HOW TO BE HEADACHE FREE....
WHILE YOU ENJOY A FABULOUS SUMMER AS A GUEST OR A HOST
Every year about this time I publish my reminder to those of you who will find yourselves houseguests over the summer months. Just to dust off our memories, the tick list for guests includes:
- Show up unannounced with the deep conviction that YOU are their house warming present
- Bring children (yours or those you picked up hitchhiking) without permission
- Bring your Rottweiler, hamster or kitty cat with bladder control issues
- Hog the shower while singing "Born to be Wild" in F-flat
- Expect to be entertained like the royalty those SPAM emails say you are.
- Expect others to be quiet while you take overseas conference calls in the kitchen with your iPhone on Speaker.
- Decide to extend your stay while you write the great American novel.
- Show up on time. Believe it or not, your hosts have a life outside entertaining you.
- Bring a gift like homemade cookies or your host's favorite wine, snack or dessert. And remember, whatever you bring stays when you leave. Seems obvious? You'd be surprised.
- Pitch in. That garbage isn't going to walk itself out to the curb.
- Respect the house rules. No muddy shoes also means no bare feet on dark wood floors that leave imprints.
- Bring your own stuff. Not everyone is comfortable lending out their swimwear. And if your teenager only eats organic food, then bring that too. As a host, I was once expected to prepare organic table food for my guest's dog. I'm not kidding.
- Go with the flow and sleep on their schedule. It's 2010. Don't party like it's 1999 if they don't.
- Clean your room immediately each morning or your host might think you are waiting for them to do it.
- Send a hand-written thank-you note. It is so much more eloquent than an email with typos or texting "tks" as you back out of their driveway.
Sage advice, all you hosts out there say, nodding your heads. But, what about the host? Are there also rules for those of you who open your homes to friends and family? Actually, yes. Here is my list for hosts:
- Inquire about food preferences. I'm not talking about taking a poll to see who prefers Fettuccini to Linguini. But I am talking about finding out if your guests have any food allergies or religious or ethical restrictions. You probably won't score any points if you serve succulent rack of lamb to your boss' new wife who just won Vegan of the Year.
- Ask, don't tell. It is wonderful to have activity options planned for your guests, but the operative word here is "options." You may have already been at the summer house for some days preparing for the festivities, while your guests might be arriving late Friday night straight from the meeting, deadline or job from hell. Your 5:00 a.m. bird watching tour might feel a bit more like a bad day at Boy Scout camp if they are short on sleep and need to unwind instead.
- Put your projects away. The weekend you invite guests is not the weekend to chip the barnacles off the boat hull. Nothing says, "Glad you came," quite like a paint brush and a request that they give the outdoor shower floor at least two coats.
- Think it through. Before you assemble the guest list, ask yourself what you truly want to come of this gathering. Are you looking to kick back with your closest pals? Or do you want to bring some new friends or colleagues together? Think about whom you are inviting and what they have in common. The weekend you are hosting your whiskey-shooting uncle might not be the same weekend to invite the new colleague and her husband, an active member in AA.
- Give fair warning. Share enough information in advance about the weekend facilities and activities so guests can come prepared (and clad) for likely events. If a friendly tennis tournament is part of the plan, let them know so they can bring their own racket or a good book to read on the sidelines if they prefer.
- An ounce of prevention. Setting expectations for guests ahead of time can avoid awkward situations. What is it they say? "Fool me once. Shame on you. Fool me twice. Shame on me." It is good to let guests know ahead of time what you can and cannot provide in terms of sleeping arrangements, meals, etc. If you don't want to feed their family of six for a week like you did last time, nothing wrong with saying, "We'll all go to the grocery store when you get here. That way you can be sure you have what you need over your stay. Ted and I will take responsibility for the basics."
Know when to fold 'em
Despite everyone's best efforts, some host/guest pairings just don't work. You like to play bridge; they like to get drunk. You like to watch movies; they like you to watch their kids.
As either host or guest, EVERYONE has the right to decline or renegotiate the next invitation or request for a visit.
"We'd love to see you this summer, but there is a lovely Inn we are planning to stay at. How about meeting us there for dinner one night while we're in town?" Or, "We'd love to see you this summer, but we just aren't in a position to host overnight guests this time. There is a lovely Inn down the road..."
Anyway you slice it; there is an art to being a gracious host and a marvelous guest. Whichever role you find yourself in, brand yourself considerate and thoughtful. And THAT will make all the difference.
Enjoy your summer festivities. And one last thing....I am still accepting invitations as a houseguest to Monte Carlo or Hawaii. I take 100% responsibility for dishes if that's an incentive.