Friday, April 1, 2011


How to Be the Best House Guest Ever

1. Bring your host something.

Ideally something your city/town is known for. Coming from New York? Bring Ess-a bagels. Seattle? Zoka's Sumatra Harimau Tiger coffee. If you visit me from Saint Louis, I want some toasted ravioli from Charlie Gitto’s. I don’t care if it makes your luggage smell like an Italian diner, pack it in Tupperware, because I still want it.

2. Schedule like you’re Anna Wintour’s P.A.

Lots of people think vacations mean a complete break from all the planning that goes on during the rest of their lives. And if you stay at a hotel, then yep, it’s the break you deserve! Go ahead and sleep until noon, think about waking up, then sleep for another hour.

But if you’re staying with a friend, this is off the agenda, unless you actually schedule it into the agenda. Hosts have jobs and outside commitments and reasons they might like to use their living room couch. So if you’re not going to pay for a hotel, schedule things ahead of time so your host knows how to work her regular life around her hosting life. If you want to spend the day on the couch watching TV, then let her know that’s your plan. She can then decide to use that day to catch up on her [whatever] and everyone can be happy.

Here’s the tricky part: You have to actually stick to the schedule. Just because you have the capacity to send a text message doesn’t mean you can send one at 2:50 that says, “Hey, I know we planned to go to the museum at 3, but I just started lunch. OK?”

Nope, not OK. You planned for 3, and your host probably scheduled her work around that. She might even have told other people to meet at 3. You should to be ready to go at 3. This is another one of those lessons that applies far beyond the guest-host relationship. Maybe just try to never do this to anyone ever, via any means of communication.

3. Give your host some space.

This applies to both physical and mental space. Keep your things contained, if possible. Don’t start strewing bits of clothing around your host’s bedroom. Perfect your strewing technique on a different sort of overnight visit.

Give your host some mental space by keeping yourself occupied for at least two hours each day. Hosting is exhausting, so acknowledge this by making yourself scarce. There are so many great things to do in whatever city you’re in! Go for a walk and take in the sights. That café down the street is famous for its croissants; you should definitely go eat them.

4. Respect your host’s relationships with other people.

You know who else lives in the city where you’re going? Dave! Oh man, it would be so great to get together with Dave. You’ll probably call him and tell him that he should get a drink with you and your host on Thursday. I hope that before you do this, you check with your host and make sure she didn’t drunkenly hook up with him last Memorial Day, have it go really badly, and then have to change her running route so she wouldn’t pass his house anymore.

5. Buy dinner.

If you’re going to skip the other items on this list, at least do this one. This is the easiest step and the one you’ll get the most credit for. Buy dinner. Buy it more than once. In-n-Out doesn’t count, and neither does a coffee run.

Maybe, like me, you’re a grad student with no income. While this is a great excuse for lots of things — homemade Christmas gifts, not attending your cousin’s third wedding, perpetual adolescence — it isn’t an excuse here. If you can afford the trip, you can afford to buy dinner. And if you don't want to shell out for a restaurant, you can just as easily buy ingredients to make a delicious meal for your host at home. (Note: This is not the same as making a meal with ingredients she has already bought. Also, clean up afterward.)

Generally, the cost of the meal should be proportional to the number of nights you’re staying, the amount of inconvenience you’ve put your host through, and your income level. A three-night stay should be, minimum, a $15 entree + drinks. Hopefully, things will go so swimmingly that the next time your friend visits you, she’ll spring for dinner at Melisse.

6. Don't overstay.

Ben Franklin said that "fish and visitors smell in three days," and modern technology has solved only one of these problems.

Liz Levin's cotillion training taught her a great trick for remembering which side your bread plate goes on but not much else. She's currently a law student in Los Angeles, and alhough she loves her house guests, she just needs to put in a few more hours at the library, then promises she'll be free to hang out.

32 Comments / Post A Comment

hairdresser on fire

I am writing this to you from being a houseguest. I fucked up on number 1 already, but I'm hoping to get something cute/chocolatey/both from the city I'm staying in that my host and her roommate wouldn't buy themselves? Additionally: buying beer. But THANK YOU for these reminders. The Hairpin is like a Magic 8 ball for my life with 100% accuracy.

Kate Musgrove

A+++++ completely agree "The Hairpin is like a Magic 8 ball for my life with 100% accuracy".

Veronica Sepe

my mom just came in from st louis and brought me frozen imos. she is the best mom.


Tip: If your hosts have kids, bring lots of candy and/or a puppy!

Um, a puppy can be a loud/dirty/allergy-tastic mess. Do not do that unannounced, or you will be the guest from hell.


I know. That was a prank tip.

