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How to be a good guest

  • Erin Kunkel



Chicago Tribune
Friday, December 07, 2018

Wait, what? No soy milk? Expressing dismay at the larder is one faux pas that otherwise well-meaning folks make when staying in someone else’s home. There are a handful things hosts would like you to know as the holiday season rolls in — little ways guests and hosts alike can ensure smooth sailing during a visit.

Two women with decades of experience hosting visitors offer some surprising advice: The most important thing guests can do is enjoy themselves. Caroline Ault, a fourth-generation owner of a historic waterfront family home in Door County, Wis., says simply, “Come! And be excited to be here.”

Madeleine Blais, whose husband’s family owned a house on Martha’s Vineyard for nearly 50 years, says, “Your job as a guest was to choose whatever made you happy and do it.”

Blais, whose memoir “To the New Owners” includes the soy-milk incident, advises guests to study the lay of the land. “If it’s obvious your host would love help with chopping in the kitchen, offer your services. If your host has young children, offer to babysit or take the kids on an outing. Food gifts are always welcome,” she said. Her family also appreciated errand-running. In her memoir she writes that “the island is all about schlepping, especially during high season when the roads are overrun with SUVs, so it was a godsend when a guest volunteered to pick up the papers on the morning grocery run.”

She says it’s fun when someone offers to cook and follows through with a great meal but adds that as people become increasingly particular about dietary preferences, they should make those things clear. “Whenever possible, pick up the slack: That is, bring your own soy milk,” she said. Ault concurs, remarking that in the world today, “someone can’t eat this, and another can’t eat that. If someone loves to cook and wants to make a meal, I’m all for it.”

Though both hostesses agree that meal prep certainly isn’t a requirement. Ault remembers one guest who showed up with a gift basket containing toilet paper, paper towels and paper napkins. After all, mundane household items do need replenishing. “That was a sweet thing to do. The amount of toilet paper you go through with lots of people in the house is crazy.”

All gifts are appreciated, she says, including “a nice bottle of scotch, a gift certificate, cheese or chocolate, a book or flowers or wine or food. ... Even a bottle of dish detergent isn’t a bad thing.”

Ault wouldn’t mind if guests stripped their beds and took the extra step of getting out fresh linens and remaking the bed. Tidying a bathroom before you leave is likewise appreciated. “It saves me a huge amount of time. It’s an enormous help,” she said.

As the visitor, it never hurts to be mindful of Benjamin Franklin’s quote about guests, fish and both smelling after three days. But neither Ault nor Blais mentioned that. Instead, they focused on fun. “We made it clear everyone should do what entertains them, and people did,” Blais says. As for hosts, “let guests know you appreciate and treasure their company.” As Ault looked toward the painting of her great-grandmother, the first owner of their house, on the living room wall, she said, “There’s great history here. We are caretakers of this property. It’s been shared with us. Our job is to share it with others. Come with an open heart. Come to have fun.”