So in a recent post I talked about my excitement slash nervousness about moving into my new condo in mid-September. What I didn’t mention is where this temporary nomad is living between returning to Ottawa a week ago and getting to the keys to my new digs.
Anyone but me remember the movie Madhouse from the early 90s? That movie scarred me. Not, as you might assume, because I feared I might one day have to contend with house guests from hell. No, that would be the normal child’s reaction.
Instead, thanks to my over-developed guilt complex, as a kid this movie instilled in me an unhealthy level of anxiety around the possibility that someone might consider me an unwelcome guest. The fact that, at around the same time as I saw Madhouse, I took out a screen door while running out to the back deck at a friend’s house may have also been a contributing factor. (I didn’t see it, I swear! They should really make those damn things florescent or something).
Flash forward to 2011; my year of house guesting.
I haven’t slept in my own bed since May.
Would say about half of those nights were spent in hotels, or at my parent’s place in T.O. (where I only insist I’m a guest when it comes to weekend breakfasts. Why should I even try to cook when I know if I wait around long enough a delicious omelet or, if I’m really lucky, home made pancakes will magically appear?).
The other half have seen me resting my head on all manner of other peoples’ pillows. I was a guest slash worker as a WWOOFer at Les Arnauds in France, a temporary member of the Baster family during a short visit to Ottawa at the end of July, stayed with several family members during my two week visit to Ecuador, and on Monday took up residence in my generous friend A’s house after spending the previous week living it up suburban styles with my dear friends M and N in Ottawa’s east end.
Thankfully, growing older and wiser (and in the process realizing people don’t actually get Madhouse level upset over house guest related challenges) have allowed me to get past my childhood fear of being a bad guest. I would even go so far as to say that I now consider myself, if not an ideal house guest, at least an experienced enough guest to share a few pieces of advice.
So, in no order of importance, here are my top five tips on how to be a good house guest:
5. You can’t be afraid to ask questions. Even seemingly stupid ones. Even at inconvenient times. Hesitate and you will almost always regret it. Think about it. Would you rather risk interrupting your hosts’ teeth brushing by asking them where you can find the towels at 11 pm, or end up putting your pj’s back on after your shower because you find yourself without a towel at 8 am and they’re still sleeping?
4. Accept the fact that something will go wrong. And you will be embarrassed. But you will get over it. That said, if you’re going to make a rookie mistake like burning your toast and setting off the smoke alarm at 7 am, better to do it towards the end of your stay (when you’re almost gone anyway so there’s little point in getting too mad at you) than the beginning. Sorry again M and N!
3. Get in touch with your most flexible self. If you’re lucky like I’ve been, you’ll have great hosts with habits mostly similar to your own. But be prepared for some differences. I’ve learned some people like to talk in the morning. Like, before coffee. In the interest of maintaining a good vibe, be prepared to fake like you do too. I suggest channeling your inner “morning after a first overnight stay at a new boyfriend or girlfriend’s house” self. Unless you’re staying for a while. In which case, save everyone some anguish and be honest up front by bringing a book or newspaper to breakfast.
2. Choose to be excited about the chance to try new foods and customs. There is no better way to get to know people than to break bread with them. If their version of bread has meat in it and you’re a vegetarian – suck it up! Well, not literally. Maybe rather take many small bites so it seems like you ate more flesh than you actually did, but definitely use the “culturally appropriate” card to break free of your usual habits. That said, if you have some preferences you just can’t let go of (like say, the need to drink tea at least twice a day), don’t be shy about bringing some of your own food with you. Your hosts may even welcome the chance to try it (and if you’re wary of eating an entire loaf of fig bread by yourself in a day, you will welcome the chance to share it!)
1. Don’t get too comfortable. Welcome the chance to get to know people on a different level, take pleasure in the warm bed and yummy food they offer you, but remember you’re a temporary addition, not a new found dependant. Offer to help out with the chores (though recognize there are somethings people like to do themselves), get out of the way every once in a while so your hosts have some down time, and put some effort into finding a thoughtful thank you gift. Something that says “I’m so touched that you consider me a good enough friend to welcome my toast-burning, untalkative-before-morning coffee self into your home. I know I don’t have to get you anything, but I’d be homeless without you and so want to give you this as a symbol of my appreciation. You’re welcome at my place any time. You know, once I’m not homeless anymore.”