The perfect guest

28th July 2003, Comments 0 comments

They say that guests, like fish, start to go off in three days. Here's Marius Benson's guide to keep them smelling sweet.

All expats in Europe in July are likely to have some things in common - holidays, sunburn, crowded cities.

All that is likely, but one thing is near certain - guests.

When the tilt of the earth means the North Pole is closer to the sun than the south, when those weeks in late June see European temperatures rising above Australian, the exodus begins.

Across the Atlantic the temperatures are rising, but the pattern is the same. Summer is the time for Europe. The time to nervously call that person you shared an hour with in a Greyhound station three summers back. You parted then saying drop in anytime, and now is the time to cash in that half-invitation.

All expats at some time get the call: "Hi, Jack....Frank here - no you never knew my surname - we were stranded at O'Hare for four hours in '97...Yeah great.....Not much....Look I was just wondering, I'm heading for Europe..."

 Some travellers when faced with the expense of a European holiday get resourceful, others just get cheap - and they see you as an economy measure.

This is the most feared of all guests, the shameless freeloader.

Having surprised you into agreeing to a two day stay, they arrive with dates that have stretched that to six. Looking around, they begin to hint that even that might not even be long enough.

"Great place you've got here - how many channels you get? It'll be great just to get a chance to wash these clothes...Look you'll be out most of the day, mind if I just send off a few emails...Don't worry about me, I'll be no trouble - just give me some city guides and I'll find my own way around -- Oh wow, great coffee, it just costs so much for good coffee here and I'm sick of McDonalds."

Oblivious to the grinding of your teeth he interlopes on, long out-staying his non-welcome. 

Of course there are also the welcome guests. The real friends, the good relatives who bring news of the homeland and chat with you long into the night.

It is a real pleasure to sit around together and fun to show them the sights and the bright lights.

But given the frequency with which guests arrive in these days of mass travel it might be time to draw up a code of conduct for guests and hosts, setting out the rights and duties of stayers and stayees.

A wise person once said that guests are like fish - they go off in three days.

Not a bad first rule.

 Another rule for guests might be to volunteer assistance but accept that the host might rather do things their own way in their own house. Hosts might really not want you to clean up if the price is that they can find nothing in their own kitchen.

Likewise unless you are a five star chef, don't insist on taking your turn at the cooking.

Hosts can make up their own mind how much help is really helpful on the domestic front. Much better to take the hosts out for a meal than prepare one in their home.

On entertainment guests should be at least partly self-sufficient and not sit around on the lounge waiting to be taken by the hand on the next outing.

Don't push your luck is a good, general guideline. Access to the host's computer should not be expected unless you are very inner circle.

And finally, leave a little more than you take. Much better to leave a large bunch of flowers and a bottle of wine than simply leaving a host with the impression that they were basically an economy measure.

As for the host's duties - clean sheets, clean towel and a welcoming disposition.

And for those hosts who look at each other in mute despair as the guest makes - "just a really quick call back home" - remember even ET finally went home.

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