§ A young friend won’t be making her annual trip to stay with me and visit her “Indiana Family” during this difficult year. But I hope she will get a smile from this essay! §
Listening to a radio show as I drove one afternoon, I caught part of a discussion on the topic of appropriate behavior by houseguests when making visits. The subject intrigued me because it had often been covered by those original Agony Aunt columnists, Dear Abby and Ann Landers, to whose advice I’d been devoted in adolescence.
The interviewee, asked to explain what houseguests should not do during a visit, launched into a total bitchfest about guests who, having risen in the morning before their hosts, proceeded to brew themselves a cup of coffee and (horror of horrors!) use the mug which was sitting out beside the coffeemaker for that morning cup…their host’s favorite coffee mug!
Now, I rarely have houseguests, and I don’t even own a coffeemaker; anyone unfortunate enough to be lodging with me is going to discover that instant coffee is the best available. Tea, now, tea is a different matter. Depending on their preferences, they might get a good quality teabag of regular or flavored tea, or even loose tea brewed properly using a tea ball in a china teapot. But, those facts aside, the truth is that, as a good hostess, if I was providing for a houseguest who I knew might be waiting for a “cuppa” before I rose in the morning, I would have set out not only a cup, but a spoon and a spoon rest and real sugar and sweeteners and a napkin, all awaiting their use. I’d have made certain they knew where all the other accoutrements were to be found too: the toaster, the bread, butter, jam, and milk. And, even though I do, yes, have a favorite mug, I damn sure wouldn’t have gone on public radio making an ass of myself because a guest in my home had availed her or himself of simple accommodations. To do so would be disrespectful.
Respect, as I learned from those long ago Agony Aunt columns, is what smooths the relationship between host and guest. Both acknowledge the disruption to their usual lives, and treat one another with courtesy, making an effort to be especially respectful to smooth over any bumps in the road during a visit.
A much younger but extremely wise friend once related to me that her mother, having come to visit, was both very surprised and complimentary when she found the apartment beautifully cleaned prior to her visit. My young friend, while admitting that her home was rarely in that condition, remarked that it was simply respectful to prepare for a guest’s visit by cleaning her home.
I agreed wholeheartedly. Having a houseguest means that one looks at one’s home differently. The worn but still useable bath towels that are perfectly suitable for my own bathtime would be disrespectful if put out for a guest to use. The chipped mug is placed to the back of the cabinet, and the nicer ones, including that favored mug—why wouldn’t I want a friend to have the best?– set forward prominently. Bedsheets are fresh, TVs are turned down low when a guest has retired for the night, and favorite foods are offered.
But, returning to the memory of those Agony Aunts columns, I recall long, serious deliberations on whether a guest should, on the final day of their visit, make the bed (because that’s simply a nice gesture to one’s hostess) or remove the sheets and pile them on the mattress (since they now have to be washed). Silly debates such as this enthralled me when I was a mere teenager, years always from having a home of my own, much less a houseguest. Even more interesting (and often hilarious), were the disputes—many of which flamed into fury—over nosy houseguests, those people who snooped and pried into places they had no business being, and how they should be handled.
Putting a jack-in-the-box into a drawer to pop out and send the prying houseguest shrieking, was often favored. I particularly loved the suggestion by one host who claimed to have hidden notes in each drawer which said, “Too bad you decided to snoop here. I put poison on the handle, and I have the only antidote.”
But then came the rejoinder from a woman who was obviously suspected by her friend of being one of those very sneaks, a charge which she strenuously denied. While staying there, she related, she’d needed a thread of dental floss, something which she hadn’t packed. She opened the medicine cabinet to search for some, and was sent screaming back from the sink as a cascade of glass marbles came tumbling out of the cupboard, pouring like a loud river onto the sink and bouncing across the bathroom floor. When her host came charging up, ready accusation at her lips, the terrified guest was crouched in a corner, surrounded by marbles, stuttering, “I just wanted dental floss! Just dental floss!”
I seriously doubted that the friendship between the paranoid host and the shocked houseguest continued following this fracas. After all, it appeared that, just like that belligerent radio show speaker, someone had forgotten the first rule of having or being a houseguest: Respect.
If you enjoyed this post, you might also like “Agony Aunts”,
to be found in the archives from February 16, 2018.