Today it occurred to me that I’ve probably spent more time than most people as a guest in someone’s home. If not for friends and family, a road trip like this one would get old pretty quickly. I’d drive all day and then spend the intervening hours staring out the window of a soulless Super 8, trying to identify strange odors and certain missteps in my past.
As it is, people usually seem welcoming. Maybe they’re just being nice. But I like to think it’s partly because I’ve perfected the art of not being a bother, and the art of leaving well before a welcome wears thin.
That’s rule one when you stay with somebody: Make sure they know when you plan to leave. And then leave somewhat earlier than that. Sometimes it’s hard to do: the food is great, the bed comfortable, the conversation amusing. Your hosts set out snacks and pour beverages with a free hand. They just love having you there.
Of course they do. That’s how good hosts behave. That’s how Tess and I try to behave when we get company in our home. We like getting company. But it’s always easier to be gracious if the duration of the stay is known and definite.
Rule two: Help with the dishes. That doesn’t mean a symbolic offer while shoveling down another portion of dessert. It means getting up and doing it without waiting for someone to object. Also, once is not enough.
Rule three: Buy some food. Either a dinner out or some groceries — just don’t be the person who’s repeatedly peering into the fridge in the hope that there will be some nice cold cuts in there.
Rule four: Make the bed. Yes, it’ll just get messy again, but I don’t know anybody who doesn’t prefer a made bed to a tangle of sheets and rumpled blankets. Just make the damned bed.
Rule five: Do your own laundry. But do it at a time when the washer and dryer are free. When in doubt, ask. Under no circumstances do you remove your hosts’ underwear from either machine.
Rule six: When your hosts go to bed, you go to bed. Do not stay up watching The Daily Show at full volume, then pad around the house opening cupboards at random. Also, do not then go to a nightclub and return drunk in the wee hours.
Rule seven: Take a walk. Or go shopping or do something each day that takes you out of the house and out of your hosts’ hair for a little while. Good hosts always feel they should be entertaining. If you’re not there it gives them a nice break. And a chance to discuss your shortcomings in private.
Anyway, those are my personal rules for being a guest. By diligently adhering to them, I’ve not yet been forcibly evicted from any place I’ve stayed. Maybe I should write a book about this.