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How to be a good house guest

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Make an effort to be your best self when invited to stay in others’ homes this summer

Whether you have a private bedroom and bath or you’re sharing a wobbly futon with a cat, being a gracious guest is the key to a good experience for all.

Some of my best summer memories are of sitting on a friend’s stoep, eating dip and watching the sunset with other weekend guests. As someone lucky enough to be part owner of a family beach cottage, I’ve been on both sides of the host-guest equation.

Good hosts make good guests. Take Nick Voulgaris III, author of The Seaside House, Living on the Water, which chronicles vacation homes in the US. Voulgaris is a frequent house guest and often hosts friends overnight in his places in New York’s West Village, Huntington and Shelter Island, where home is a yacht.

“To me, the perfect house guest is someone who just pitches in and helps without asking,” Voulgaris says.

“This is because most hosts will decline the offer when asked if anything can be done.”

Make an effort to be your best self. Don’t make comments about the thinness of your mattress or the weird smell in the wardrobe. If you spill nail polish remover on the rug, confess.

Try to be cheerful and accommodating.

Here are more ideas on the art of being a good guest.

Bring a nice gift

The best things to buy are food, entertaining supplies, flowers or wine. Voulgaris suggests freshly baked goods such as a pie. A luxurious scented candle is also one of his go-to gift choices. I try to spot something the house could need, whether steak knives or a new toaster, so next year when I come back, I can bring that for a present. One friend who visited our beach house in August noticed we needed a nice tray and sent a woven rattan tray for Christmas.

Keep the bathroom clean and cleared

Many weekend houses have shared bathrooms. Voulgaris says it’s appreciated if you hang the bath mat over the shower or bath after using it, wipe off any water you’ve splashed on the floor and clean out the sink so the next guest can have a pleasant experience. Remove any soap scum or hair from the shower drain. Ask where you should hang your wet towels. Keep your grooming products in your bedroom, not scattered around the bathroom.

Help with chores

Don’t sit there and expect to be served as if you’re at a restaurant. Hosts appreciate you clearing plates from the table, emptying the dishwasher, taking out the rubbish and stripping the bed when you leave. Set up the coffee for the next day. Or go a bit further. My husband meticulously cleaned a large outdoor grill for friends who had invited us to visit. I used my decluttering skills, working with my hostess to help reorganise the kitchen counters. Last year, I cleaned out my friends’ spice cabinet, tossing expired jars, wiping the shelves clean and alphabetising the rest.

Don’t sneer at microwaved food

When you’re a guest, you get to know your hosts on a different level. They may not buy the same kinds of foods as you do. So if they stock only skimmed milk for coffee and you want semi-skimmed, just go with it or bring your own. If they use bottled salad dressing and you make yours from scratch, don’t comment. So what if they zap their food instead of frying it? Just be grateful you’re getting a home-cooked breakfast.

Leave nothing behind

No host wants to run a lost-and-found. Guests should do a final inspection of their bedroom and bathroom for stray items. Check plugs for phone chargers, the back of the bathroom door for dressing gowns and the shower for shampoos and conditioners. Take your bathing suit off the clothes line. Peek under the bed in case a stray piece of clothing has ended up there.

Give thanks. Often

Say thank you after every meal and drink. When you leave, be enthusiastic about all the effort your host went to in order to create a wonderful time. Voulgaris says a group text is often formed before a weekend away to share information between hosts and guests. On the evening you depart, send out another text of thanks to the group, mentioning how much you appreciated the hospitality. and maybe include a photo you’ve taken of the weekend. Within the next few days, a handwritten note is a beautiful gesture that just might put you on the A-list for the next gathering. – Washington Post


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