How Not to be a Dick as a Houseguest

Publish date:
July 12, 2013
how not to be a dick, manners, houseguest, M

One of the perks of being a grown-ass person is having enough space to host people. Seriously folks, I’m like a Kinko’s trip away from guest response cards and a Yelp listing. I’m pretty happy to host almost anyone, and there’ve been a few late night texts from friends asking if I can take in a friend wandering about PDX for whatever reason, but as I process the post-guest laundry each time a friend departs, I am always really astounded at the vast range of consideration and manners my guests exhibit.

It’s really rare that someone is a douchey guest on purpose, most often people are blissfully unaware of their behavior, and likely were never taught how to be a good guest. We all have those stories of guests who’ve been assholes -- don’t be that guy.

Be Grateful

Staying in someone’s home is definitely a good way to spend more quality time with them, but you are also saving a buttload of cash on hotels. On any vacay, lodging is usually 50% of your overall cost. While your friends are probably happy to have you, be sure to thank them properly.

Don’t bring a gift, it will just bog down your bags and be something they feel indebted to keep around forever. I think a great solution is to insist on taking your host to a nice dinner or two. It solves a lot of problems: it allows you to see one of their favorite spots, it says “thank you” and acknowledges your savings, and it gives you something to do together without taking them away from their lives. Here’s a great guide: the amount your treat them to should be the same as a one night stay at an average nearby hotel.

When you leave, a thank you note (even an email) is absolutely appropriate. Some form of follow-up that says, “Hey, I acknowledge the gesture.” Reciprocate the invite if you can.

Be Aware

Unless you’re best friends, a great guest is a largely invisible one. Be sure you actually ask to stay and don't just assume. Don’t invite friends/boyfriends/significant others to come along after the invite. Remember that although you are on vacation, your host isn’t. They’ll need to go about their daily life, including work.

Many of my friends work from home and although it may seem fine to kick around the house during the day and be talkative and friendly, its really tough to work that way. Don’t rely on your hosts to be your adventure guide, ask ahead of time for suggestions for things to do on the town and if you can, get there yourself. Car2go, public transport, Zipcar and bike rentals are awesome for this. Do ask if your host has any available time to go adventure together, so you’ll know when they’re available and can plan ahead.

Be Brief

My best friend knows she *can* stay for as long as she likes at my house. We both know that staying anywhere too long together will mean a recreation of the great college roommate screamfest of 1997. Good houseguests stay 5 days or less. More than 5 days and you should try to distribute your time between hosts.

Because I am polite, friends have asked to stay longer and I’ve said, “Sure”, but even the least problematic houseguest is still someone else in your home. When my last 2-week guest left, the taxi hadn’t even pulled away before my bra came off and I twirled around the house pantsless singing “Born Free.”

Be Easy

I smile, hard, when I remember the houseguest who showed up a few years ago to my place towing along her own pillows, enough clothes for a long trip to Paris, and a fuckton of cosmetics and personal care items. She took over the hallway bathroom, expected to be entertained the whole duration of their stay and every time I suggested an activity, she got a look on her face like she’d just tasted something bad. I had a guest last year who insisted she couldn’t eat anything hot or cold (personal preference, not medical) and every time I ate something, gave me a lecture about how much happier I’d be if I didn’t poison my body with “dead animals.” Dude, JUST BE EASIER.

Try to remember that part of being in someone’s space is the same as going to a new city. You’re not there to experience what you have at home, but something new. Try some new food, try traveling a new way or waking up earlier or living with a cat/dog, and think about how exfoliating these sheets are versus your 800 thread count sheets at home. I let guests know ahead of time there’s already a hair dryer, curling iron, 2 kinds of pillows (hard and soft, because you never know), a bike and a Keurig here (in case they want to bring their own pods).

Be an Adult

I’m not an extraordinarily neat person by any stretch, but I’ll have cleaned before you got here and will work to keep it that way during your stay. While you’re staying at my house, I treat the guest room like YOUR room, complete with the expected privacy of one’s room. As long as the door is shut, you can live like a slob while you’re here. I’d like you to be comfortable, but don’t be disgusting. I had a guest recently let me know there was an invasion of ants in her room, only to discover they were beelining for the empty candy wrappers she had just left all over the floor.

If you break something, don’t be a dick and try to hide it, just tell me (and in some cases, its appropriate to replace said item). Don’t be a bathroom slob: Mop up the floor if it gets wet, replace the toilet paper if it runs out instead of leaving the empty roll, don’t use the last of the conditioner without mentioning it.

When you leave, make the bed or at least strip the sheets. Don’t steal stuff like my books on your way out, even if you’re halfway through. Just ask, I’m usually happy to give it to you. Please ask me before you use my washing machine, its a bit tricky, but I’m happy to help you use it. Don’t feed the dog/cat/bird/turtle/fish/kid anything, even if you’re just trying to be nice/make friends, you may not know if they’re allergic or have a special diet or something is toxic. Again, just ask.

If you have special requirements, that’s OK, but handle it. My best friend is one of those people who eats 6 small meals a day, but she never shows up and expects me to just happen to have that around.

Most hosts will ask if there’s anything you need or want ahead of time, TELL THEM. Don’t be coy and say “Oh, I’m good with anything” if you are not. I’ve got friends who have simple needs -- having Diet Coke around will make them more comfortable so I know to pick it up, or they drink creamer and I don’t usually have it around. If its more than that, suggest "Can we stop at a grocery store on the way from the airport so I can pick up a few things?”

I’ve got friends coming in this weekend who are vegans, but don’t eat soy. I’ve gone so far as to scour their Facebook feeds to see what they actually DO eat (whipped air?), but would really prefer they just give me a list or hit a grocery store when they get in because like most people, I want my guests to be comfortable.

Be Serious

There is absolutely no condition under which bringing a hookup to a house where you are a guest is OK. Never. Seriously, hit the comments and come up with one, because THERE IS NO WAY THAT SHIT IS EVER OK.

There is no condition under which it is OK to ask your host to put out their kids/pets/husband/other relatives so you can stay. I’m always shocked to hear friends talk about guests who asked “if the cat could stay outside while they’re visiting.” Um, no. Its the cat’s house, but YOU can stay outside.

There is no condition under which its OK to criticize the way your host lives. Even when they’re behaving inhospitably or in a way that is morally offputting, zip it. If you don’t like it, leave, but keep your mouth zipped until you do. It's their house. You can address it after the fact.

Be Happy

More than anything else, be a happy guest. Have a good time, that’s what you’re here for anyway. Try to save the dramatic phone call fights with your boyfriend for when you leave, and try not to stress the small stuff.

I actually really love having people here, and feel honored they want to share my space and time with my crazytown dog who’s going to jump all over them (I warn them ahead of time) and they want to come back so often. I love being a guest in other people’s homes; it's such a great way to experience a place and I’m so grateful to be invited back. But try to remember, there is no “I” in guest.

Think you can top my crazy guest stories or have a tip for better hosting? I’m always looking to up my game.