Later on tonight, the daughter of one of my best friends will be arriving in Dublin. She is in London for a summer semester, and like any good American student abroad, she is taking full advantage of how close the rest of Europe is to her.
I love having houseguests. When I moved to Dublin, I made sure that I rented a two-bedroom place so I could easily have friends and family visit. And in my current house, I actually have TWO guest rooms – they are tiny, to be sure, but still.
The houseguests I have had since moving to Dublin have been pretty awesome and I’ve enjoyed having them. But I have developed a certain “houseguest etiquette” that I’ve come to expect from my guests, and also that they can expect from me.
If you are a guest:
- DON’T OVERSTAY – You need to remember that you are staying in someone’s home, for free. Don’t take advantage of your host’s generosity but staying longer than is really polite. Unless it’s a very close friend or family member, I would say that 4-5 days is the maximum one should stay in someone’s home. Now of course, I have had people stay with me longer, especially my friends who have come from the States. And that is totally cool – just make absolutely sure that the length of your stay is okay with your host, and use common sense. A few friends who stayed for a week or so took advantage of being in Ireland and did an overnight stay in places like Cork and Galway in the middle of their visit. That worked great!
- DON’T EXPECT A TOUR GUIDE – Remember that you may be a tourist in this place, but your host lives and works here – and they need to continue living and working during your stay. Do not expect them to have planned activities or an itinerary for you. Do not expect them to take you to the tourist sights – I’ve been to the Guinness Brewery more than once, and I don’t need to go again. Be independent. Get out there and see this new city – and when you come back at the end of the day maybe we can go to dinner, or open a bottle of wine and you can tell me what you saw and did.
- RESPECT THE SPACE – When you are a guest in someone’s home, I think it is important that you respect the space in which you are staying – perhaps more so than you would in a hotel room or your own home. Don’t throw your crap all over the place. Make the bed – even if you don’t normally do it at home. Hang up your bathroom towel. And keep in mind that your host may need to get into your room during your stay. My house is tiny. My sock drawer is in one of the guest rooms and I’m going to need socks during your stay. Chances are, you’ll be sharing a bathroom with your host – so especially in this room, keep it clean. Don’t leave your stuff all over the place, don’t leave globs of toothpaste in the sink, and clean your hair out of the shower drain. Gross, I know – that’s why you should take care of it.
- THANK YOU – Yes, I am letting you stay in my house and I am happy to have you. But it does feel really good to have your guests show their appreciation for that free stay. A token, however small, is such a nice way to say thank you. I have had guests buy me dinner or some drinks, I’ve had them buy me flowers or pay for an excursion so I could join them. And it doesn’t have to cost a lot. Once, my houseguests replenished my supply of toilet paper because I am neurotic about running out (best thank-you gift ever!). My friend who was studying in Spain, and making no money, showed up with a Barcelona coffee mug and some local candy. If you are visiting from home, ask if there is anything they can’t get and want you to bring. A jar of JIF peanut butter could be a more welcome thank-you gift than solid gold!
And while it is important to be a good houseguest, I think it is equally important to be a good host. So, if you are a host:
- BE WELCOMING – Don’t make your guest feel like they are a burden or in the way. You told them it was okay for them to stay, so it needs to be okay. I love visiting with my guests over coffee in the morning or wine in the evening and hearing about their plans and all that. Your guest should feel like you are happy to have them there. And if you aren’t, then don’t agree to their visit. It’s that simple.
- DON’T THROW THEM TO THE WOLVES – As I said above, I do not play tour guide to my houseguests but I don’t just set them loose in an unfamiliar city either. I want them to have fun and enjoy themselves. I’m always happy to offer advice on the best way to see Dublin, the must-sees, insider tips, etc. I have a Rick Steves’ Dublin guidebook and a laminated Streetwise Dublin map for them to use. I also have an old pay-as-you-go mobile phone that I keep topped up so my guests can easily reach me, and I walk them to the LUAS the first time so they know where it is in relation to my house. And of course, they get their own set of keys so they can come and go as they please. These are all very small things but I want my guests to be well-informed and ready when they set out to see my city.
- BE A LENDER – When people stay with me, I always tell them not to worry too much when packing. If they forget something, I’m sure I have it. This is a perk of staying with a friend – you don’t have to go out and buy whatever you need. Run out of shampoo? Just use mine. It’s raining and you didn’t bring an umbrella? I have several, take your pick. Colder than you thought it was going to be? Here, borrow a sweater. What’s mine is yours, at least while you are here.
- CLEAN – I know not everyone does this and my guests often tell me that I shouldn’t have bothered, but for me, it is absolutely necessary to clean my place when I am having a houseguest. I wouldn’t feel right welcoming someone into my dirty, dusty home. I want them to know I want them here, and I think this is a small way to make that apparent. Plus, it gives me the excuse I need to actually, you know, dust.
So, there you have it. Be a good guest, be a good host, everyone wins.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll really do need to get to that dusting…