Friday, March 23, 2007

Pleasure And Pain Of Company

After having company overnight for three weekends in a row, I gave some consideration to what makes one a good guest and host. Being good at either takes thoughtfulness and respect.

Random House defines a guest as a visitor, as company. Visiting someone in their home can bring about feelings of pleasure or pain for everyone involved. Good hosts are going to do extra meal planning, shopping and preparation for us. They will prepare a place to sleep and bathe for us. Their routines are going to be interrupted by us. They are going to incur extra expenses generated by us. Despite all this, there are actions we can take to ensure we will always be welcome:

Only Stay Up To Three Nights
There is a reason for the maxim that compares house guests to the smell of rotting fish - it is true, both stink as three days approach. No matter how much love exists between the hosts and the guests, everyone is going to reach their co-habitation limit. We want our hosts to be happy to see us come, not to see us go. Trust me, three days is pushing it.

Plan Our Own Travel And Entertainment
Hosts will invariably have recommendations for dining, accomodations, activities and points of interest for their area. But we are responsible for arranging our own amusement and excursions while on a visit. Alerting our hosts of arrival and departure plans is considerate. It is a burden for hosts if we do not pre-plan our activities. Take advantage of our American Express concierge. Have our own transportation. Extend invitations, not obligations.

Help vs Hindrance
Ask where to place our personal items. Offer to assist with the meal. If the hostess declines, appreciate that they would like to do it themselves or enjoy serving us. If we have food allergies or strong taste preferences, let our hosts know in advance so they may accommodate us. Offer to clean up the dishes. However, if our hostess invites us to have a seat in the family room, take the hint. Be mindful that during meals, hosts are multi-tasking so don't require too much attentiveness. Maintain any areas we are bathing, lounging and sleeping in. Allow hosts the freedom of filling the washer or pulling out items from the pantry without our hovering. Assure our hosts that we understand they have professional or personal priorities that must be attended to. Do all that we can to not impose on our hosts' graciousness.

5 Hour Rule
In Things I Want My Daughters To Know, Alexandra Stoddard wrote an essay entitled, "The 5 Hour Rule." The 5 Hour Rule states that a break is needed after 5 consecutive hours in one another's company. (Since the very nature of house guests holds each other captive for more than 5 hours, Alexandra chooses never to entertain others overnight.) After 5 hours, it is time for a break. Be mindful that a break may be needed earlier than 5 hours. Give hosts some privacy. They may wish to phone their spouse or child, take a nap, have a walk, read a passage or observe a meditation. Take this time to do the same. ( I once had a house guest who said they loved everything Alexandra had written in Things...but the 5 Hour Rule. I remarked the 5 Hour Rule was for those who didn't see the necessity of the 5 Hour Rule!). The 5 Hour Rule gives us a guideline for maintaining our positivity and energy as a host and a guest.

Shower Your Hosts With Generous Reciprocity
Pay the tab of meals eaten with our hosts outside their home. Spring for movie tickets, amusement park admissions and museum passes when they accompany us. Let's face it, we would be spending a great deal more if they hadn't provided us with room and board during our stay. Always arrive with a gift and send a hand written thank you note after we get home. Exhibit an attitude of gratitude and be the law of abundance in action.

A host is an entertainer of guests (coincidentally, Host comes just before Hostage). Personally, I like for my guests to feel as if they have booked a room at an elegant bed and breakfast. Remember, an invitation is not an obligation, so visitors to our area may prefer to stay in a hotel or meet us at a restaurant for dinner.

Sleeping Quarters
Dress the bed with luxury and comfort in mind. Provide pillows from soft to firm and the highest thread count you can afford for the sheets. Supply extra blankets for those who may get chilled in the night. Set out a vase of flowers, drinking water, glasses and possibly a snack. Stock the room with brochures for area attractions and activities. Place a selection of books or magazines that guests can enjoy as they savor a break as the 5 Hour Rule is observed. In our guest room, my guests have a plasma tv to keep them occupied and thick bath robes to lounge in . Complete the sensual experience with matches and a scented candle.

Bathing Facilities
As with bed linens, provide the highest quality bath ensembles you can afford. Put out a fresh bar of soap. Our guests may also enjoy a bottle of shower and bath gel. Have a spare hair dryer available. Stock the bath with Q-Tips, shampoo and conditioner, facial pads, razor, tissue and lotion.


For those of us who like to cook, an elaborate lunch or dinner is an expression of care for our guests. It needn't be overdone - one or twice in a stay is sufficient. Perhaps you host a welcome dinner and can relax a bit about the meals after that. Provide continental breakfast items such as fresh fruit, juice, coffee and breads or cereals. It is likely that our guests would welcome a breakfast comprised of egg, fruit and meat dishes with delicious bread as a treat at some point during their stay. Have snacks such as nuts, crackers, cheese, deli meats and frozen desserts on hand. If we are not cooks, we should make reservations at our favorite regional restaurants. An assortment of wine and liqueurs presented at a happy or nightcap hour are a nice touch.

Orchestrate that one something that would make the trip memorable.You may want to plan a dinner party and introduce your friends to your company. Arrange to attend a concert of a popular band or the gallery opening of a local artist. Encourage them to get a massage with your fabulous massage therapist or a facial at a favorite spa. Give them directions to your favorite shopping area. Rent a video, see a blockbuster or an obscure release. Direct them to something with local flavor that they wouldn't necessarily find on a travel website. Grant them access to your PC to catch up on emails or keep up with projects at work. Leave night lighting on in hallways, stairways and the kitchen or bathroom so your guests don't have to fumble in the dark. Give instructions on adjusting thermostats.


When traveling, I usually seek the privacy and freedom that comes from a room provided by an anonymous hotel chain or proprietor. I am glad when my friends and relatives do not make a fuss and insist I spend every meal or waking moment with them. I do have select friends and family who extend the kind of hospitality that affords me a good night's sleep and autonomy to plan my days and nights as I please. I am more comfortable as a host than a guest. It brings me a great deal of joy to provide travelers a delicious meal and a welcoming room. I most appreciate guests who wake up to share a latte in the morning, head off to pursue their interests in the day and keep to themselves until it's time to reconvene at dinner.

As guests, we are most tolerable when we are self-sufficient. As hosts, it is rewarding when we attentively design stays for our guests. Hosts and guests alike can aspire to exceed each other's expectations, minimizing discomfort of shared quarters and maximizing the enjoyment of shared company.

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