The Good Sleepover Guest
The four biggest lies in hospitality are:
- Drop by anytime;
- Don’t bring anything;
- Mi casa es tu casa; and
- Stay as long as you want.
The truth is that it is oftentimes said (even if behind closed doors) that house guests are like fish: They smell after two days. Therefore, regardless of what is said by the hostess to the contrary, the general rule is that gentlemen should keep visits very short and very sweet, departing with the lady or gentleman of the house wishing the visit were longer. If there is ever a time in life to exhibit impeccable manners, it is when visiting someone’s home, for the manner in which a young man conducts himself in another person’s home is not only a reflection of the young man, but also of his family—of his parents in particular, and of the way they raised (or did not raise!) him. So while the adage, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” may ring true at a rock concert or when sitting in a cafe, it does not when one is a house guest. There, the more appropriate adage would be, “When in Rome, do as the pope should do.” Whether visiting as a sleep-over play date during the pre-teen years; “crashing” on the sofabed at a friend’s “monolocale” in Roma during one’s “roaming 20s”; spending a few days with a cousin at his group-house while in town on job interviews; or visiting a business associate at his palatial, seaside villa in Portugal’s The Algarve, good manners make all the difference between the experience being wonderful or regretful—for both guest and host.
Being a good house guest requires a particular sensitivity—for knowing, for example, when to be up before dawn in order to surprise the hostess with breakfast in bed, and when to remain in bed, even if wide awake, so as to give the host time to recuperate after an eventful night; when to be neither seen nor heard, and when to be seen but not heard; when to serve and when to be served; when to enter a room, and when to withdraw therefrom; when to arrive and when to depart. The positive interaction between guest and host can perhaps best be likened to the chemistry shared amongst members of a jazz ensemble, who, by instinct and practice, know how, when, and where to complement each other. And like a musical score, with its bass and treble clefs, each separate and distinct, yet enhancing the other, such should be the relationship between host and guest, each knowing his role. A guest, no matter how intimate or familiar, is always a guest. And he must always be cognizant of that fact, conducting himself accordingly.
A good house guest should bring joy to his host, be easy to accommodate, respect the host and his property, and help to create an overall positive experience during the visit. The guest’s presence should, at worst, only marginally inconvenience the host and, preferably, should enhance the life of the host. A good house guest puts himself “in the shoes of his host” before speaking, acting, and interacting.
In Italy it is said that guests should knock on the door with their feet, meaning that their hands should be laden with gifts. Even a hostess who insists that her sleepover guest not bring a gift appreciates a gift—especially if it is something that she would have purchased for herself.
A gentleman-guest, even an impromptu one, should choose his gift carefully, for truly, when it comes to gifts for a host or hostess, it is the thought that counts. The proverbial “man who has everything,” for example, is much more likely to be appreciative of a basket of hand-selected, exotic fruits than a fine, silk tie. And a single mother of three would probably find a board game presented as a gift for her children more meaningful than a famous eau de parfum for her.
Sharing a Bed
Sharing a bed, whether with a lover or a friend, is an immensely intimate, potentially bonding experience and should be conducted with utmost dignity and respect. The guest should regard the invitation not only as one of the ultimate expressions of hospitality, but also of trust. People are perhaps most vulnerable when they sleep. And to be invited into another’s private sleep space is one of the highest honors a host can bestow upon his guest. One of the first acknowledgments of that honor, then, is for the guest to pay particular attention to hygiene since his lack thereof may adversely impact his host. (See chapter on Hygiene). Bathing, brushing one’s teeth, applying moisturizer to the skin, and grooming one’s hair prior to entering a shared bed are absolutely necessary. Dressing (or undressing!) according to the degree of intimacy is also required. If pajamas are appropriate, they should be clean, fit properly, and be well-designed. When the degree of intimacy allows for the guest to sleep in his underwear, he should make sure his underwear are clean and flattering to his physique. And proper comportment once in the bed is also required. The guest should be sure to notify his host of any sleep peculiarities or abnormalities such as snoring, sleepwalking, sleep-talking, excessive restlessness, etc., which may adversely impact the host’s restful sleep. And if the guest feels relatively certain that the host will not be able to obtain a restful sleep if his bed is shared, the guest should politely refuse the offer to share the bed, sleeping, instead, elsewhere in the home.
Sharing a Bathroom
Bathrooms are private spaces, and activities of a private nature take place in them. Bathrooms tend to be relatively small and are sometimes cluttered with the personal toiletry effects of the host. It is imperative, therefore, that a guest not further invade his host’s private space by setting out personal toiletries as if “setting up shop” in the bathroom. Instead, a gentleman-guest should keep all his toiletries—his toothbrush and toothpaste, hairbrush and comb, cologne, shaving equipment, etc.—in his portable toiletry kit, taking the kit to and from the bathroom with each use. Besides, a gentleman who is equipped with his own toiletry kit will have no reason, whether out of necessity or curiosity, to open his host’s medicine cabinet, thereby further invading the privacy of his host.
After showering or bathing, a gentleman must make certain that the tub or shower stall is rinsed clean of body hair. Also, the toilet rim and seat should be wiped clean before and after use; the vanity mirror, top, and wash basin should be wiped clean and dry; and the floor should be left dry and safe for any subsequent occupant.
