31 January 2011

The Good Guest Guide

We had guests this past weekend. They are dear friends, old friends, and all the M’s were anticipating their visit with the greatest pleasure.  They did not disappoint. We were at our home in Switzerland; the weather was spectacular and the snow fantastic. It was a perfect weekend, because our friends happen to be the perfect houseguests.

Having the good fortune to have lived in nice places, most of them popular tourist destinations, I know a thing or two about houseguests. I’ve had my fair share of wonderful ones (the great majority) and a few, well, shall we say, less delightful. I therefore consider myself fully qualified to write the complete guide for houseguests – and in fact, it is on my list of writing-projects-for-someday. For now, I’ll settle for offering a few tips.

Come fully prepared for the type of visit you will be enjoying.  Do not arrive and expect that your host is going to have extras on hand for all the ski equipment you might have forgotten to bring or been unable to find and pack. Ditto for toiletries. While I am more than happy to share my home, food, wine and washing machine, I am extremely reluctant to part with even a single one of my U.S. imported Q-tips.

Be prepared to help out.  Sounds like a no brainer, right? You’d be surprised! If everyone is lazing around after a long day skiing, and only one person, i.e. yours truly, is running around picking up ski socks, cooking dinner, adding another log to the fire, well, then there is something wrong with the picture. Yes, you were invited to relax and have a good time. No, the invitation does not turn you into royalty to be waited on hand and foot. At least, not while all six members of my household staff are out on holiday (ahem, I wish, but I jest.)

Be self-sufficient.  I once read that the ideal houseguest entertains themselves by day and their hosts by night. If you want to do something other than the party plan, that is fine. Make your own arrangements and knock yourself out, but don’t expect your host to serve as your personal concierge.

Abstain from any bizarre rituals.  Once while living in the Bahamas, a friend came with a friend to stay a few days. While our friend falls into the perfect guest category – her friend was severely challenged.  Apparently he felt the need to ward off the evil spirits in our home, because the first day of his visit he consumed a full clove of raw garlic, two cloves the second day, three the third, until the entire household reeked to the outer islands and back.  Now hospitality always was and remains sacred to the Greeks, and my very hospitable Greek mother raised me well. I didn’t say a word to Garlic Guest and managed to restrain my husband as well. But just don’t do stuff like this.

Be enthusiastic about everything.  This last came from my boys when I asked them what makes a good guest. They pointed out how nice it is when guests are eager to try everything and really show they are having a good time.

Our friends who came this weekend have visited before. They have an open invitation being the fun, enthusiastic, entertaining, helpful, perfect guests that they are. No sooner did they come through the door than they unpacked and put away their few pieces of luggage. Then, immediately one popped into the kitchen to prepare the yummy little hors d’oeuvres she had brought along, while her husband opened a delicious bottle of red wine. Ahh, delight! Now that’s how to do it – Cheers!


  1. Thank you for defining "a good houseguest". I couldn't agree more! No wonder we're such good friends and you are always invited to stay with us.

    Love, Renée

  2. I was glad to read this. I've divided my cabin guests into two categories: those who I will invite again and those who I won't invite again.

    Invite again guests include those who enjoy what I have to offer and tell me so, those who bring a bottle of wine to share in appreciation for the invitation, and those who don't make demands on me like it's a hotel. Stripping the bed sheets for me is nice and even offering to throw them in the washer is better!
    The don't invite again guests did the following: told me to have a bottle of wine ready for them when the arrived(!?) Another guest complained her room was hotter than mine and demanded I turn the air conditioner higher (even though it was set at a comfortable temperature for the whole cabin). And, as Alexis indicated, those that expect us to cook and clean for them.
    When I get an invitation I even bring my own sheets! ( guess that's why I get asked back again...)
    Keep up the great writing, Alexis. You should write for Real Simple or one of those magazines. Stories about an American in Monaco would be fun too.

  3. How do you feel about guests bringing their dogs? I had one who's dog peed in every bedroom in the house, and shat twice, in the span of a week. The human might come back, but the dog sure as hell isn't!

  4. If I promise to be a good guest may I come and stay?? It looks dead comfortable!
    (guess who? one who loves skiing...........)

  5. I like the guests who say what a good housekeeper I am, which I most emphatically am not!! But they can come back any time!


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