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How You Could Be the Perfect Houseguest

So that you always get invited back!

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illustration of woman holding a big box with items for hosting people
Arne Bellstorf
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Last summer, my husband and I hosted friends at our house in Vermont for the Fourth of July weekend. They arrived armed with grocery bags containing what initially seemed like a whole weekend’s worth of food.

I couldn’t shake the feeling that our friends had somehow doubted our ability to plan ahead and take care of the majority of their needs as our guests. Had they misunderstood the invitation?

While the long holiday weekend mostly went off without a hitch, subsequent houseguests have inspired me to think about my own behavior as both a guest in someone’s home and a host to others. What I’ve learned is that there’s more gray areas than black or white — but stripping the bed on the morning of your departure will always be appreciated.

If you want to be the kind of person who gets invited back again and again, there are a few things to keep in mind.

Don’t expect to be waited on

International etiquette consultant Julia Esteve Boyd says an invitation to stay in someone else’s home should not be treated like a hotel stay. As she puts it: “They have invited you into their private zone because they like you and want to spend time with you, not serve you!”

Even though one of my favorite duties as a host is making cocktails and seeing to it that my guests are well fed, this resonates with me. I may make blueberry pancakes and bacon on Saturday morning, but I have a more laid-back approach to lunch that largely involves reheating leftovers from the previous night’s dinner.

Being a good guest is about being helpful, adds Boyd. “Offer to help with simple tasks such as setting the dinner table, emptying the dishwasher, putting away groceries — anything that will mean your host has less work. Sometimes there’s no need to ask if you can help, just do it!”

Do tidy up after yourself

Boyd points out that since your hosts will have already “cleaned, prepared, shopped, cooked, planned many things to make the guest feel comfortable,” do your best to avoid adding anything extra to their workload. What does this look like? Putting your glass in the dishwasher before bed. If you’ve brought along food items, offering to put away and store them upon arrival rather than leaving your host to deal with it.

Consider also pitching in on any cleanup in general. “Your host may not want to accept your offer but will appreciate whatever you do, as long as you don’t overstep any personal boundaries,” Boyd adds, and I value this advice from firsthand experience. One of our recent houseguests jumped up from the table to help as soon as I got to work clearing plates, loading the dishwasher and washing the pots. At first, I urged her to sit back down, telling her I had it covered. She responded: “Don’t be ridiculous. It’ll be faster with two people.”

Of course, she was right, and I was grateful for the help, even though I would have preferred she relax and keep talking to the other people at the table.

Don’t arrive empty-handed

As a very prepared (read: Type A) host, I’ve shopped, and meal planned and was not exactly thrilled when our friends last summer showed up with a ton of food. I’d rather they would have asked if we had any specific needs or things, we had trouble getting in rural Vermont.

But a gift for the host is always a good idea and should be based on what you know about the people you are visiting. Are they wine people? Chocolates are always welcome. One of my friends always brings a picture frame when she is an overnight guest, knowing that somewhere in her hosts’ home there is an old, cherished photo stashed away in a drawer.

As a host, I also appreciate receiving a thank-you note after our guests have left — that definitely scores points for a repeat invite.

Do make yourself comfortable

This can mean many things and be interpreted in a variety of ways. I prefer guests who will not interrupt a task I’m doing and will show respect for our home, while making themselves “at home.” That means, they are comfortable enough to flop down on a couch with a magazine and have some private, quiet time while I am having my own.

This means be as self-sufficient as possible. “Your host may have invited you for the weekend but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they want to spend every waking minute with you,” Boyd says.

I appreciate my alone time, especially amid an otherwise busy weekend. Upon returning to the house after a day that included a three-mile hike, antique shopping, and a brewery visit, I told recent house guests that I was going to lie down for a bit and rest before dinner. In fact, everyone did their own thing for the next couple of hours, regrouping just in time for cocktails, which I mixed and poured with delight.

What do YOU think makes a perfect houseguest? Let us know in the comments below.

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