I’m happy to say that a lot of people who visited us have said embarrassingly nice things about Deb and I as host and hostess. That’s quite an honor; not sure what to say. A greater one is that people keep coming back from Europe, the Caribbean, Russia and nearer points in order to pay us a visit. What the hell do you say to a Swede who has already visited you twice, and now can’t wait to bring his new wife back your direction, other than välkommen? For someone to visit you from afar once is a compliment, but also a satisfaction of curiosity and an extension of trust. If they come back, well…how do you thank them for such a profound compliment to your house? Nothing is adequate.
In that situation, I just try not to screw up.
But I guess I’ve picked up a few bits here and there, things that seem to play in, and if you’d like to make your guests happy (who would not?), maybe they’re worth sharing.
Ask about animals and allergies. I myself am fairly dog-phobic, for example. While I can endure dogs when I go to visit, and I must (it is the dogs’ home, not mine), I have special respect for those who make an effort not to allow Rover to charge me, investigate me, or put three coats of saliva (plus primer underneath) on me. That is a profound kindness and one I never forget, so I always ask people if they like dogs or not, and if they do not, they will not be subjected to them. Allergies likewise; I have a cousin who is literally deathly allergic to peanuts in any form. If he visits, we will go Full Peanut Nazi. Some people are terribly sensitive to gluten. Some are vegan. Will we prepare all-vegan meals for everyone so that the vegan can be happy? No, because that’s not fair to the rest of us. But we would no sooner serve her something she despised than we would serve barbecued pork to observant Jewish or Muslim guests.
Overload the bathrooms, especially the guest bathroom, with extra toilet paper. Seriously. Stuff the whole cabinet with it. Everyone’s afraid of ending up camping on the can a lot, no one wants to have to ask for more of the stuff. Just cram every spare storage space with it. It’s one thing to forget to put shampoo in the guest bathroom; it’s another to run out of TP.
Give them the freedom of your kitchen, pantry and booze cabinet. Guests are often uncertain what they may eat or drink. I tell people: “There are no waiters here. If it’s food or drink, and you are hungry or thirsty, do not ask permission. Just go get it. If we are running out, let me know and we’ll get some more. Be at ease. Everything we have to eat or drink is meant to be shared.” What, they might drink your single-malt? Don’t worry about it. They probably won’t, but if they did, then they took you at your word, which is honorable. I find that people behave very kindly and with restraint when treated this way. I also find that a lot of guests decide they themselves would like to cook something, and that many actually bring things to share. Let them! Everyone wins. Guests feel better when they feel like participants, invited not simply to sleep and eat in your house, but to be members of it. You watch. You don’t have to wait on anyone. When they go to the refrigerator for another beer, they’ll ask if anyone else wants one, you included.
Try out your guest bedroom and bathroom. Yeah, spend a night there yourself per season. Use them. You’ll find out very quickly what’s missing, and what the room needs in what seasons. It’s a sauna in summer? Fans, fans, fans. It’s a Frigidaire in Janury? Quilts, quilts, quilts.
Don’t wait for people to ask you about laundry. Offer it. People don’t really want you to handle their laundry, so make up some crap. Explain that you are doing laundry today, and it would be no trouble to fit them into the process. Everyone wants bags full of clean clothes. Have them bring it and stuff it in, fill up the extra space with towels if need be, and run it. Have them come down and switch it to the dryer when it’s time–they do the switching, you handle the controls. When it’s done, just tell them. They can get out their own laundry; they don’t need help.
Don’t hesitate to ask them to help with minor stuff. Every guest worth a damn would like to contribute some form of participatory help with anything that’s needed. No, you aren’t going to ask them to dig trenches or log a forest, but if there’s a piece of furniture that you suddenly have all the hands on deck to move, ask them.
Comfort over fancy and ostentatious, every time. Don’t buy a flashy guest bed; go ahead and use the old one, but put memory foam or something on it. Load it up with excessive pillows (any more than four per person is a little extreme). Fancy coverings? Faaaaaa. Use one of the quilts Grandma made, the ones that are a little worn and real and crafted. Put some bath salts in the guest bathroom and pointedly suggest that if they want to take a salted bath, they should do so. Expensive snacks and drinks? Nah, just a good selection: dairy, fruit, soda, libations. None of it has to be spendy. It is better that it be plentiful, so that they feel un-self-conscious about having all they want.
Welcome them into your regular life. Too many hosts work too hard at making every moment special. I have had guests who had just come from busy people-filled weekends and were eager to chill, relax, recharge. They didn’t have any great yearning to do anything. No problem! Adults don’t want to be baby-sat and squired around. As long as they know what the options are for activities, that’s good enough. One of the best visits I had back home to the ranch in Kansas occurred in the middle of the grape harvest. Deb was surprised to find us all getting ready to pick grapes. I explained that this was Kansas agriculture, as played with live ammunition: when it’s time to get the crop in, the crop will not wait. And we had a blast. We were part of the ranch’s regular life, and when we had absolutely amazing beef brisket that night, we felt great about gorging on our share. Whatever’s going on, let your friends play their roles in it. There is a subtle dynamic in which people enjoy good things more if they feel they have earned them. No need to manufacture it, but if it happens naturally, don’t fight it.
I don’t give a shit if your home is tiny or gigantic, nor should you. Whether you live in an Airstream or a mansion doesn’t matter. The best you can do is the best you can do, and if you do it, that shows your pride in your home. I have stayed in mansions and I’ve stayed in trailers. I’d rather stay in a relaxed trailer than in a mansion where I felt like I had to maintain a steel rod up my posterior. I think most would say the same. There is no home that cannot be made kind and welcoming and hospitable.
The embarrassed guest whose embarrassment is treated with tact and silence will never forget you for it. People get sick during travel; stuff happens. Find a way to make them as comfortable as possible, however they are feeling. Want to make a friend for life? Clean up their puke, without complaint, and never mention it again.
Ask no one into your home, and allow no one into your home, whom you are not prepared to trust. You cannot do trust halfway in your home. Either you believe your guests would not pick up and pocket a loose penny, much less a $100 bill, or they don’t belong. Trust your guests, or do not let them in. Don’t do it halfway. I have in-laws who can never, never, ever return to my home again. No, they did not steal. They did something infinitely more loutish. Which leads to…
The unpardonable sin is to impair the hospitality of your home for others. The drunk who becomes scary and violent, the taunter who cruelly hurts others, anyone who ruins all that is good and welcoming about your home–fuck them. Yes, I mean kick them out. Don’t ever let them back in. Most often they are family, long accustomed to being pardoned for bad behavior toward better men and women than themselves, taking the approach: “I am a complete asshole. I am permitted to be a complete asshole, and no one may object. If they object, I would Be Angry. I expect people to put my feelings above those of others, even though I deserve the least consideration, and I in fact deserve to be kicked in the testicles. This is how I go through life: being a Class B Dick, based upon the implied threat of escalation to Class A Dick.”
Nope. Think of everyone else, think of the honor of your home, and throw them out. Advise them never to return. Never, never, never sacrifice the good guys to make the bad guys happy. This is your home. Defend it. Take out the trash.
And treat the good guys and gals like they belong. If I can summarize it in one sentence, I guess that’s it.