Most people enjoy spending the holidays with friends and family, and sometimes that means having houseguests. The rules for being a good host are simple: Be flexible and supply lots of food, but not too much liquor. The rules for guests, on the other hand, are a little trickier.
To make sure you’re being a good guest, read through our checklist. Even great hosts can run out of patience with houseguests who display the following traits and behaviors. And if you’re the one opening up your home to others this year? Watch out for the following.
1. Houseguests who don’t get along with children and pets.
It’s okay for visitors not to bond with the Great Dane who monopolizes the sofa or the child who has never learned to use her inside voice; it’s not okay for them to show their irritation. Guests should use common sense where animals are concerned: Never feed them anything, don’t assume that it’s okay to pet them, and never criticize their behavior. The rules for children are roughly the same.
2. Guests who ask you for things.
Usually these are things that they should have packed, but didn’t. So the host has to go on a search for the thing, which he or she may not even have, because all people are different and use different things. Houseguests should try their best to pack for their needs. This principle goes double for items that they may need in the middle of the night, like tummy medicine or a decongestant.
3. Visitors who take over your kitchen.
On the surface, this might not seem like a bad thing, but consider this scenario: Just as it’s time for the host to get serious about holiday meal prep, the guest volunteers to contribute his or her special dish to the meal. The host agrees – it sounds delicious – but then the next two hours are spent locating ingredients and utensils for their guest, while the host’s meal prep is thrown hopelessly behind schedule. Half the time the finished product isn’t that good, which is then blamed on the host’s lack of Hungarian paprika. Houseguests who want to contribute something to the holiday table should choose something that can be prepared ahead of time and brought ready to serve.
4. Guests who are on a special diet.
People should feel free to choose foods that meet their dietary needs. What houseguests should not do is: A, insist on explaining their diet to all the other guests, and, B, turn down all the traditional foods that they must have known would be served, while C, failing to bring any of the foods that they can eat. Those who insist on following a certain diet in the midst of a plethora of delicious foods should pretend that they are spies and someone is trying to poison them. In other words, they should give the appearance of eating like everyone else, but really ingest only the foods they know will agree with them.
5. Houseguests who complain about not sleeping.
When hosts asks their guests how they slept, there is only one acceptable answer: like a rock. Guests accept their hosts’ offer of accommodations knowing that it won’t be a stay at the Plaza and that there may be a bunk bed or an air mattress in their future. They should anticipate that there could be a baby crying or a dog snuffling or a faucet dripping. Those who have to have to have a certain type of sleeping situation should go to a motel. Those who accept an invitation should practice the following response: “I slept like a rock. Thank you!”
6. Visitors who act as if they are on vacation.
Keeping a household neat and functional is extra hard during the holidays. Guests should always make their beds, pick up after themselves, and help out when they see something that needs doing. They should not, however, offer to give the carpet a deep cleaning — because that might be seen as a teeny critique of the host’s housekeeping.
7. Guests who focus on the negative.
Do you know someone who loves to complain? You know the type: Everyone from the President to the mail carrier gets a negative job evaluation. For the duration of the holiday, those who love to complain should put a sock in it. Otherwise they’ll fall into the second category of Oscar Wilde’s famous quotation: “Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.”
Even if you’re a person who normally sings, “There’s no place like home for the holidays,” guests like these may change your mind. Issue invitations wisely. And if you see yourself in the descriptions of the houseguests? Next year you may find yourself eating your sweet potato casserole alone in your pajamas.
This essay was written by Susan Adcox, a writer specializing in family relationships. She is the author of Stories From My Grandparent: An Heirloom Journal for Your Grandchild.