Summer is upon us. Or, as I like to call it, House Guest Season. This is the time of year when those valued friends who have beautiful houses in spectacular places begin to flip through their address books and invite the chosen few to spend a weekend. Or, as is the case with SP, that time of year when we begin to call on these friends and casually suggest we will be travelling in the month of June — pause with held breath — and wait for that magic sentence “You must stay with us in Southampton.” Score. The Summer Mooch Tour begins.
As I pack my bag to head out of hot Charleston and into cool New England, I thought a rerun of a popular post would benefit us all. Of all of the elements of living the good life that a man should master, being a good guest must surely rank at the top of that list. It matters not if you are invited to a tailgate party, church social, summer barbecue, destination wedding, beach or country house for the weekend, in your role as the good guest you should be gracious, grateful, considerate and above all entertaining. One of these fundamentals without the other is like driving a car with three wheels. And of all of these entertaining is the most important, particularly for a single man. If you are able to entertain your host and fit seamlessly into her dinner, event, or household, you will be invited back time and again. When a man achieves Most-Favored Guest status he will have his pick of invitations.
Let’s say you have been lucky enough to be invited for a weekend getaway. We are not talking about some twelve-person frat boy share here. You have received an invitation to a private house with a small party of friends or better yet, to a friend’s parents’ summer house. Being a house guest is a special privilege and you should prepare for this privilege. There are stories of many a house guest whose true colors were revealed during a weekend in the country and whose name suddenly disappeared from the invitation lists of not only his hostess but all of her friends. When you are a house guest, you must be ever vigil and on your best behavior and at all times cognizant that you are in someone’s house, not a hotel and not your parents’ house but in a friend’s place. The rules for social survival are stricter here than those for any of the other scenarios of being a good guest.
• The Respectable Bag – Before you even get in the car or head down to the train station you should pack lightly and carry your things in a presentable bag. No host wants to see you stumbling through her door with loads of luggage or spilling out of plastic trash bags. Here are two great examples for overnight and a long weekend.
• The Hostess (or Host) Gift – You should bring a small gift (perfect example) for your host whether this is your first visit or your fiftieth. If you don’t have time before you leave or would rather wait to shop while you are there, this is fine. It is nice to present something to your hostess that fits with her style and taste. If you are visiting a married couple you would bring one gift meant for the house.
• Don’t Act Like a Guest. The most important rule of being a good house guest is never act like a guest. Do not arrive at someone’s house acting as if you have checked into a luxury hotel. No one is there to wait on you, unless of course there is a staff of servants, but this situation is unique (see Tips for Service below). Here are some things to consider while you are soaking up the hospitality. Offer to drive to the liquor store and fill the cabinet with liquors and mixers. Help prepare the dinner, set the table, clean up after and volunteer to do the dishes. Volunteer to make a simple dessert, or if you are worthless in a kitchen, stop by the famous bake shop in town and pick up an apple cobbler and vanilla ice cream.
• Wear appropriate clothing. Assimilate to the style of your host. Do not come down to breakfast in your boxer shorts. Cover up with a robe or better yet throw on your khakis and a polo shirt. Wash your face and comb your hair while you are at it. Every gentleman should own one pair of nice pajamas (perfect example) to wear as a house guest, particularly when there are older guests/hosts present and always when they are women.
• Adjust to your host’s schedule. If your host retires early, so do you. If your host rises early, you rise early, unless she specifically tells you otherwise. I am lucky on this trip that my hosts prefer long talks after midnight while sipping Scotch on the porch.
• Know When to Go. Finally and most importantly, be wary of extending your stay. There is an old gift shop plaque I have seen in many a vacation home that says something to the effect, “If by late Sunday afternoon two drinks turn into three and we ask you to stay another night, please disregard this drunken sentiment and stick to your original plan.” The polite host will sometimes offer — and in most cases an extra day is acceptable — but be extra sensitive to the household’s mood. If you sense this is just a perfunctory invitation, hop on the next train and keep to your original plan.
• Thank You Note – A thank you note (perfect example) is absolutely necessary. It does not matter if you picked up the thousand-dollar dinner bill on your last night. Always send a thank you note.
The point here should be clear. You should completely alter your schedule, behavior and expectations to that of your host. If you present yourself as entertaining, pleasant and trouble-free you should have a grand old time and head back to your life well-rested while running through the memory of a weekend well spent. Nobody ever said being a house guest was easy, in fact it can be downright draining sometimes, which is why you should refrain from making a habit of it.
Tips for Service. When you are staying with friends who have permanent, live-in household staff in the city, in the country or at the beach it is appropriate to tip these workers for services performed. These staffers have their normal duties of attending to the household plus the added burden of cleaning up after you. Especially if they make your bed, provide fresh towels and present breakfast and lunch every day. At the end of a trip, slide $10 for every day you were there into an envelope with a little note, “Thank you, Matilda.” If there is multiple staff you should leave multiple tips (called “vails” in the Middle Ages). Present the tip in separate envelopes to the cook and to the housekeepers. One side note: make this action discreet. SP once made the mistake of offending a hostess when she discovered the tip to her staff. The misunderstanding in her mind was that her staff is taken care of by her and my tip was offensive. To set the record straight, this hostess was misguided. One does indeed tip household staff. SP stumbled by letting the hostess discover the tip in the first place. Hand the envelope directly to the staff or place it under an object that is impossible to miss.
And Don’t Forget to:
Offer to help and anticipate your host’s needs.
Include your host if you are invited to an event or dinner party by another friend.
Keep your room clean and the bed made.
Offer to replace or repair anything you break, lose or mishandle.
Strip the bed when you leave, fold and leave sheets on top of the bedspread
act like a guest.
invite friends over or be always on the road visiting others than your hosts.
And finally, yes, it’s a vacation, but it’s not Spring Break in Cancun. Don’t get blotto drunk and make a fool of yourself. As always, handle your liquor.
and register to win a bow tie.
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