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Staying in other people`s houses in later life                           Archive



Staying in other people`s houses     

Jeanne Davies uncovers the minefield of being a guest and offers a few hints for all concerned…  

Staying in other people’s houses is fraught with difficulties. Even the most  self-assured person can turn into a mass of anxieties. You may think you know someone very well, but behind that front door is probably a domestic routine very different from your own, and adjusting to it can create many unforeseen problems. Questions such as when is breakfast, how to keep warm when they don’t use the central heating, when to have a bath if you are sharing the bathroom, should you offer to wash up, or say something about the hardness or shortness of the bed all take on a ridiculous urgency. 

I recall the first time I stayed with my sister-in-law, when the breakfast issue arose. I felt a twinge of anxiety when  she told me that breakfast was served at  9 am. My waking time is 7 am, when I desperately need a cup of coffee or tea.   Otherwise I sink into a deep sugar low and, worse, depression. I should have said something, but didn’t, a decision I came to regret.

True to schedule, I woke at 7 and listened hopefully for sounds of life. Nothing. I had seen enough of the house to know approximately where the kitchen was. At 7:30, I crept along a dark hall and down the staircase to the ground floor, not daring to try to find the lights for fear of waking the household and making my hostess feel at fault for not asking me about my needs. 

I cautiously opened a door. Immediately there was a cacophony of barking and paws and legs as two Jack Russell’s and one great retriever leapt on me. I tried to calm them down. One Jack Russell rushed past me toward the front of the house, the retriever squeezed through a cat flap to the grounds outside, followed by the second Jack Russell.

Unnerved, I made it to the kitchen and having located the tea, opened every cupboard door looking for a mug or tumbler. Of course I agonised over which cup my hostess would want me to use. I chose one that looked as if it wasn’t a match or part of a set, and carried my tea back to my room, feeling rather like a burglar.


How to be a perfect guest   

  • Bring a gift - flowers, a houseplant, chocolate, a good bottle of wine or perhaps a small ornament you know would be welcomed.

  •  Pack extra layers of warm clothing, including warmer nightwear, in case the house is kept at a lower temperature than you are used to.

  • Immediately put your bags away in your room or elsewhere if storage is provided, and keep them out of the way for the rest of your visit.

  • Guests have to sing for their supper: be both sociable and enthusiastic, as well as independent enough not to be under the host’s feet all the time. Find out your hosts’ schedule. Check papers for art galleries, theatre, whatever. Get a local transport schedule.

  • Keep your own room tidy, make your bed, don’t use gallons of water if the plumbing is ancient or spend hours in the only bathroom if you are sharing with the family.

  •  Ask what time is breakfast, when is best to have a bath.  And be brave about any special needs. Asking for a vacuum flask of tea the night before would have solved my problem.

  • While you may be encouraged to feel at home, it is important to fit in with the foibles of the host, no matter how galling. If the family insists on keeping the telly on, or zapping from station to station, keep your cool.  Remember it is a kind of compliment when they behave as they would without you.

  • Offer to help with the cooking and the washing up. But confess if you can’t even boil an egg, and accept graciously (and gratefully) if your host declines the offer. There may be something else you can do to suit your talents. A very nice thankyou is to offer to take the hosts out to dinner one night, but if this would upset your bank manager, offer tea or lunch, or buy in some small food luxuries instead. 

  • Should you complain about the bed?  No, unless you know you host very very well.

  • A three day visit is usually considered enough. There is a saying -  guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days. Offer to strip the bed linen unless you know there is an army of staff to do it.

  •  And tell your host when you plan to leave. There is nothing more embarrassing for the host to ask “When are you going?”

  • A thankyou note makes a nice ending to the visit. You could send flowers at this stage if you didn’t take a gift when you arrived.

The good host    

  • Fill your guest in on the household’s schedule.  Meal times, how to make their own tea or coffee if they get up early or prefer to sleep in, when you like to retire, how many people are sharing the bathroom

  • Accommodation. You will want your guest to be comfortable. Obviously clean linen on  the bed, plenty of clean towels. I love to see fresh flowers in my room - they  spell out welcome better than a torrent of words. Space in the wardrobe for hanging clothes.

  •  Books by the bedside for night time or afternoon reading are a joy and will give you a few hours welcome respite .

  • You are trying to give your guests a good time/make them feel at home.  But make sure you have time for yourself. An exhausted host does a disservice to both parties.

Laterlife would like to hear about your experiences as host or guest.  




laterlife interest

The above article is part of the features section of called laterlife interest. laterlife interest contains a variety of articles of interest for visitors to written by a number of experienced and new journalists.

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