Whenever I read an article about houseguest etiquette, it always includes suggestions about "keeping the guest room neat" and "not monopolizing the washer and dryer." Of course, these laws are quite welcome in the McMansion fairyland of the outer ‘burbs. But for urban dwellers, they're pretty laughable. My "guest room" is an air mattress, tucked in a nook between the stereo and the balcony. And I drag my laundry to the basement, as our good deities of rent control intended.
But that hasn't stopped me from running a highly unprofitable friends-and-family youth hostel out of my apartment. (My current visitor/college roommate is my fourth houseguest of the month.)
So what are some etiquette rules for urban houseguests? Well, I'm glad you asked:
1. Determine arrival and departure dates well in advance. As much as it's wonderful to see friends and family, I want to know when I can go back to my usual routine of eating Popsicles on the couch, clad in nothing but Underoos and cowboy boots while watching Xanadu on an endless loop.
2. Ben Franklin apparently coined the expression, "Fish and houseguests stink after three days." I would like to update it to, "Guests who remain longer than three days get a pair of kitchen scissors to the neck, and their carcasses thrown over the side of the balcony.” A long weekend is plenty, especially in a small space.
3. Don’t scatter your crap. Keep your belongings in neat piles in one or two places in your host’s home. Bonus: Don’t unceremoniously shove/move/dump on the floor any of your host’s belongings to make room for your stuff. Need more space? Ask.
4. Respect household timing and routines. You’re on vacation, but your host might not be. Don’t stay up late cranking music, and don’t wander into the bathroom to take a shower right as your host is trying to get ready for work. (That is, unless you have a burning need to flash your host. I shower at 7:15, come hell or hot water, and I personally don’t care if you’re already in there or not.)
5. If you’re driving, make parking arrangements with your host in advance. Cities are not car-friendly, and you probably cannot just pull right up and park anywhere you want. You may have to get up at the butt crack of dawn to move your car to a metered space, you may have to pay for it to be garaged, or you may have to cruise for an hour to find a spot. None of these things are within your host’s control, so please keep your frustrations to yourself.
6. Speaking of keeping things to yourself, don’t criticize your host’s cleanliness, décor, neighborhood, food, or, really, don’t criticize anything at all. If you’re that picky, you can have things however you want at the Holiday Inn.
7. Back to cars…cities are not car-friendly. Most of your destinations will involve walking and public transit. Wear appropriate footwear and don’t insinuate that your host should be driving you everywhere. If they offer to drive you, accept their kind offer graciously. (Especially don’t insist your host drive you to Adams Morgan on a Saturday night, in fact, don’t ask them to take you to Adams Morgan at all. It’s the Howard the Duck of nightlife districts.)
8. Don’t forget to thank your hosts for their hospitality. A bottle of wine, a dinner out, or even just a nice note or email will do.
Of course, hosts have responsibilities here, too:
1. Your home doesn’t have to be immaculate, but stay away from gnarly. Give the kitchen and the bathroom a once-over, and if your guest room is an air mattress, sweep the floors. Nobody wants to wake up next to last month’s tortilla fragments. While you’re at it, try to clear a little closet or luggage space for your guests. They’ll be a lot neater if there’s a designated area for their stuff.
2. Chill. Out. Don’t program every minute, or freak if a vase gets moved two millimeters to the right.
3. Find out if your guests have any dietary issues or allergies, and make a small grocery run. You definitely don’t have to cater every meal, but do keep coffee, a few breakfast items, and maybe some snacks on hand. And if your guests are anything like mine, triple up on the booze.
4. Sometimes, tourist traps happen to good people. Be a good sport if your visitors want to go somewhere odious, like the Air and Space Museum. However, if your guests want to go to Ben’s Chili Bowl, cold sober in the harsh light of day, and wait in a ridiculous line for watery chili, you have my permission to tell them it’s an overrated tacky tourist trap that only tastes good after the bars close.
In the comments, tell me about your houseguest rules. Or, tell me about your worst houseguest ever.