A Gentleman’s Guide to Being a Good House Guest

The first step to a relaxing time with the in-laws is to not get on their nerves by wrecking their home.

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Having to crash with in-laws (or anyone else) over the holidays can put just about anyone on edge. Besides them being at least some kind of crazy, the nagging feeling that you could be overstaying your welcome, draining their fridge or just plain getting in the way makes truly relaxing next to impossible. To help maintain a healthy relationship with whoever it is you’re lodging with this season, we spoke to an assortment of etiquette experts about what it takes to be a decent house guest. 

Wipe your feet, then come on in…

First things first, what should I bring?
More than anything else, bring your own toiletries. If your hosts set products out specifically for you, etiquette expert Diane Gottsman says you can go ahead and indulge, but otherwise, you should come prepared to use your own grooming supplies.

“If you choose not to travel with these items due to TSA restrictions, swing by the local drug store,” etiquette expert Elaine Swann suggests. Likewise, if you have trouble fitting all of your toiletries in your luggage, check out our nifty suitcase packing guide.

Can take a nice, long bath when I get there?
“Showers only,” emphasizes Maria Everding of The Etiquette Institute, adding that you should keep your showers on the shorter side, “especially if several people are using the same shower.” Similarly, avoid using loofahs or scrubbers that may already be in the shower, not only because sharing those kinds of things is nasty, but because you really should have brought your own if you needed one.

Don’t tell me I need to take quicker poops, too?
You do, though! Spending 20 minutes swiping and pooping is fine and dandy in your own home (except that, medically speaking, it’s not), but only so many toilets are available in a house full of guests, so take care of your business and free up the area ASAP.

Clean up after yourself, too. “Be sure to courtesy flush and clean the toilet bowl afterwards,” Swann says. “And be sure to determine whether there’s a window or vent fan, a toilet paper stash and plumbing tools when you arrive.” That way, you can avoid any sticky (and smelly) situations. Likewise, if you often stink up the bathroom, consider bringing matches to light whenever you drop a big one. If they have a candle in the bathroom for that same purpose, Everding says, “I would only light a candle if it’s already been lit before.”

What about sex? Can I do that?
That depends. If you came with your long-term partner — and not just some random holiday hookup — Swann believes that having sex can be acceptable under the right circumstances. “Just be mindful of how much noise you make,” she emphasizes. “Also, keep the love-making in the bedroom you were assigned — not in random places throughout the home.” So if they have you staying on the living room couch, just keep your pants on for the duration of your stay.

What about food and drink? Can I help myself to whatever they have?
This boils down to being conscious of how much you consume. “If you’re served booze within the context of the holiday celebration, you don’t need to replace it,” Swann explains. “However, if you’re making daily screwdrivers and finish off your host’s top-shelf vodka, you should absolutely replace it.” The same goes for food.

However, as a general rule of thumb, you should offer to pitch in for groceries if your stay is any longer than two or three nights, and Gottsman suggests taking your host to dinner and drinks during your stay to show thanks.

Can I use their laundry machines when I inevitably spill one of those screwdrivers on my pants?
“It depends on how long you stay and if the washing machine was offered to you for your own use,” Everding says. In other words, asking to use the laundry machine is totally acceptable during stays that last longer than a few days, but packing extra clothes in case of spills is also a good idea.

When it comes to dealing with the linens and bedding that you used during your stay, Everding says, “I would just ask where to put the used sheets and towels.” While it might seem like a nice gesture to launder them yourself, your host might have a particular way they prefer to do the laundry.

What about their electronics? Am I free to use those?
You should definitely ask first, and the same goes for commandeering the TV remote. “If asked what you would like to watch, then say so,” Everding says — otherwise, let the host watch whatever they want to.

Should I help my host clean up around the house?
You should definitely offer to help whenever the opportunity arises, unless your host objects. This is especially important in the areas you use most, like the bedroom you sleep in and the bathroom you use. Per the Emily Post Institute, “Wipe up any ring in the tub, shaving cream residue in the basin, hair on any object or surface, or dirt on soap.”

Do I need to get up and go to sleep when they do?
While it might be tricky depending on time changes and whatnot, Everding recommends doing your best to stay on their schedule. If they tend to retire early, you can still stay up and play around on your computer or whatever, but do so in the room you were assigned.

I have six dogs and two cats. Can I bring them?
Erm, probably not. If you absolutely must travel with your pets, what you can do is ask your host about a nice pet hotel in the area, which gives them an opportunity to invite you and your animals if they so choose. Otherwise, check out our guide for finding a trustworthy pet sitter.

What if they start talking about politics and things get unpleasant?
As Ann Buscho, a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in family issues, previously explained to us, “You have two choices: Ignore these topics if they get nasty, or try to have a reasonable conversation where you try to understand each other’s perspective — after all, understanding isn’t necessarily agreement.” Your best bet, though, is to just stay away from these kinds of conversations altogether.

Anything else?
“Don’t forget to send a thank you note to the host or hostess,” Everding emphasizes. Or, at the very, very least, send them a nice text.