Summer is here, and more than a few people would like to come visit and stay awhile if you live in Paris, London, LA, Chicago or New York City, or have a country house almost anywhere. Here are my rules for perfect house guests.
The dollar may be stronger against the euro, but free rent is still cheaper. Besides, staying with friends feels better than staying in a hotel. Whom would ou trust to steer you to the right places — a friend or a concièrge? Your friend has only your interests at heart when he recommends a restaurant (and possibly a desire to get you out of her hair for a couple of hours) while it is possible that the concièrge gets a free meal or a pourboire from the resto for his pains.
Houseguests can be wonderful when they know and really understand the rules. If you hear the least bit of hesitation in your host’s voice when asking whether or not you may stay, move right on — not right in — and try someone else. If you have enough friends, you are sure to catch one in a weak moment or at least on a second bottle of wine.
One of my friends loves having guests. I accuse Judy of running a hotel, but attribute her being the hostess with the mostest to the fact she was in the Foreign Service and was stationed in some hardship posts where she was delighted to have company and had hot and cold running staff to look after them.
She’s left the government, but has a large house and works in an office. When her working day is done, it’s done. She’s trained her guests to shop for and prepare dinner or, better yet, make reservations. It always seems right to me that the person who makes the reservation should call for the check — and pay it.
Judy leaves for the office before people are up and the refrigerator is stocked with the essentials for breakfast. As I do, she takes the initial order for what they want before they arrive and stocks coffee, tea, milk (regular, low-fat, and the list goes on), juices, fruit, breads and expects them to restock their own special brand of organic Swiss muesli.
Unfortunately (or not) I work at home and my guest room is command central. I try to minimize the clutter but lights blink non-stop in my office/den and extra sleeping area. Guests may be on vacation but I’m not. Access to my work area is appreciated by 10 a.m. and no, I can’t take a three-hour-long lunch. Nor do I want to see The Eiffel Tower at midnight.
Guests don’t need to feel that pots and pans and dishes will break if they look at them cross-eyed. No one likes to return home to a sink filled with dirty utensils, and please don’t use the excuse, “I wasn’t sure how you like to load the dishwasher.” Load it carefully, run it when it’s full, and please (if you’re staying with me), unload it and put the dishes, glasses and silverware where they belong.
Unless you’re in the boondocks without a car, find a grocery store, a place to buy wine and liquor and go all out and spoil your host(s) with flowers, unless there are so many in the garden they’d be redundant. It’s OK to deadhead the roses and cut some and put them in vases inside the house.
Bathroom etiquette: If you’re staying in a Paris apartment, chances are pretty good that bathrooms are at a premium. A WC is not a library and please don’t plan on making it one unless you’re home alone. Do pick up your towels and please show others courtesy. To be upfront, the toilet brush is there to be used, and please don’t leave the toilet seat up.
Bedroom etiquette: I don’t want to get personal but unless your room is separated from the living quarters, please make your bed in the morning, pick up your clothes and try to keep the room in order.
Paris apartments tend to be small so your mess becomes visible to others. If that other is I, color me cranky. Do not feel it’s offensive to strip the bed when you’re leaving. Place your sheets and used towels in a pillowcase. If there’s a spread, make up the bed (sans sheets) until there’s time for someone else to do it — usually in preparation for the next guest.
My son and daughter-in-law have a shoes off rule in their house. I’ve adopted it and keep a basket by the front door since I hate seeing shoes strewn everywhere. Some adults may be taken aback, and if they’re coming to my once-a-year dressy dinner party, they may wear shoes. But the reality is that floors tend to creak when a building is more than 120 years old as is my Paris apartment. No one loves hearing footsteps above them or finding shoe polish on their upholstery.
A friend of mine asked me to compile a do’s and don’ts guide for people who rent her country home. Clearly it wasn’t the same you’d send to guests. But come to think of it, I may just write one specifically to friends and (some very recent) acquaintances.
It would save a lot of time. I wouldn’t need to explain about converter plugs, please don’t bring your U.S. voltage curling iron or the fuses will blow and, yes, I have 220 voltage hairdryers in each of the bathrooms.
Some people love staying with others. Unfortunately, I don’t happen to be one of them because I feel as if I have to wash the kitchen floor, paint the ceiling, and take out the trash before the wastebasket is full.
And since when I’m the guest, I feel it’s my responsibility to pay for dinner. After one go-around as a houseguest, I calculated that it cost more to be a guest than if we’d stayed in the town’s hotel. Plus, I feel terribly embarrassed asking whether or not someone has Wi-Fi since Bonjour Paris isn’t a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. job. If it were, I could take a real vacation! What a nice thought… er, fantasy.
Please add any tips or thoughts you might have for being a good host. Ditto for being the perfect house guest!
Karen Fawcett is president of Bonjour Paris