Thursday, June 24, 2010

Etiquette for Urban Couch-Crashers

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, d├ęcor, 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.


Brando said...

Is it good etiquette to imply that a Sinbad movie could be "Hilarious!"?

Malnurtured Snay said...

What's with all the hate on Air & Space? Sheesh! Totally agree on Adams Morgan.

Rachel said...

I might be asking a lot, but I expect a houseguest to treat me to one meal or a drink at least out, or bring a bottle of wine.

I once had a couple visit me, and because I lived in a studio with not enough space for an air mattress, I let them take my bed, and I slept on the couch. They didn't say thank you, and then ditched me for most of the weekend so that he could go to a fantasy baseball draft with some of his old law school buddies. I was essentially a crash pad, and I'd canceled plans to hang out with them because I didn't know that they weren't actually coming to see me. Worst guests ever.

Shannon said...

Brando - It's not rude, it's just sadly delusional.

Snay - I'm not a fan of Air and Space because I've been there a million billion times, and because it's full of screeching kids.

Rachel - I don't mind if guests make other plans while visiting, as it takes off some of the pressure to entertain. However, they should make that clear in advance, so I'm not left hanging without plans on a Saturday night.

One Blonde Girl said...

This is a great guide. I have a friend who used to be a frequent houseguest. On the plus side, he would go out every morning and buy coffee and breakfast for the house (if you were up early enough to put in your order). The negative, we would find his empty soda bottles and Dunkin' Donuts wrappers hiding around our living room for days after he left.

Brett said...

I would also like to add:

Be nice to pets. Do not play "spin the kitty." It may be fun for you, but it's probably not for her.

Also I agree with Rachel- come with booze or something. It is bad manners to arrive anywhere empty handed. Unless you're a hooker, then you don't even have to bring your dignity.

Ibid said...

...and the Air and Space Museum hasn't had more than the most minor update since I moved here in 2001. I'm told even 5 years before that, too.

Ben's is watery? I'd call it charred. I bring Tums with me so I don't have to wait until I get home.

Shannon said...

OBG - Ugh, I hate that. While I'm at it, can take your own glasses into the kitchen. Don't just leave them all over the place.

Brett - Generally, hookers should bring hand sanitizer and condoms.

Ibid - Come to think of it, I can't think of any changes to the Air and Space since I was in high school. In the early 90s.

hoyden said...

There was this one time recently when I stayed with a friend of mine in DC. I was walking on eggshells the entire time, petrified that I would do something wrong and get lambasted on the Internet for it. I got her back, though... I left the sliding door and the screen door to her porch open just a fraction of an inch -- to let in the heat, humidity, and mosquitoes...

I kid! I kid!

You're a great host. I especially appreciate your attention to #3 on the list of host responsibilities. :-)

Lemon Gloria said...

I used to hate hate hate having houseguests, and then I started limiting them to people I am really close to, who I don't have to entertain or be fully dressed around (in-laws excepted). I chilled out and just started saying make yourself at home, here's the coffee, towels, etc etc - and that has made all the difference.

Mr. J said...

I had an acquaintance bring two of her slovenly friends to stay with me for far too long for Obama's inauguration. They complained about cold, about walking, about food, about everything. This is despite my going outside in 15 degree temps to fill up my air mattress (all I had was a cigarette-lighter powered pump), giving up a weekend with my girlfriend, and trotting around the city with them because they had no itinerary and hadn't done any research.

When they left, I didn't get so much as a thank you card, and I haven't heard from her since. Friendship over.

Shannon said...

hoyden - You are always welcome back at Stamey's Bed and Beverage!

LG - I'm a really low-key hostess too, and I find it helps. I just point out where stuff is, and tell people to raid the fridge if they'd like.

Mr. J - I had no idea you controlled the weather, or that you'd been such an influence on Pierre L'Enfant. I feel like I'm in the presence of a celebrity.

Seriously, it's bad manners to make someone feel bad about things they have no control over. Eeesh.

Bill G said...

I'm glad you recognize that rent control provides a disincentive for landlords to maintain their property and provide services like in-unit laundry.

Shannon said...

Bill G - I am in favor of rent control. More to the point, that was totally not the purpose of the post. Please don't use an offhand remark to try and turn this comment thread into a rent control debate.

zipcode said...

worst houseguest was my ex fiances sister. Our computer was in the guest room and she decided to take it upon herself to defrag the harddrive and thus deleting my grad school papers. The end result is she killed our computer and she thought since was our guest I had to pay for everything. Every meal I had to pay for - it was a nightmare and the 2000 I had to spend on a new computer.

hannah said...

Why Shannon! I almost could think that you've recently had an experience with a terrible house guest!