Sharing a Kitchen
Very few people enjoy washing their own dishes, let alone someone else’s. And one of the primary reasons people go through the trouble of keeping their kitchens clean is because living with a filthy kitchen is even worse. Besides, according to conventional wisdom, a messy kitchen may contribute to depression.
When visiting a home that is not equipped with an automatic dishwasher or is not staffed with kitchen personnel, it is imperative that a gentleman wash whatever dishes he uses immediately after using them unless specifically instructed not to by the host. If the home is equipped with an automatic dishwasher, a gentleman should place his dishes neatly into the machine after they have been pre-washed (by hand) of any food residue.
When Visiting a Group House
Successfully visiting a group house requires mastering the art of not being seen—except by one’s host. As unimposing as a guest may be, at least some of the housemates of a group house are going to prefer that the guest were not present at all, for a group-house guest is simply one more person to have to see first thing in the morning, one more person to have to contend with over the use of the bathroom, and one more thing to have to deal with, overall.
It is the responsibility of the housemate who invites a guest to inform the fellow housemates, reasonably in advance, that he is having a guest—even if the guest will sleep in the bedroom of the invitor and spend most of his time in the invitor’s “private” space. The housemate-host should discuss common-area schedules with his housemates, relaying that information to his guest so that the guest can accommodate and arrange himself around the established schedules of the house. The guest, for example, should be informed of bathroom, kitchen, and sitting room schedules so as not to infringe on housemates who are trying to use shared facilities, especially during the hectic morning hours before work and/or classes. Also, the housemate-host should inform his guest of particulars of the house: keys, laundry facilities, lights, appliances, etc.
It is important that a guest in a group house—even in a single-gender house—be appropriately dressed when in common areas. He should, for example, don a bathrobe when en route to a from the bathroom for personal grooming. Walking about in underwear, even in the middle of the night en route to the bathroom, is unacceptable. And, of course, a gentleman should keep his personal toiletries in his portable toiletry kit, not set them up in the bathroom as if he is yet another housemate. It is important that the guest leave the bathroom cleaner than encountered each time he uses it. (And, as such, it is important that cleaning and tidying supplies be readily and visibly available in the bathroom so that users may upkeep the room). Countertops, mirrors, and toilet lids and seats must be wiped clean; body hair must be rinsed down drains or wiped up with paper towel and placed into the trashcan or flushed down the toilet; and any personal item that does not have to be left in the bathroom (and there are very few) should be transported to and from the bathroom as needed. A guest in a group house must be mindful that his presence adds to an already high-stress environment.
If the guest is sleeping on a common-area sofabed, for example, it is best that he wake and restore the sofabed to its sofa position before housemates begin moving about the house in the morning. No housemate needs to tippy-toe around a slumbering house guest as the housemate is hustling out the house to get to work.
A group-house guest must pick up and clean up behind himself, regardless of the general practice of the house. Likewise, he must wash dishes immediately after using them.
It is best that a guest at a group house not stay beyond one week. A visit beyond one week is an imposition on the other housemates no matter what they may claim to the contrary. Any group-house guest who stays beyond a week should contribute proportionately to the joint expenses of the house.
When a gentleman stays at a group house, it is necessary that he present the members of the house with an appropriate gift. And one that is consumable is perhaps best: a basket of fresh fruits; a bottle of excellent olive oil; a box of chocolates. If on a very tight budget, something interesting but inexpensive—such as a lottery ticket for an upcoming drawing presented to all the members of the house—would be thoughtful, fun, and potentially life-changing.
When Visiting A Typical Family Home
Very few typical family homes are equipped with a room designated for guests only. More often, a gentleman, especially a young man visiting the family home of a friend, will share his friend’s room or, alternatively, be offered a room that has been temporarily vacated by a family member in order to accommodate the gentleman. If the gentleman must share a bathroom under such circumstances, the same guidelines presented above for visiting a group house apply: Wear proper attire en route to and from the bathroom; transport toiletries to and from the bathroom with each use; and leave the bathroom cleaner and neater than when encountered. If a gentleman has been assigned a guestroom with a private bathroom, he may unpack his toiletries in the bathroom since only he will use the bathroom during his stay.
Whether sharing a room or occupying a designated guestroom, when being hosted in a typical home that is not staffed with domestic help, a gentleman must make his bed each morning—even if it is not his practice to do so in his own home.
A guest in a typical family home should arrive with a gift and send another, along with a hand-written thank-you note, within two or three days after departure. When appropriate, special thanks should also be extended to the member of the household who volunteered his bedroom in order to accommodate the guest.
When Visiting A Large Home With Separate Guest Accommodations
Some homes are designed and constructed specifically to accommodate guests separately for short or extended periods of time, the guest accommodations usually including such features as a private entrance and private sleeping, living, eating, and bathing areas. Guests at such homes are also frequently provided with service staff to assist with housekeeping and transportation. Such accommodations indicate the owner’s desire to provide privacy for his guest as well as to maintain privacy for himself. It is necessary, therefore, that a guest under such circumstances obtain, upon arrival or on a nightly basis, his host’s plans for their interactions: engagements for meals, plans for sightseeing, upcoming soirees, etc.
If the home is staffed with service personnel, a gentleman need not make his bed in the morning. He should, however, display reasonable respect for his host by maintaining a general neatness in his guest accommodations.
Within two or three days after his departure, the gentleman-guest should send thank-you gifts and notes for his host and the key members of the service staff who provided for his hospitality.