“The Rules” for perfect houseguests

by Karen Fawcett on June 28, 2010


Summer is here, and more than a few people would like to come visit and stay awhile if you live in Paris, London, LA, Chicago or New York City, or have a country house almost anywhere. Here are my rules for perfect house guests.

The dollar may be stronger against the euro, but free rent is still cheaper. Besides, staying with friends feels better than staying in a hotel. Whom would ou trust to steer you to the right places — a friend or a concièrge? Your friend has only your interests at heart when he recommends a restaurant (and possibly a desire to get you out of her hair for a couple of hours) while it is possible that the concièrge gets a free meal or a pourboire from the resto for his pains.

Houseguests 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 are sure to catch one in a weak moment or at least on a second bottle of wine.

One of my friends loves having guests. I accuse Judy 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 call for the check — and pay it.

Judy 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.

Unfortunately (or not) I work at home and my guest room is command central. I try to minimize the clutter but lights blink non-stop in my office/den and extra sleeping area. Guests may be on vacation but I’m not. Access to my work area is appreciated by 10 a.m. and no, I can’t take a three-hour-long lunch. Nor do I want to see The Eiffel Tower at midnight.

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.

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 etiquette: 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 upfront, the toilet brush is there to be used, and please don’t leave the toilet seat up.

Bedroom etiquette: 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.

Paris apartments tend to be small so your mess becomes visible to others. If that other is I, color me cranky. 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 a 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.

It would save a lot of time. I wouldn’t need to explain about converter plugs, please don’t bring your U.S. voltage curling iron or the fuses will blow and, yes, I have 220 voltage hairdryers in each of the bathrooms.

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 when I’m the guest, I feel it’s my responsibility to pay for dinner. After one go-around as a houseguest, I calculated that 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 Bonjour Paris isn’t a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. job. 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!

Karen Fawcett is president of Bonjour Paris

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  • Lee

    Do not forget, the 3 most important rules, in order of importance:

    1) This is a visit not a stay…. a visit means you are leaving, a couple days is good…5 days is the limit…..more than a week, I will be filing for an eviction order.

    2) OK, if you are buying your tickets 2 months ahead of time, you could give me more warning, than calling me at work and telling me you can’t find my key under the mat……. the key is actually on my pit bulls collar…. you go get it from her….. (this it true, by the way)

    3) It is my house, it is not a hotel, do not expect me to make coffee, make breakfast, and play bartender. Pick up after yourself, do not complain that your room is too hot or cold….. it could be because you did not pay attention to rule number one……… Most importantly, realize it may be your vacation, so enjoy it, but I will be working…. I choose to spend my vacations away from the people I know…..

  • stevie m

    If guests are bringing small children—watch them! Make them eat in kitchen or an area without carpeting, food does not belong on the windows, walls, or upholstered furniture. I don’t care how cute the kid is!

    Change diapers in private, especially the messy ones. And for Pete’s sake, dispose of the dirty diapers properly. Last year a guest left a wet diaper in the basement of our summer home without putting it in the trash. Just what I want to find in 6 months.

    As a guest,be gracious enough to show up with some show of appreciation whether it be food, flowers, gift cards, or applause and then be make sure to thank you host profusely many times over the course of the visit and as you exit. A little thank you note when you get home wouldn’t hurt either.

  • Matthew in NYC

    Houseguests are like fresh fish – after three days they begin to smell.

  • Heather

    Leave no trace.

  • Blakes – NY

    If we’ve not communicated in 20 years, please don’t me call with that extra friendly tone in your voice and after 20 minutes say “Oh, I just happen to be coming to New York, would you mind…..” And then when I sleep on the couch so you and your friend can have my bed, please don’t borrow my jackets, gloves and ear muffs and return them smelling of cigarettes. And when I put out breakfast items for you, please don’t question my choice of coffee beans. Actually, now that I’m 30 minutes outside of Manhattan, I don’t have nearly as many calls for lodging; the friends that do call, I’m happy to have!

  • KP

    Say thank you. Take us out for a meal, bring a gift. SAY THANK YOU. Even if we are your family members and are expected to do this – please say thank you (yes, sister in law, I’m talking to you).

  • Joanna

    Why have guests at all if you aren’t going to enjoy them? One can just say no, I’m sorry I can’t have house guests. Then give the person a list of hotels and maybe arrange a dinner date or other meet up. Personally…I don’t stay at someone’s house unless specifically invited AND I know them very well. I am more likely to get a hotel room so as not to inconvenience anyone.
    If you’ve had it up to here with guests, it is time to gently shut the door.

  • http://www.bonjourparis.com Karen Fawcett

    Joanna: There are some guests whom I adore. Others don’t understand what’s entailed. And contrasted with you, you wouldn’t believe how many people have zero hesitation in inviting themselves to stay and stay. It doesn’t matter that I haven’t seen them in more than 20 years. Paris is a magnet and hotel rooms tend to be expensive. When a family of four wants to stay (and thank you, the kids can sleep on air mattresses in the living room), I do say no. There are house guests and house guests.

