I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
– Maya Angelou

In my last post, L’Art de la Visite: Being the Perfect Host, I shared a few etiquette tips and ground rules for the art of the visit–ensuring smooth and successful visits. For those of you who will play the role of a host this holiday season or anytime in the future, I outlined seven simple steps to ensure a smooth visit and twelve essential qualities of a great host to help successfully navigate holiday visits with grace, poise and decorum.

As many of us also often play the role of guest, here I outline seven simple steps guests can make to ensure a smooth visit, and provide twelve essential qualities of a great guest. A great guest’s role is to make the visit as low stress for your host as it can possibly be. The more you plan ahead, the easier it will be for your host to avoid any last minute scrambling. Remember, your visit is not all about you; it’s more about the relationship and your part in ensuring that you both feel as happy about your visit by the time you leave as you both felt upon your arrival. Follow the following simple guidelines to ensure the most successful visit possible.

Seven Simple Steps to a Smooth Visit

  1. Make your needs known in advance. If you will be arriving with children or if you or your family has specific needs, communicate them in advance.
  2. Be prepared. If you’re going to visit for more than a few days, go to the grocery either just before or soon after you arrive. Purchase supplies but don’t get anything too bizarre or things that might be embarrassing to your host (like toilet paper…unless there isn’t any!). If there are things you can’t live without or things that will make your stay more comfortable, bring them with you. Under no circumstance should you expect your host to run to the store for you after you arrive. If you happen to go to the store before your arrival, it could be nice to pick up a treat or dessert that you know everyone can enjoy.
  3. If you are delayed, call. Keeping your host informed is a sign that you value their time and respect the preparation and planning efforts that have been put into the visit. If you’re running late, call. Do not text or send an email, call. Also, please note, arriving too early is just about as bad as arriving late. Finally, ensure your arrival time is convenient for your host. For example, if they go to bed early, you shouldn’t arrive too late. Ask your host in advance if they have a preference as to your arrival time.
  4. Pack considerately, not considerably. Most people have limited closet and drawer space so the last thing you should make your host do is rush around from closet to closet pulling clothes off hangers to accommodate you. Pack light. Also, do check the weather and pack appropriately. I’ve made the embarrassing mistake of failing to pack an appropriately warm sweater and jacket. My host was kind enough to offer me her sweaters and jacket during my stay. Lesson learned.
  5. Plan for events. Ask your host in advance about any preplanned events she/he may have planned so you can be prepared. If you’d like to take them out to lunch or dinner at a special place, tell your host and then make the reservation. It can always be changed later, if necessary. Your thoughtfulness will be appreciated and your resourcefulness respected. And don’t forget to pay for the bill.
  6. Bring a gift. Absolutely, every time, bring something for your host. Some things you can consider bringing but are not limited to include: a bottle(s) of wine, scented candles or flowers, music, books, or plants. Take your hosts tastes and interests into consideration and bring an appropriate gift accordingly. Gifts for their children can also be appropriate.
  7. Be complimentary. Once you arrive, one of the first things you should do is find something to compliment. Noticing small details of your host’s preparation and planning efforts will be greatly appreciated. Find something you can genuinely compliment—their appearance, the paint color, anything new you may have noticed since your last visit, etc.

The Twelve Essential Qualities of a Great Guest
A Great Guest is…

  1. Neat. Don’t leave your things around the house or clutter the living areas. If possible, use your bedroom to keep and store your belongings. Do your best to keep the bedroom neat. When unpacking, do not put your suitcase on the bed unless you are 100% sure your suitcase is clean and won’t soil the bedspread. Make your bed every morning. Hang your towels in the bathroom, even if it is a private bath. If you are sharing a bath leave the bathroom spotless for the next person by wiping down the sink top and checking the toilet.
  2. Not shy. Don’t be afraid to communicate specific needs or desires. If you’re uncomfortably warm or cold, thirsty or hungry, let you host know. They will appreciate knowing how they can make your stay more agreeable.
  3. Flexible. Being flexible demonstrates to your host that you are a mature person who understands the difficulties involved with planning activities and can easily cope with a sudden change in plans. Flexibility is key when a guest in someone else’s home.
  4. Grateful. Don’t be picky. If your host only has bottled orange juice and you prefer to drink only fresh orange juice, either accept or decline graciously. Also, don’t protest about things your host has done to prepare for your visit. Instead, be grateful your host thought enough about you to go to the effort. Be sure to thank them accordingly, even for the seemingly little things.
  5. Helpful. Always offer to help. Before dinner you can offer to set the table and/or afterwards you can offer to clean up. If your host is adamant about you not being in the kitchen, respect their wishes. Find ways you can help with chores to take some of the load off your host.
  6. Generous with time and treasure. If you see an opportunity to do something thoughtful—take it! Find creative and practical ways to demonstrate to your host that you are trying to be generous and giving.
  7. Mindful of others. Be considerate of the comfort of your hosts and potentially any other guests. Be mindful of anything you do that could be considered rude, tiresome or annoying.
  8. Respectful of the boundaries. Keep past rivalries and arguments in the past. Honor your friends and family by knowing when to keep silent. If a friend or family member wants to bring up old wounds—about who did or said what to whom when, in a negative or unproductive way, simply say something polite or change the subject. If you must, leave the room. There is often someone who is addicted to drama and the theatrics of a “good” argument. Make the mature and very conscious decision to either find ways to draw attention away from the negative, or remain silent. Do not make suggestive jokes or tell off-color stories in mixed company. Do not over indulge in anything including food or alcohol. Err on the side of moderation.
  9. Present and engaged. Do not use your cell phone or other portable devices extensively in the presence of your host or other guests. When you visit someone, the goal is to connect and bond with others who are important to you. If you absolutely must work on your computer or conduct business during your visit, tell your host and apologize in advance. Otherwise, try to focus on your time with family and friends and enjoy their company.
  10. Self caring. Sometimes it’s not only great but it is also necessary for some alone time. Go to your room and read or take a nap. The break may be good for your host as well. Be sure to tell your host where you’re going so it doesn’t appear as if you just disappeared or simply did not want to be around them.
  11. Cool under pressure. Visits, especially with family, are usually with some type of incident. People will be late and ruin plans for others; someone might say something hurtful or offensive; another might be lazy or careless; you might be criticized; a myriad of “challenges” may occur. So what does etiquette dictate you do? Try your best to be polite. I know it’s often easier said than done, but one must, at the very least, try to be as polite as possible. You don’t have to tolerate bad behavior, but do take into consideration that emotions can often run high, and old feelings (good or bad) can quickly surface. This is particularly the case during family visits. If or when things go wrong, remember that just a few kind words can set a person at ease. Acting with grace and decorum will always set the right tone in your life and in the life of others. When tempers start to rise and feelings are hurt due to cruel comments or criticisms, remember how you respond and behave is your choice.
  12. Able to handle the hostiles. Sometimes you are forced to socialize with a family member who just doesn’t like you. Again, be polite. If you really want to be the bigger and more mature person, be especially nice, warm and show genuine interest in their life. Someone might think you’re rude, selfish, inconsiderate, pushy, or … fill in the blank. Prove them wrong. Everyone brings his or her own uniqueness to the visit. If things go sour by the end of your stay, depart on a positive note and still thank your host.

