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Don’t Be a Ghastly Guest

By Lolly Winston, Silicon Valley Magazine – 09/10/2002 – 12:00am

A lavishly inviting guest room speaks well of the host-but will it invite your guests to overstay their welcome?

With the valley’s economy booming, people are moving into larger houses and buffing out guest rooms with everything from Ralph Lauren linens to DVD players. For houseguests, this can mean a stay as comfy as the Fairmont, with a homey touch. Even business travelers are finding that sleeping over and eating dinner with old friends while on the road takes the monotony out of business travel. But not all houseguests are created equal.

“Be clear about your itinerary in advance. You must let your hosts know when you’ll arrive and exactly how long you plan to stay because they are arranging their schedule around your plans,” Bridges says.

“Don’t wear out your welcome. There’s an old saying: Fish and houseguests begin to smell after three days,” Fox writes in her book. “Don’t extend your original departure date unless invited to do so,” she says.

“Bring a small gift. A bottle of wine, nice cocktail napkins, fancy jams or jellies, a little antique bowl make good gifts,” Bridges says. “Flowers or a flowering plant and candles or pretty soaps also are appreciated.”

“Don’t bring pets or children, unless you were specifically asked by the hosts to do so,” instructs Fox. “The etiquette rule is that those who are not mentioned are not invited. Do not ask directly if they can come, although you might respond, We’d love to come if we can find a sitter for the children. This gives the host the opportunity to invite the kids. A high-tech editor in San Mateo tells about her houseguest from hell: her husband’s boss who stayed with them while going through a separation from his wife. But one week turned into a month and then he brought his two little girls over for the weekend and they were wild, climbing and jumping all over the furniture. The weirdest thing was that the guy never sent us a thank you note.”

Adapt to your host’s lifestyle, without trying to run the show. This means going with the flow and being open to your host’s suggestions for meals and recreation. A Berkeley graphic artist calls her houseguest from hell the Prima Donna Pianist. He asked us to have his coffee ready in the morning and then said, And remind me to show you the place I found to get better coffee filters. Then he wanted me to do his laundry, saying sweetly, Can you do these loads for me, darling? We took him to our favorite Mexican restaurant and he yelled at the waitress, who couldn’t accommodate his particular guacamole demands.

Don’t be a bump on a log. The Berkeley hostess notes that a houseguest at the other end of the spectrum from the Prima Donna Pianist can be equally maddening. One guest was so demure he smothered me with his lack of plans, wishes or preferences, she says. Would you like to go wine tasting? I’d ask. Visit Alcatraz? Tahoe? Museums? Oh, I don’t know, was always his answer. After about four days my frustrated side wanted to say: Would you like to tour the Oakland sewer system and have otter brain for dinner? As Bridges explains, “Hosts like it when you speak up and participate in the planning. Then they don’t have to worry whether you’re having a good time. He adds that participating sometimes means doing stuff you’re not crazy about.

Chip in and help. Being a good participant also means lending a hand. Get up when it’s time to fix dinner or pour the drinks and say, Let me help with that. The ideal houseguest situation is a team effort and the guest plays as big a role as the host in making the visit fun.

“Offer to treat your hosts to a meal, especially if you’re staying a few nights. Tell your host before you sit down to eat that you’d like to pick up the check,” advises Bridges. “That way you don’t have to haggle during a nice meal.”

Don’t make a racket: Keep your voice down late in the evening or early morning, and if the guest room has a television, keep the volume on low.

Tidy up before you leave. Bottom line, says Fox: Always leave everything cleaner than you found it. This means wiping out the tub and sink and asking your host if you can strip the bed and what to do with the sheets.

“Send a thank-you note. You absolutely must say thank you after someone has had you as a guest,” says Bridges, adding that your host gift doesn’t obviate you from this necessity. “The host gift says thank you for inviting me. The thank you note says thank you, I had a good time.” He adds that if you’ve stayed a week or more you might send along another little gift. Maybe you noticed something during the visit that your host likes in particular a kind of music or a type of food. You could send a CD or a fancy condiment.

Reprinted with permission from the San Jose Mercury News, Silicon Valley Magazine

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