You will be spending a few days visiting friends or families in their homes. They do not live in either a mansion or a hovel. They are decent folks. So are you. You may hope to be re-invited to their homes again.
So what do you do to fit in, to not be a burden, to not require special treatment? Following are some suggestions, both general and specific.
• Study the contents of the refrigerator. You will have kitchen privileges, up to a point. Let’s say you’d like to knock together a sandwich or a salad. Within six hours of your arrival, you should spend several minutes seated in front of the open-doored fridge, studying the whereabouts of the baloney, the cheese, mayonnaise, three kinds of bread, milk, beer, lettuce, jam. Etc., etc., etc.
Few things will alienate a hostess more than a house guest, at 11 p.m., asking, “Courtney, where did you hide the pickles?!”
• Get briefed about the animals. Most American homes have at least one dog, cat, snake, pet rat, rabbit or kangaroo. Do not assume your own experience with animals applies in your host’s home. Upon your arrival, ask gentle but useful questions: “Does your cat bite? Does your Great Dane speak English? Has your raccoon been inoculated?” The more you know about the menagerie, the safer you will be.
• Learn the basics of the TV remotes. Today, 10 different homes may contain 10 different TV set-ups. Before your host family leaves you alone for more than an hour, plead with them to show you the correct buttons for power, on, off, volume, closed-captions, channel change and any other vital settings. Each year hundreds of house guests are admitted to mental wards after failing to decipher TV remotes without training by their host families. Or so I’ve heard.
• Never make suggestions about how your host’s house, lawns or lifestyle can be improved. Each family is different. So are their homes and ways of doing things. Even if you’re a combination of Dr. Phil and world-famous architects and landscapers, keep your ideas to yourself when visiting.
Many years ago I lived in a nice suburban home. One day I hosted a know-it-all Virginia gentleman. As we shared a drink in my basement, he looked up at the ceiling and said, in a sorghum-tinted accent, “This hayuss (house) is ovah (over) buheemed (beamed).” His cocksure pronouncement has been a warning to me not to comment, in any fashion, on a person’s home, lawn, furniture, spouse or children. It’s all theirs, not yours.
• In similar fashion, steer clear of giving your thoughts on politics, religion, sex, child-rearing and other delicate topics, unless your friendship with your hosts goes way back and has survived many conversations.
• If you can do so in a casual fashion, learn the birthdays of your hosts and their children. Also, their wedding dates. Write these things down in your memo book. As the years pass, send these folks a card, email, handwritten note or phone call on the appropriate date.
Why? Because not many people do. Which means that when your remembrance arrives, you’re automatically a special person. Perhaps qualified to be invited back again.
Many other useful house-guesting rules apply. I have broken many of them, to my deep regret and apology. I’m sure you have your own.
• Happy thought: No matter how well our visit has turned out, what awaits us will be a final pleasure: getting home to our own digs.
Even if our home is a disorderly shack, it contains a much sought-after quality: familiarity. We know where every item is (or should be): the light switches, the trash cans, our favorite towel, the squeaking screen door. As we open the front door, we instantly become our favorite house guest: ourselves.