  • Joanna

    Karen:
    You’re right. It’s probably easy for me to say what I did since East Brunswick isn’t exactly on the tourist trail ;-) However, it is hard to understand how people can be so incredibly rude and/or thoughtless. It’s like inviting oneself to a wedding. My thought re hotels….if one can’t afford a hotel, one could consider not traveling or b) camp somewhere (definitely not MY preference) or c) try a home swap through some kind of agency. Of course there are other options known to others and not to me. I think couchsurfer.com might be useful for people on budgets.
    You are SO right about kids, particularly those of parents who believe it is “love me, love my kids”. Don’t you know that those children are angelic, never run around, never break things…. you know what I mean. I don’t want them here, that’s for sure.
    Oh…btw, when I said “you” I should have said “one”. Nothing personal with my comments, except that I do know YOU are one gracious host.

  • Liz

    Please stay at a nearby hotel. We will be happy to make reservations. And don’t bring your kids here, not for a minute. We won’t let them in anyway. In return, we will not stay with you, ever.

    Honestly, I don’t know why anyone would want to be a guest. It’s annoying no matter if you’re the guest or the host. Budget so you can stay in a motel. You’ll be glad you had the privacy, and so will we, and our friendship will survive.

  • http://www.homebase-hols.com Lois, Home Base Holidays

    Having just had an old school friend stay in our home in London for a week (I’m originally from Canada so sometimes have lots of visitors from home), I can certainly relate to many of your comments!

    Most guests are absolutely lovely and go out of their way to fit in with a routine (and respect the fact that you’re not on holiday). Like you Karen, I work from home and that does mean having to be firm about the need to leave them to their own devices while I get on with work. With my recent visitor, as I hadn’t seen her for some time and did want her to have a good time in London, I worked out a plan so that I could take some time off during the week to go out with her (to places I like going anyway, not to Buckingham Palace!). I soon realised though she was completely intimidated by our public transport system and so found I could never send her off on her own for the day. And I also somehow ended up paying for loads (my fault for not being more assertive I’m sure). The best laid plans …

    Joanna mentioned suggesting other accommodation options, including home swaps, to people who asked if they can stay. As the home based business I’m involved in is a home exchange service, what a good idea! But home exchangers need to be good guests too even though you aren’t at home at the time. The vast majority are, respecting homes entrusted to them, leaving them just as they found them for the owner’s return and often leaving a gift and a note of appreciation. Mind you, we emphasise the importance of this in our guidelines so perhaps it’s easier for home exchangers to take on board than when friends come to stay as most of us are a little timid about laying down a set of ground rules for such guests.

    btw, my recent week long visitor gave me a key ring! Is it the thought that counts?

  • Steph

    You all sound like a right miserable lot. What about enjoying the company of friends or relatives who have come to visit you? I love having guests. And what’s this crap about guests shouldn’t stay more than 3 days? Mind you, having read all your whinging comments, I wouldn’t want to stay with you more than that anyway!

  • FL Traveler

    I live close to Disney and therfore, seem to attract visitors in hourdes at times. I do not mean to be cranky, but some are welcome, some are not — mostly for reasons associated with the “do’s and don’t” previously mentioned above. One thing I did not see addressed however is PETS. People who travel with their pets are another breed altogether. That said: please leave them at home or look for pet-friendly hotels. While you may adore your dog, cats, ferret, or bird, they are not always easy to take nor accomodate! I actually had someone I had not seen in >10 years “drop by” with their 2 kids and 2 dogs expecting to be “put up” for afew days while visiting WDW. I had to nix the whole thing when on top of everything else, they expected me to doggie sit while they were off having fun. Oh my! I probably won’t see them for another 10 years but then that’s the price one must pay (I am smiling here!)

  • Les

    When we visited Paris at the end of a long trip we’d planned to spend a night with cousins there to catch up on family talk and to take them to dinner. They’ve stayed with us before and we get along well. Then we were going to get a two-star (it was the off season) for the week and hope to see them a time or two more. When we arrived they told us they had been called to the States on business and had to leave the next day …… and we could have the apartment for the week. Well, what a treat. We kept careful track and replenished everything we used with the same brands they buy. That gave us a chance to shop locally and learn who was friendly and who wasn’t. We also cleaned carefully and left the fridge stocked for their return. We were secretly very pleased to hear our hostess say at a later meeting that the place was in better shape when they came home than they keep it.

    Best of all for us was that their France Telecom wi-fi talked to our laptop. Otherwise we would have had no source of info for our Paris ramble. (Try Googling “English speaking Paris taxi”).

  • Dina

    Do NOT invite your own guests over to the host’s house when you yourself are a houseguest!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Do NOT pick a fight with your host and threaten to pack your bags and walk out! (The response will be ‘Don’t let the door hit you in the ASS’, you big ASS!

    Do NOT expect the host to cater to your every single need and buy or cook you every single meal! Do your share and treat the last meal as a Thank You.

    Do NOT ramble about yourself 100% of the time. You are not as important as you think yourself to be. There is a world outside of your world you have created for yourself.

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