How to Be a Good House Guest

I don’t often stand for tradition for tradition’s sake, but long ago I made it my aim to make others feel important in my presence (disclaimer: I never do this perfectly.) I want them to feel important and honored because they are made in God’s image and important to Christ. One way to do this is to implement the traditions of manners and etiquette. So here’s something to look forward to: I’m going to start throwing some posts about manners and etiquette here at Rugged Joy! I’ve come to the realization this week that these two traditions are becoming increasing lost in our (post)modern world. While I am far from the picture of perfect manners, I do believe there’s something to be said for chivalry, manners, and etiquette in the life of the believer. Basically it’s one way to honor others and treat them as you would like to be treated. Now that summer is here- I thought it would be helpful to write about how to be a good house guest (thanks to WikiHow).

1. Arrive when you say you will arrive – if you say you are coming Friday at 5 pm, don’t show up Thursday night or early Friday morning. If you must arrive early, give them a call and ask them if that would be alright. If they sound hesitant, try to keep your earlier plans if at all possible. Also, don’t show up on Saturday. This will probably cause your hosts to worry like the parent of a teenager out past curfew. If you must be late, keep your hosts well informed of when you do plan on arriving. This, as well as all of these suggestions, will depend on who you are staying with. Your parents probably won’t mind, but a friend-of-a-friend or distant relative is an entirely different story.

2. Keep your guest area neat– especially if your hosts have to see it. This is just part of being thoughtful of their home and shows respect to them in not taking advantage of the space they have allowed you to use during your stay. When staying in your own room, make your bed and keep your suitcase tidy. If you are sleeping on the couch, this is especially important. Wake up when your hosts do and remember that others live in the house to. Either make your bed or pack it up for the day, tuck your suitcase out of the way to keep the common space neat. If you need closet space, always ask permission first.

3. Be reasonable about sharing a household bathroom– take into consideration their schedules and needs. If you are staying with someone who has class at 8 or has to be at work at a certain time, make sure to work around their schedule. Ask them when it would be best for you to get ready in the morning. Keep your things in your bedroom or in a very neat and tidy spot in the bathroom. Bring your own toiletries such as soaps and shampoos, toothpaste, razors, etc. Also, if towels aren’t set out for you don’t assume that the fancy towels hung up in the bathroom are for you, simply ask which towels they would like you to use.

4. Always offer to help at mealtimes– planning for, shopping for, preparing, cooking, setting tables, and cleaning up for meals is no small feat so keep always offer your assistance. When you don’t, having house guests can easily start to feel like you are running a hotel. Collecting plates, carrying out dishes, offering to wash up or stack the dishwasher, and taking the garbage out can go a long way to relieve the burden of your host. You could even offer to cook a meal or two yourself. The host may well refuse but insist that you do at least one thing. Never assume it is someone’s job to serve you, especially when you aren’t paying for it. Don’t treat your hosts like they are your servants. That’s just rude.

5. Do your own laundry– it’s perfectly reasonable to think that you may need to wash a few things during your stay. It’s about being thoughtful. Ask when would be the best time for you to do your laundry, ask your hosts to show you where the facility is and how to use it so you can take care of it yourself. Emphasize that you don’t want to cut into the household’s normal routine. If this means spending a weekday morning at the house doing laundry instead of visiting a museum, well, so be it. You’re getting free accommodation! Again, they aren’t your servants so don’t treat them like it.

6. Entertain yourself– don’t assume it is your hosts’ job to entertain you. Don’t expect them to show you around every day, treat you to everything, keep you from getting bored, or plan your days for you. If they plan things, that’s great and you can graciously accept their offer. But don’t expect them to. Your hosts are offering you their home but not necessarily their time. They may have work to finish at home, they may have work during the daytime, or other commitments. Don’t presume that you can rely on their generosity to drive you to places or to show you around. Be prepared to catch public transport and taxis. You can also just bring a book and read or take time to relax. Most of all, be content in whatever circumstance you find yourself in.

7. Be careful about internet and phone usage– always ask before using your hosts’ internet or phone and don’t assume that because they give you permission once you have free reign to use it whenever you wish. They may tell you to help yourself whenever you want, if so, be thoughtful! Don’t sit on their computer for hours each day. Just keep it to the bare minimum (check e-mails, favorite updates). Ask them if they have dial-up or broadband and if your usage for a certain amount of time will cost anything. If there are costs involved (especially with long-distance calls) and your hosts are not financially well-off, offer to leave payment. Spending all your time on the internet or phone can make your host quickly feel like you are using them for their home and don’t want to invest in them personally. I believe the technical term is being “used.” So don’t do it.

8. Leave a thank you gift on your departure- it’s also nice to bring a thank you gift when you arrive (think wine, a box of chocolates, a basket of fruit or flowers.) When you are staying with someone they are often sacrificing much time, money, privacy, and energy to have you in their home. It’s more than appropriate to thank them with a gift. It doesn’t need to be anything expensive- flowers, fresh berries or a hand-written card are all sweet gestures.

9. Strip your bedclothes on leaving– it’s a nice gesture to your hosts, as they will have to wash your bedding and clean up after your departure. While you can’t take part in the cleaning once you leave, you can make it as easy as possible for them by removing sheets, pillow slips and any other linen. Place them in a neat pile on the foot of the bed. If you’re staying long enough that your sheets require washing during the stay, do them yourself and remake your own bed.

10. Don’t outstay your welcome- this is the golden rule of being a house guest. As Ben Franklin once said “After three days fish and guests start to stink.” You have to be able to judge your hosts. A couple living in a large home whose kids are all grown can often house guests longer than a family with 3 teens living in a 3 bedroom home. Just use common sense and remember how it feels when you have guests.

11. Send a thank you note– I once read that anything that takes someone longer than 10 minutes to do for you requires a hand-written thank you note. I wish I was better at this. But staying in someone’s home is certainly note worthy. Write it as soon as you leave and stick it in the mail. You may feel like you are saying thank you a lot, but thank you seems to be one of those things that can never be said too much and is often not said enough.

Depending on how well you know the host and how long you stay, it may be a thoughtful gesture to offer to pay for the groceries or make other contributions. Especially if you know your hosts are in a tight position financially, this is particularly helpful. Hospitality is a costly ministry and you can show you don’t take that for granted by offering to help out. This may or may not be appropriate depending on the situation. If you stay with me, I will laugh in your face if you do this. But that’s just me.

Also be thoughtful of your hosts’ need to maintain their regular life. Much of the above suggestions will help with this, but some other things to take into consideration are letting them get to bed at a reasonable hour, being home on time, bringing your own spending money, being respectful of their parenting, rules, and discipline, not eating all their food, etc.

The keys to remember are: serve rather than be served and be thoughtful! Just as in any interaction with other believers your goal should be to be a blessing, encouragement, and servant to your hosts. When your hosts are bending over backwards to be hospitable to you, and you are bending over backwards to serve them it’s a beautiful fulfillment of Romans 12:10, “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.”


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