‘House guests are like fish; they are only good for three days.’ This often (mis)quoted aphorism, possibly a Danish proverb but certainly immortalised by Benjamin Franklin, has a certain ring of truth about it.
In A Year in Provence, Peter Mayle described more graphically than I can the disadvantages of living in a picturesque place where the sun shines in the summer. At worst, friends you never knew you had descend for free accommodation, meals and booze, while you slave away over a hot stove and wash their laundry for them. It feels rather like running a small, but extremely unprofitable, hotel. A quick straw poll of our friends who live here shows that they approach the guest season with mixed feelings.
It need not be like that, though. At best, the summer visiting season brings the prospect of long, lazy shared meals, good conversation and the renewal of valued friendships. If you want to be considered the model guest and get asked again, a few dos and don’ts will help to prevent your visit becoming an ordeal.
Don’t…insist on staying if your prospective hosts are obviously not so keen. ‘Well, we are rather booked up already for this summer’ is a telltale phrase.
Do… let them know in good time the dates of your visit and roughly what time you plan to arrive. Re-confirm the arrangements a week or so beforehand. Make sure they know how to contact you if they have a problem and need to cancel at short notice.
Do…suggest that you hire a car to save your hosts having to pick you up from the airport and ferry you around during your stay.
Do…let them know if you are held up for any reason on the day of arrival.
Don’t…turn up empty handed. Your hosts will appreciate a small gift, such as a book or a CD, both of which are easy enough to carry in hand luggage if you are travelling light.
Do…note when your hosts schedule mealtimes. If they normally breakfast at 8.30, don’t roll out of bed at 11.00.
Do…lend a hand laying the table and clearing up after meals. Unless you are a cordon bleu chef, it is probably better not to cook a meal for them. You won’t know the oven’s foibles or where the utensils are kept and most people prefer not to have someone else cook in their kitchen.
Don’t…drink all their gin and then tell them after the shops have shut that they’ve run out.
Do…offer to take your hosts out for a meal at a decent restaurant. Find out beforehand if it takes credit cards and, if not, take plenty of cash so your hosts don’t have to pick up the tab.
Don’t…expect your hosts to spend all their time taking you to local tourist attractions. This will probably be their nth visit and even the most appealing beauty spots pall after several trips. If you have hired a car, offer to drive them to somewhere they have not yet visited.
Don’t…use their phone to call Auntie Mildred in Sydney on her 75th birthday and then stay on the phone for 45 minutes. Send her a postcard, use your mobile or call her when you get home.
Do…ask if you can remove the sheets from your bed the day you leave so your hosts can get on with the washing, especially if they are expecting the next contingent in a day or so.
Do…leave the lavatory in a civilised condition.
Do…send a nice card to say thank you. An email is OK, but a card shows that more thought has gone into it and is always appreciated.
Does this sound a bit demanding on the part of the hosts? I don’t think so; it’s good manners, which makes it more pleasant for everyone. Unfortunately, we have had guests (the minority, luckily) who have done all the don’ts and few of the dos above. They have not been again.
Copyright © 2010 A writer’s lot in France, all rights reserved
There’s a quote in Jane Austen’s ‘Emma’ in which Emma’s sister’s visit back home is described as being ‘perfect in being much too short’! Few wiser words have ever been written!
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How clever Jane Austen was! I didn’t pick that one up when I last read Emma, but it is many years ago. I’ll have to read it again.