[To our recent house guests: I wrote this before you arrived! Really! We loved having you. Please come back soon!]
We live in Colorado Springs, tourist mecca and home of a zillion non-profits. We’re empty nesters, with two spare bedrooms. Put those together, and it’s easy to see why we’re the top “hotel” choice for many of our ministry friends.
Mind you, we love having visitors. We get to see old friends who live out of town, and we’ve made numerous new friends by offering a room to people we don’t yet know. Paul admonishes believers to practice hospitality (maybe because we need practice to get it right), and we find it a joy and a blessing.
Not all house guests are created equal. We’ve had guests so wonderful that we cried when they had to leave. We have also entertained Guest-zilla—you probably have too. Here’s a few suggestions on how to behave so that “Come back soon!” accompanies your departure.
Communicate. Let your hosts know when you expect to arrive and when you will be leaving. Tell them when you will be busy, and what meals you will join them for (assuming they’ve invited you for meals). Case in point: I made a nice, yummy “company dinner” for some house guests staying with us recently. Pete came home early from work to be here on time. It was only when we called them (as dinner congealed in the serving bowls) that we discovered that they wouldn’t be back to our house until bedtime. Last we had talked, they were joining us for dinner at 5:30, and no one told us that plans had changed.
If you have special needs, communicate that as well. Being on a special diet myself, I totally understand if you are allergic to spinach, are avoiding high cholesterol foods, or really don’t like blueberries. It’s better to talk than to waste food or suffer unnecessarily.
On the other hand, don’t be too picky. I’m doing the best I can, and if it’s not up to your standards, stay somewhere else. This is the food we can afford, the bed and linens we own. Most of our guests graciously accept what we can offer. I also remember a few outrageous complainers, who I won’t describe in case they read this!
Be Considerate. We’ve had guests handle (and sometimes break) items that had great emotional value to us, and not even apologize, much less offer to replace them. I’ve had hand-painted salad tongs (a gift from Austria), several of my good knives, and a black iron skillet with 20 years of seasoning ruined in the dishwasher. One guest almost killed our cat, then laughed about it when they told us the story! I understand that accidents happen, but a little care goes a long way.
Corral your stuff. If the house was cleaned in anticipation of your arrival, your clutter can be pretty disheartening. Besides, scattering belongings all over is a great way to leave something behind when you go.
Respect your hosts’ schedule. Some people like to stay up late, others have to get up early. If your hosts are yawning (or worse, snoring), say goodnight and head for your room. You might be on vacation, but they probably aren’t. (If you are suffering from jet lag, you might be awake at odd hours. Ask ahead of time so you know what snacks are available and if you can make tea or coffee for yourself.)
Of course you want to spend some time visiting and catching up with one another. That’s one of the joys of staying with friends. Remember, though, that togetherness can be overdone. As an introvert, I need some down time no matter how much I like you. I also have other responsibilities. Plan to spend some time entertaining yourself.
Offer to Help. There are times, especially after several weeks of nonstop guests, when I would gratefully kiss the feet of anyone offering to help with the dishes. If you are staying more than a day or two, look around for tasks that need doing and ask if you can do them. (A little tact is helpful here—maybe they hope you won’t notice the grime on top of the fridge or the dog hair on the couch.) Some jobs are easy to step into… setting the table, then clearing it after meals, washing the dishes, sweeping the kitchen. At the very least, clean up your own messes.
Don’t expect to be waited on as if you were in a fancy resort. I’ve had people ask me to make them a sandwich (an hour before dinner), do their laundry for them (I don’t want to see your underwear, even if you’re not wearing it at the moment), make special trips to the store (we live a fair distance out of town)…. This is not my full time job. If it’s something you can do for yourself, do it!
Show Your Appreciation. If you can afford it, offer to take them out for a meal (or even dessert or coffee), or take your turn as the cook. I understand if that’s too expensive—we’re on a ministry budget too—but try to think of something you can do to show your appreciation.
Bring a small hostess gift with you. It doesn’t need to be fancy or expensive. Does your hometown have a special food you can share? If you live overseas, how about something small from that culture? If you know your hosts, try to personalize your gift. (A recent visitor brought me a ziplock bag containing some Irish tea, making me very, very happy.) If you can’t think of anything else, flowers are always appropriate.
Write a thank you note. I prefer to bring note cards with me, and I write my note before I leave. That way my hosts’ hospitality is still fresh in my mind, and I know I won’t procrastinate. Try to reference something exceptional they did to make you feel welcome. Appreciation is always appreciated!
Jesus gives us the best house guest advice: Love your neighbor as yourself. If we act the way we wish our guests would act, we know we’ll do just fine.