When brainstorming a topic for this week’s blog, I knew I wanted to talk about my recent trip to Sun Valley to celebrate the 7th anniversary of my 29th birthday. I wasn’t sure what about the trip would be interesting to all you fabulous peeps. A travelogue seemed a bit dull, as there was no Miss Thang getting arrested on my flight, like there was on my previous trip. (You can read more about Miss Thang here.) I started reflecting on why I am lucky enough to get invited on these fabulous adventures. Aside from the fact that I am clearly oh-so fun, I think I must be good at being a guest. So, here are the dos and don'ts of being an enjoyable, gracious guest and getting invited back!
I am a Southern Jew at heart. “What does that mean?” You say. I was born and bred in the Pacific Northwest (Read: The part of the country where people wear socks with sandals and believe RSVPing is optional. Sacrilege!) Then, why on earth does this logger’s daughter from Washington love monogrammed stationery and place cards at every dinner party? Because I am a Southern Jew at heart. I love manners, tradition, and a hint of formality. No rhyme or reason to it, but I do. If you aren’t drawn like a moth to a flame to books on how to properly set a table, these tips will come in handy as they nod to the etiquette books of yesteryear. Although, I hope with a modern, more casual bend.
Dos and Don’ts:
1. Don't hint for an invite
There is nothing worse than someone sniffing around for an invitation no matter what the occasion, but there is no more sure far way to find yourself on the couch hunting for things to do on Saturday night than to say things like, “Why haven’t I ever been invited to your Chateau in France? Everyone else has gone. Don’t you like me? Is it because I am voting for Trump?”
People will invite you, because they enjoy you. They will invite you back, because you follow these tips for being a gracious guest. Don’t hint for an invite. It just makes you look desperate. As the housewives have taught us, desperate doesn’t look good on anyone.
2. Do always bring a thoughtful hostess gift.
First and foremost, if you have a particular talent that lends itself to gift giving, use it! Make jam? Bring it! Knit blankets? Bring it! Things that are handmade are always a hit, regardless of your host. Being that I have no special talents, I have to settle for paying attention to the likes and dislikes of my host and purchasing something special for them.
I like to gauge a hostess gift based on my position in life and the duration of my stay. For example, when I was going through the stage in my late twenties where I was unemployed, living with my parents and rubbing my nickels together to try and turn them into Champagne, and I went to visit a friend’s ski house in Park City, I brought him a Cougar Snuggie. Yep, you know those blanket things that make everyone look like a middle-aged chick with too many cats. My friend (the host) always made jokes about me being the cougar in our friend group, so I went with the, “if-you-can’t-get-them-anything-cool-you-better-at-least-make-it-funny-gift.” I think that Snuggie may have quickly ended up at the local Goodwill for someone else’s enjoyment, but it’s the thought that counts, right? When in doubt, use humor.
When I revisited the same Park City abode as a more established, business owner, who was drinking Champagne (or Cava, depending on the day) rather than just dreaming about it, I brought a schmancy set of stag antler steak knives, because my friend loves to hunt and cook. The key is to think about the person and what they would like. You don’t have to spend lots of money, just think about something that fits the locale of the house or the interests of your host. Do they fish? Love golf? Have a pastime of underwater basket weaving? All those are great places to start. Although, I am unsure where to recommend for underwater basket weaving supplies…
For my Sun Valley trip, I essentially had three hosts, because two sisters invited us to their parent’s house. I knew their mom liked Veuve Clicquot, so I decided to make that the theme of their gift. (Side note: If you aren’t buying something perfect for the couple, buy something the wife likes. The wife will like it and the husband, or more masculine wife, as the case may be, will be happy too.) I arrived with a gift boxed bottle of Veuve Yellow Label, along with an elegant glass Veuve Clicquot matchbox cover (I thought it would be perfect for the fireplace and candles I was sure we would find in Sun Valley), and a hardcover copy of The Widow Clicquot, a wonderful book about the history of Champagne. It was probable she already owned the book, but it would make a perfect addition to any bedside table in one of her guest bedrooms.
For the daughters, I popped down to Drees, the mecca of all things drool-worthy in Downtown Olympia. (Another side note, I love, love love Marshall’s, Home Goods, and Overstock, but when it comes to hostess gifts, I think it makes it more special when you splurge for the local darling where they will gift wrap everything and make it so fun to open.) I got the ladies linen dish towels and monogrammed (Southern Jew, remember!) Crane and Kate Spade stationery respectively. The daughter’s gifts were a little smaller, because it was their parent’s home, but they were the reason we were invited, so it was very important they were included too.
In sum, think about something your hosts might like or use. If you have a special talent, use it! And when in doubt, everyone can appreciate a decadent candle, wine, or anything personalized. On that note, I try to look out at my calendar and pre-order personalized gifts for hostesses whenever it seems appropriate.
3. Don't leave a big mess
Depending on where you are staying, there will be different housekeeping accommodations. You don’t want to be a country bumpkin, nor do you want to be a pretentious ass. Some of your friends may have a housekeeper. Others will not. It is always appropriate to leave as little trail as possible. Don’t leave your glass on the counter, put it in the dishwasher. Offer to help (but be aware of #4 below). When you depart, offer to collet linens for washing. This last one varies dramatically based on circumstance. I find it most appropriate to just ask. “Can I wash the linens?” “How can I help clean up?” At one of my friend’s houses, the beds are to be left unmade, as a signal to the housekeepers to wash the sheets. If you are staying somewhere without a housekeeper, stripping the bed and collecting your towels is still often appreciated. If you are at your friend’s who has five children and they have a hard enough time keeping up with the cleaning for their family, take out the garbage or even run the vacuum over everything. You are a guest and you don’t want to overdo it, but helping out shows your appreciation and acknowledges to your hosts you know you are not staying in a hotel and they are not the maids.
4. Do adjust to your hosts
Some people enjoy fussing over you. Some people enjoy lots of help. Some people get up early. Some people sleep in. When you are a houseguest, you need to adjust to your hosts, not the other way around. If everyone has been up for two hours, had breakfast, and is ready to hit the road and you are just rolling out of bed looking for coffee, you, my friend, are the weakest link.
If your hosts enjoy hosting and like taking care of people, don’t continue to insert yourself into the dishwasher role. This can be hard for me, because I love to make myself useful, but sometimes you are doing it to make yourself feel better, not your host. Know the difference. And only help when it is welcomed by those who are kind enough to invite you to their house.
In general, pick up on social cues or just ask. Has the host asked you to sit down and stop picking up three times, for God’s sake, sit down. Before you turn in at night ask, “What time do you guys like to get going in the morning?” And then set an alarm to oblige. There are benefits of staying with friends and benefits of staying in a hotel. Don’t forget you are in someone’s home and want to be accommodating to their rhythms, not the other way around.
5. Don't forget to have fun!
Spending quality, 24/7 time with friends and family can be some of the best memories you will ever have. Enjoy yourself. Relax. The more you can go with the flow, the more fun you will have. And if staying with friends just isn’t for you, because you would rather not be bothered picking out a hostess gift, helping with the laundry, or you just want to lay around the living room in your undies, you can always shack up at the hotel down the street and meet for lunch later in the day!
I hope you learned something about being a gracious guest. Do let me know where you are invited to go and how you personalize your gracious guest experience.