clear that you are glad to be there.
  • keep your phone/computer use at an absolute minimum, especially in common areas. it’s rude to be in your own bubble in someone else’s home.
  • communicate well in advance about your plans and intentions, duration of stay, etc. give a good eta and updates as needed.
  • err on the side of asking permission. “tis better to ask permission than forgiveness” pay close attention to enthusiasm levels if you are asking to stay more than a night or two. a lot of people have deep politeness ingrained in them but will privately feel resentful.
  • except, don’t ask if you can do the dishes. just do them. if you are dealing with overly polite people, they may put up a fuss, but you have to insist on this. do the dishes. they will be so happy.
  • play with the kids. if your hosts are parents and you pay attention to their kids and act like you like their kids… oh, this makes parents so so happy! but do remember you are an adult and it’s your job to de-escalate if you get the kids all crazy rowdy.

case study A: not good
a person I’ve known for quiet a while and i like very much (whom I’ll call Pat since my intention is not to publicly humiliate my friends) contacted me while traveling with their significant other, and asked if they could stay. i said “yes!”
i then proceeded to cook and clean and change sheets and grocery shop in preparation. when pat & co showed up (a couple hours later than they told me they would), they spread out their stuff in my very small living room and asked me for the wi-fi password.  they then both stared at their laptops while i made dinner. we had dinner, i did all the dishes, they went to bed. the next morning i made an elaborate breakfast and they were back in laptop land. we had breakfast and some small talk, i did all the dishes, and they had a conversation with each other. then they left. i felt burnt out and slightly used. if i had it to do over i would say something like, “hey pat, i want to hear about your trip, tell me about it while we clear the dinner dishes.” and i wouldn’t have continued to bend over backwards in hospitality mode for guests who weren’t that excited to be here.

case study B: adrian dolan and his friend, bear. best house guests EVER

i’m using real names because i want to publicly celebrate these gentlemen*

adrian is an old pal from my teenage years in BC. he let me know a week in advance that he’d be in our area with a friend and would like to get together. i said “come stay with us!” he gave me a date and updated me several times with their whereabouts. i made up the beds but didn’t knock myself out on the cleaning. damian and i showed them around and then ollie and i went with them into the national park where we had a grand time. on the way home we stopped for dinner supplies and they insisted on picking up the tab. adrian helped me cook while bear read oliver stories. we drank beer and ate yummy tacos and then adrian and i visited while we cleaned up and bear and nathen chatted and played with ollie. in the morning i made a yummy breakfast and bear kept me company while drawing with ollie. after we ate, adrian spent more than an hour patiently showing ollie all the gear in his sound engineering case. ollie’s comment; “i REALLY like batteries!” bear did the dishes. we hung out a little more and then they left. oliver’s comment; “i really like those mans! i’m sad that they left. i’m sad that they left with that bag…” i was sad that they left too.

*actually, almost all of our house guests are fantastic. it’s an honor and a pleasure to share our space with our friends and i want to do it more.