Hot mayonnaise

Charlie Gitto's! The one on The Hill! (not downtown)


I used to be the perfect hostess: fresh muffins, coffee before everyone awakes, wonderful towels and a fresh bath mat daily, rooms scrubbed clean top to bottom .....awaking before my guests to make sure they had plenty of getting ready space/time. Quietly retiring to my bedroom so they could also have TV/computer space....

But, them days is over! After not having this sort of reciprocation upon my travels to their homesteads, I've turned into Oscar ala Odd Couple. I still buy dinner - expensive dinner - and bring a gift.


Can we slide into bad houseguest stories now? Don't use your host's computer to surf porn and then leave without clearing the history/taking out the desk trash/running virus protection software. Or if you have an unexpected arrival of your period in the host's bed, let them know. I really don't want to live with your stain on my mattress for the next five years. Didn't "Ask A Dude" deal with this one? Ugh. Sorry. Venting.


Oh my God, was this all the same person?


Ha! No - two separate friends. But the second has repeat offenses of the same nature. Gah!


I had a very good friend throw his underwear away in our office trash can (which we rarely use). It was terrifying to discover. Was my husband having a gay love tryst? Did I have sleep sex with a stranger? Crazy landlord? No, just my BFF from High School coming to visit.

He said " they had holes."


You forgot the sexing. That's on demand and free too.


As long as you schedule it.


And it doesn't smell like 3 day old fish.

Yes. I want to email this to everyone ever.


StL PROPS! I really thought everywhere had t-ravs when I was growing up, until I went to an Italian restaurant on vacation when I was 11 and asked why they had only "boring" ravioli.

i'm vegan now, but, god, there must be a way to veganize these. life's purpose discovered!


Ugh. Saying things like "t-ravs" is so St Louis. You're probably vegan because you were raised on Provel and "t-ravs."

St. Louis is awful. Doubly so in summer.

tiny dancer

Shut up, Kansas



what exactly do you hate about st louis?


This post is so right on.

Allison Davis

Great tips! Is it weird to forward to guests 2-3 days prior to expected arrival?

Also would add: match your cleanliness level to the house you're staying in, not the other way around. Keep your shit tidy and more or less relegated to whatever space you've been allotted (guest room, neatly next to the couch, etc.) No clothes and shoes and cosmetics spilling out of an open suitcase in the pathway to the bathroom, please.


I'll need this later this month! The Hairpin is prescient YET AGAIN!


Am I the only one who would love being taken to In-n-Out for dinner? Probably because they don't have them in the Northeast...

Otherwise, YES to all of the above.


When I lived in Chicago, I had the best houseguests ever. They were checking out U.Chicago for postgrad fellowships and had their entire days planned to stay out of my hair (especially since I worked from home). They made the couch/futon/bed every morning, took me out for coffee and/or breakfast every morning, then made themselves scarce until happy hour/dinner, then they bought. They brought me my favorite KC beer as a gift. After they left, they sent me a thank-you card.

They may never be matched as guests; I fear I've been ruined for guests forever. Thanks, Jake and Whitney!


I'm guessing that "thanks Whitney" would cover things.


your guess sucks.


Can I add one: respect the rules of the house. It's not a hotel and the host may want things a certain way. Don't rearrange because "it makes more sense this way." If your host asks you to not wear shoes in the house, please don't get into a debate about how you're sure your shoes are clean, etc. If you don't like it, get a hotel room.


OOhhhhh whyyyy didn't anyone send this out to my houseguests about 3 weeks ago? I was let down on point # 3 'Schedule Like you're Anna Wintour's PA' - their lack of organisation drove me nuts. Can i add a point about washing up other people's dishes - particularly if you have no dishwasher (like I) - isn't it good manners to keep things tidy if one's host is working every day?? And I was so out of pocket after the visit - it was all running them round in the car, drinks, takeaways etc etc would have been nice to get a card/email to say ta!
Thank you so much for a) giving me the chance to rant and b) reminding me I'm not crazy on the manners front...


I know there are probably lots of comments saying this (yes, I AM in fact too lazy to read through the comments and see if this is true) but I want to express how grateful I am that SOMEONE has put together a list like this. My roommates and I have hosted a seemingly endless number of house guests in the past year, and all of them have majorly failed in one or two really important ways. And you're friends so you can't be all "Dude, I've been feeding you for a week, could you at least wash maybe a dish? Because you might have noticed we are lacking a dishwashing machine" or even "Please leave me the hell alone for an hour. No really, just an hour. Please."


Can we also add to the list, "If you're visiting with your significant other, do not have sex in your host's bed and leave visible sex stains." Seriously. Please. Please. Please do not do that to me again.


Ess-a-bagel?!?!?! FAIL. Try H&H. They are very hard to keep tender though, so the host should freeze the ones s/he can't eat right away.

PS everything else about this list is great!!

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