Unwritten rules of staying with friends

by | Feb 14, 2024 | Latest Post | 0 comments

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Before we start: A reminder that the sowing season is arriving.

Staying with friends

Today I want to reflect on the features, the politics, the advantages and disadvantages of going to visit other people and stay in their homes. I shall also have a look on those who have been invited to stay with us. I suppose you could subtitle this article ‘ what makes the ideal house guest?’

Let’s first of all talk about visiting other people.

I associate this in the main with staying with people that you know very well and have met on a number of occasions. The only occasion when this did not apply was when I did an intuitive reading for a client at Mysteries bookshop in the Charing Cross area of London. They were so impressed with my work that they invited me to Cape Town in South Africa to stay with them maybe thinking that I would say no or forget about it all together. In fact they did mean it, when I contacted them a week or so later I was warmly invited and we stayed for about two weeks. That must have been about 1998 and turned out to the the first of 20 visits to that beautiful though flawed country.

This was only possible I think because I clicked with the client and she felt comfortable with me. However in most cases a number of months or years has to pass before you can expect such an invitation. If someone says to me, come and stay with us any time that is pretty much and open invitation but before accepting such an invitation we need to inquire a little bit about the terms and conditions

Before we start here are some horror stories about what guests have done. They originate from the USA

“My wife’s cousin was staying at our house because he was going through marital problems. One night I woke up in the middle of the night and I heard some change rattling. He walks down the hall with my 5 year old’s piggy bank. He was taking money from my daughter’s piggy bank to buy beer and smokes.

“The day they left, I went to play my favorite game on PlayStation: Sled Storm. Couldn’t find it. Overturned everything, but I couldn’t find it. In searching, I noticed something even worse. My SNES, all games, and half my N64 games were missing in addition to Sled Storm. They had stayed with us as a favor and stolen half my stuff that I had paid for with birthday money saved up over years.”

“My uncle and his wife came to stay for a while. They got my room and I slept on the couch for a few months. What actually ticked me off is that when they finally left we found out that they’d seriously messed up my room. Everything reeked of cigarettes, there were ground up peanut shells in the carpet, cigarette burns on my mattress, etc. We couldn’t figure out why the room smelled like death until we lifted up the bed and found mummified cat poop stuck up in the shag carpeting. They either had such bad hygiene that they didn’t notice the smell or they knew and they just didn’t care.”<

 “Friend brought a guest to a party I was having. They knew I didn’t really like her guest and I asked her not to bring her. She did anyway.” Apparently, the unwelcome guest proceeds to drink too much wine and overindulge in… grass. This caused the guest to pass out on the couch. “For some reason, my friend leaves without taking the unwelcome guest with her. Wake up the next morning, and the unwelcome guest has opened up one of the leftover bottles of wine from the night before and she’s also carved a pipe out of a potato or carrot or something and was smoking more on our couch.”

“My ex-wife’s sister used a $150 chef’s knife to try and crack open a coconut in my kitchen. She dented it all over and also bent the tip somehow. Then she said it must be a cheap knife because her sister in Thailand cuts them open super easy with a cleaver. It’s one bright side of divorce that I never have to suffer her presence ever again.”

“Had some relatives over, and despite very, very clear instructions to not flush feminine products down the toilet, they did anyway. Destroyed our septic field, almost $10,000 in damages overall. When confronted, they just denied it, despite the fact that the 32 pads that were pulled out of the system matches the brand that they had while they were over.”

Giving notice and being given notice.  It should be not less than a week excepting case of emergency for example when someone passes or when another arrangement has let you down. It does take time to prepare and plan. Remember an Englishman’s home is his castle

What do hosts expect of a guest? First they must not make outrageous demands  as I have mentioned. It is always worth asking if people have any dietary preferences, allergies etc.

Also the guests should listen to the host about what they have been doing and also maybe listen to their problems which we all have no doubt. Yes we should give something back but that can be through being ourselves, paying attention to them, giving feedback and opinions when asked and avoiding politics and controversial views unless invited. I wouldn’t not ask someone if they had been jabbed though it is very tempting sometimes. I think we should steer towards the bland with the occasional provocative questions thrown in.

Terms and conditions.    There are the obvious ones like ‘no smoking’. This may seem to be rather clinical but to minimize strain it is necessary. Very often the host has other jobs and they will not be there during the day. Very often the husband and wife disagree on certain matters and this must be taken into account when you consider the atmosphere of the place you stay in. Also you like dogs?  Do they own a dog even the ‘honestly he is very sweet, he would not bite’. To what extent do you need public transport? If you have no transport of your own do you expect to be taken around and looked after? Will you be expected to share in the cooking of meals or most importantly will you be expected to share in the costs.