Your Departure

Respect for your host is shown by your leaving the house in good order. After you’ve had a great visit, anything you can do to lighten the load will be appreciated. Here’s what to do:

  1. Allow plenty of time for leave taking. Don’t leave in a mad rush. There’s little worse than rushing around in a frenzy of activity after a nice visit. Plan to exit appropriately.
  2. Strip the bed of sheets and pillowcases. Be considerate and stuff the sheets and pillowcase into the remaining pillowcase and take them to the laundry room. If time allows, you might even be able to load them into the washer. There are some hosts who would prefer if you didn’t strip the bed, so ask first.
  3. Gather dirty towels from the bath and put all in a pile in the laundry room. Do not leave dirty towels hanging in the bathroom. If there are clean towels your have not used, let your host know.
  4. Fold the blankets. If blankets do not have to be washed, fold them and place them neatly on a chair in the bedroom or on the bed.
  5. Pull the comforter back over the mattress. The host may not remake the bed for a while. However, if time allows and your host wouldn’t mind, it would be very nice to remake the bed with clean sheets.
  6. Clean the bathroom. Before leaving, take a few minutes to tidy up the bathroom. Empty the waste-basket (replace the liner); wipe down the sink and tub; clean the toilet; and if glass cleaner is visible, use it for the mirror. Leave the bathroom as you found it. If clean towels are visible, put out fresh ones. If they are not, don’t ask.
  7. Leave the bedroom as you found it. If you rearranged furniture, return them to their original place. Anything you can do means less work for your host later.
  8. Leave your packed luggage in your room or out of the way. Until you are ready to depart, either put your luggage in your car or keep it out of the way.
  9. Look around diligently for your items. Take the time to look around to ensure you do not forget any of your personal belongings.
  10. Pick up and put away any things your children used.

Final Thoughts

Remember, the tone you use when you leave the house is just as important as it was when you first arrived.  Be vocal and tell your host you had a nice or wonderful time. Be warm, give your host a hug and be sincere in you thanks. The goal you want for your host as you leave, is for them to think what a wonderful guest you were and that they can’t wait to have you back. The lasting impression you want to leave is one of a considerate, helpful, flexible and grateful team player; a perfect guest.

Although it may seem so very much old-fashioned, but it is still so very much polite and of good manners to mail (snail mail) a handwritten thank you note. If you visited with children, have them sign it. I have been guilty of just sending thank you emails. Although they’re better than nothing, they are just not the same. Mail a handwritten note. It will be appreciated. At times I’ve left a handwritten thank you note and a small gift in the bedroom or in another place my host would easily find it after my departure.

Whether you’ll be a host or guest, or both this holiday season, find ways to make these steps and qualities your own. Again, I hope these tips help you successfully navigate holiday visits with grace, poise and decorum.

Enjoy your visits!

Tips Adapted from The Art of the Visit by Kathy Bertone

6 thoughts on “Becoming the Perfect Guest

  1. Martine,
    I completely agree with all of the points you mentioned. These are things that I always strive to do (though no one is perfect, of course). It seems less and less common to have basic guest etiquette, either when invited to dinner for a long weekend. I hope that many people read this… I certainly found your tips very relevant and helpful.
    Best wishes,

    1. Hi Shanna, I definitely am not perfect either, but when our intentions are genuine and we try to be considerate of our hosts, it makes all the difference. To follow on to what you mentioned, I think nowadays, it’s less and less common to have any kind of basic etiquette. We live in a very casual anything goes type of societal culture in most places in the U.S. and elsewhere. I like to review basic etiquette rules just to be reminded every now and again. I’m glad you found my tips relevant and helpful. Hopefully I’ll be able to post a variety of other etiquette tips in the new year! Happy Holidays!

        1. Thank you Shanna. As you appear to have a large and open heart and mind, I’m sure your kids will follow the wonderful example you’re providing for them. Thank you so much for your support and kind words.

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