Living close to one of the nation’s Top 10 tourist destinations — Washington, D.C., not Tysons Corner — means Northern Virginians will probably be asked to host house guests this summer.
Some don’t relish the idea. Others, who know better, have some qualms.
The host-houseguest relationship is a tightrope walk. Many things can be the tipping point in such a fragile relationship — the length of stay; the host’s demanding job; the houseguest’s expectations; children, pets; bed times, meal times — the list goes on. Generally, common sense, politeness and clean towels go a long way to smooth any bumps.
If you really want to be invited back and want your guests to leave with smiles on their faces, follow some of these simple tips culled from etiquette experts.
- Provide fresh linens, toiletries and other grooming products. Add a special touch in the guest room, whether it’s fresh flowers or current magazines.
- Provide local intel. Give guests maps. Let them know what events, festivals, fairs are happening during their stay. Tell them how to navigate public transportation systems.
- Explain the general rules of your house. While you need to be flexible as a host, there may be some things that are non-negotiable. Don’t expect your guests to read your mind. If there is an off-limits room, or a potential safety hazard, such as a malfunctioning garbage disposal, tell your guests.
- Particularly in the summer, climate control can turn into a tug-of-war with houseguests. The general rule is that guests control the temperature, within reason. Make sure your guests are comfortable at night, so everyone can sleep.
- Never just show up. Unless you are the long-lost beloved brother your sister has been searching for, your hosts will not welcome you with open arms.
- Always bring a gift for your host. It doesn’t have to be expensive, or particularly creative, but hosts appreciate the thought.
- Clean up after yourself.
- Ask before you drink that expensive bottle of wine, or eat the last piece of chocolate babka from Zabar’s.
The Conneciton asked some of our readers, who frequently entertain houseguests, what advice, stories, tips they’d like to share.
“I have a tip to offer,” said Jessica McKay of Springfield. “It's a good rule of thumb for hosts to make sure there are clean, easily identifiable linens and towels laid out that a guest is supposed to use. For guests, if you don't know what to use, just ask. It's better than having to use a dirty towel or rummaging through the house.”
"For summer guests, I like to make the bedroom theirs to enjoy, so I include new high-count quality crisp cotton sheets and coordinated /blanket a set of fluffy luxury towels, fragrant bath products (salts, gels, lotions), a large soothing fragranced soy candle, and books and magazines about the area (especially for first-time visitors to the area),” said Flavia Biggs of Lorton. “Along with a few local goodies, this all can be presented in a large wicker basket to invite them to enjoy their stay."
“I handle my summer guests with an electric cattle prod,” said -Mike Dean of Burk. “You should see them jump. More seriously, if your guests are coming to town for the monument/tourism thing in D.C., your best friend is the Tourmobile. It goes everywhere that they want to go. They can get on and off at will. It's very hard to get lost.”
"One of the things I appreciate the most whenever I visit my parents' home is that my mother, who spends all of her free time in her garden, always puts a bouquet of fresh-cut flowers from the yard on the bedside table in the guest room,” said Jill Laiacona of Centreville. “It's a simple and sweet gesture that always makes me feel at home."
“Our best experience was the time friends from the U.K. were visiting us when we lived in Barbados,” said Kathleen Jardine of Oakton. “My husband and I had to work. Not only did our friends entertain themselves during the day, they had done the shopping and were fixing dinner when we a got home. And here’s a tip: be honest. If you have to work, have unavoidable plans, etc., be honest with your guests. Provide maps, best places to visit, good places to eat, Metro cards with schedules, etc.”
“I really appreciate it when a host provides local maps of the areas roads and public transportation, and information on museum and concert schedules, parks, libraries and shopping centers,” said Lisa Funk of Vienna. “That way, I feel as if I don't have to pepper them with questions on negotiating the area, and I can attempt to get around on my own without too much bother. I make sure all of my guests have this information should they decide to venture out on their own.”
"I have a tip: don't waste your time cleaning the house before your guests arrive, they are coming to see you, not the house,” said Nancy Mercer of Fairfax. “Save the cleaning for when they leave."
“I love it when a host allows me to lend a hand in some way or another,” said Pat Stipe of Vienna. “It makes me feel more relaxed and like a part of the family. When we are the hosts, we typically schedule a few events and meals together, and then see how things go. We let our guests know they should feel free to come and go as they like, and not worry about including us in their daily itineraries. If we end up spending more time together, that’s always nice. If we don’t, our friends don’t feel awkward or obligated.”
“As a host, I always make sure that the guestroom and guest bathroom are inviting,” said Shawna Tunnell of McLean. “I will put out fresh flowers, a carafe with fresh water and new magazines and other reading materials. Fresh towels, new soap, a hair dryer and a selection of shampoos and conditioners are a must — and a great way to use the toiletries that hotels encourage their guests to take for promotional purposes. My mother also keeps on hand new toothbrushes and baby shampoo.
”A tip for a host is to offer up maps and a copy of the latest Zagat’s Guide, but to give the guest plenty of time on her own. Of course, the guest should also be conscious of the fact that, while the host is delighted with the visit, the host also needs time for herself since her regular, undoubtedly demanding, schedule has not changed. We had family guests who stayed with us for a couple of weeks. They took turns preparing dinner a couple of nights a week, which we very much appreciated.”
“This summer we have our daughter’s friend, an intern, staying with us from The College of William and Mary,” said Elizabeth Bradsher of Fairfax Station. “A guest bedroom is always ready for friends and family. Once here, their schedule is their own, we make sure there is food in the refrigerator, cook out on weekends and a pool nearby makes it all bearable for everyone. Of course we are always available to take guests to the usual tourist attraction. One of the best is the changing of the guard at the tombs of the unknown soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. There is no finer tourist attraction.
”This might be the funniest experience we had with guests. We had some rather large friends who were sleeping on our antique sleigh bed in the guest room. I suppose there was a bit too much action for the bed and the slats in the bed gave way with our friends, the mattress and box spring landing on the floor. No one was hurt but we learned modern bed frames are best for guest rooms.”