Just Help Yourself  One thing I find a little bit difficult to interpret is the host saying, ‘help yourself, you know where things are, you don’t have to ask’. Does that include visits to the drink cabinet? Protocol would I suggest indicate that this is in another category and would apply only at certain times of day.

There is also protocol covering the use of a mobile phone. I think it is positively rude to use a mobile phone in the company of others in their home because it turns into an office. I think if you really need to receive a call, put the phone on buzzer mode, and when you see who it is escape outside or to your bedroom.

Getting up time and emerging from your room can be tricky. If you ask what time breakfast will be served you may get the answer that it is ‘al fresco and you help yourself’. You can pin them down a bit by asking them about what time they have their tea and toast and show up accordingly.

During the course of my stay if it wasn’t anything more than a couple of days I would expect to take them out to a meal or at least to a drink or an occasion. You are after all saving yourself at least 150 pounds a night on accommodation and food

What happens if you don’t like their food?  I was once invited by a rather eccentric man who had under cooked the food and it was a soggy mess. I ate what I could and pushed the rest to the side of the plate. I was in Spain once when the laid back host was cooking a pizza for us. She forgot what she was doing and it arrived baked to a cinder. I did not eat it neither did my fellow guest and nothing was said. Nothing needed to be said. Touch wood though, these events have been far and few between.

Dress code – only if you know someone very well indeed would you wear night attire with a dressing gown at the breakfast table. I suggest dressing anyway and if the others are more informally attired it makes no difference

I mention these things because they have all happened to me at various times in my life. One thing is tricky and that is the duration of a stay. We don’t want an overnight stay to last a week because that will cause resentment. In my experience the average stay should be between three and five days. Anything over a week and you end up in other territory. If things do not go well chemistry-wise you need to think of an exit strategy. So, it is not as simple as you think.

The most common fault I have found is people bringing unannounced pets or having unusual food requests. We have a phrase in England, outstaying your welcome, which can become quite difficult. People will say ‘oh, stay as long as you want’, but they don’t really mean that. I read of a radio ham operator in Australia who made contact with someone in the United Kingdom and invited him to come over. He did in fact come over, stayed for six weeks, and during that time did not make any contribution to the food.

With regard to being of assistance, there has to be a another way of saying ‘is there anything I can do?’ or ‘do you need a hand?’. The normal answer is ‘no that’s fine you just sit an enjoy yourself’ but it may be that the guest wants to ‘pay’ for their stay in some way by doing something useful and to show that they are not taking the kind offer for granted. I would always bring a present of a proportion possibly determined by the depth of the friendship and the length of the stay.  It is a good idea to say if you have any wishes, for example to visit a local beauty spot or feature.

When I leave the accommodation I always leave the bed perfect by separating the sheets and pillowcases so that my host can just throw them in the washing machine afterwards.

Being on the receiving end

Let’s now talk about receiving guests. In our time here in Somerset, it must be over 11 years now, we have had about 20 people staying with us. The visit does involve quite a lot of preparation in terms of fetching linen from its hiding place, cleaning up the bedroom or rooms, providing towels and making a bed, not to mention cleaning the bathroom. After they have gone the same applies in reverse order. I would think it is a bad mistake to have guests one after the other. Every guest modifies the atmosphere and maybe things need to settle before having someone else in the house. I tend not to invite people with problems as the time can become exhausting in being half a host and half a social worker and counselor.

I tend to invite people who are on the same wavelength and where we understand each other without the need for words. How do people get invited? They do not get invited directly out of the blue. If a person I am talking to says that he is intending to visit my part of the country namely Somerset, then I would say something like ‘pop in to see us and if you need a night or two then feel free to ask’.

A guest may be subtle and say I would like to come and see you, do you know a hotel or bed and breakfast nearby and this gives me the opportunity to invite them or not without any embarrassment. I know a friend who would like to see me but as a certain lifestyle shall we say and would not find these standard of accommodation that we offer to be adequate. I absolutely do not mind this because we have to go where we feel comfortable.

The very best guests are those who merge in with the house and you hardly notice they are there. We do not put on a special performance for anyone where we may take them out to a local noteworthy feature. We tend to just be ourselves and we hope that the guest or guests will do the same. It being on the same wavelength that is the key.

I have had no experience of being a paying guest. I feel this is in another category altogether and demands a degree of intimacy which I’m not quite sure I could cope with, as I do like my own company as does Francoise.

Independence.  I don’t mind if someone uses us as a base. As for trips out and about I would have no qualms putting someone on a bus or train and telling them to go and have a good time for example in Bath which is nearby. The bus to Bath is only five minutes walk away. They may even appreciate time on their own. I don’t want them to feel obligated as a guest.

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