Last update on December 17, 2018

Some expats refer to it as the fish phenomenon: after three days even the best guest, just like fish, goes off. We offer some tips on how to keep your house ‘fish-free’.

Some expats refer to it as the fish phenomenon: after three days even the best guest, just like fish, goes off.  Unfortunately many of us have learnt the hard way that there is more than a little truth to the fishiness factor, but the reality for many expats is that we do receive more visitors than the average person and somehow we have to cope with it.  Half the time it’s pure joy to see old friends and family who have made the effort to come and see you in your new environment, but when those fishy smells enter your home after a few days, you wonder how on earth you’ve let this happen to you.

If you’re the lucky sod who only has impeccably behaved guests, stop reading and don’t let the rest of us know about your perfect life.  For those who tend to have more, oh, let’s go with “flawed” visitors, keep reading.  In order to keep your house fish-free during their visit, here are some things to consider.

Identify your drug of choice

And stock up. This is a crucial step in ensuring not only your own survival, but also in maintaining relationships with your guests after their visit. That’s if you still want to, of course. Whether it’s wine, chocolates or afternoon naps, I guarantee a higher level of sanity with it than without.

Identify their drug of choice

If it’s not the same as the one you’ve identified as the one that will render them most pleasant/harmless/fun/comatose, go with your choice. It’s for their own good after all (isn’t it?). Besides, it’s your house – you’re the one who gets to distribute the necessary drugs.

Escape when necessary

And don’t feel guilty about escaping. Or anything else, for that matter.

Don’t try an ambitious recipe for the first time

It’s called TOO. MUCH. STRESS.

Resist the urge to be a hotel

If they’re true friends and really keen to catch up with you, they won’t expect multiple fresh towels every day, chocolates on their pillows or any über-special treatment.

20 golden rules for guests

And then there’s the somewhat longer note to guests. Obviously based on rigorous research, observations and long stories from fellow-victims. Also called 20 golden rules for any house guest (OR all those things we all dream of telling our guests, but never will…)

  1. Firstly, don’t bring along your mother, aunt, step-father or second cousin when your hosts have never met them.
  2. Photo albums or stories filled with details of people your hosts don’t know or care about should be kept to a minimum. I’m sure your aunt Sue is great fun and your cousin looks a little like Clooney (actually, I’m pretty certain he doesn’t), but that’s all I need to know.
  3. Contribute. This is not a hotel or a free holiday. If that’s what motivated you, you’ve started off being a bad fish before you’ve even arrived. Most likely you won’t be invited back (hey, were you invited in the first place?)
  4. It’s not okay to raid your hosts’ kitchen cupboards when you feel like a snack in the middle of the afternoon/night. There’s a novel idea called “finding the closest grocery store”.
  5. But okay, we all get hungry at inopportune times, right? So, if you have been unable to resist a raid of the cupboards, you should probably know that it’s even worse to eat all but a few crumbs of the snack you’ve found and to put the packet with crumbs back in the cupboard.
  6. If you’ve made yourself guilty of rule 4) and 5) above, it’s kind of a good gesture to replace the empty packets/crumbs with new, full packets. And no, if you’ve eaten the caviar, you can’t replace it with tinned sardines.
  7. If you’ve actually found a grocery store or bakery, it’s not the best idea to buy one pastry or food item for yourself only.
  8. Steer clear of putting away the clean dishes – most likely you’ll get it wrong and your hosts will curse the fact that they can’t find the serving spoons for weeks after you’ve left. There are plenty of other ways to show appreciation.
  9. Don’t play with appliances, tools or, for that matter, any knobs, buttons and levers you’re not familiar with.  The results are never good.
  10. Don’t hog the washing machine for your entire visit.
  11. Leave the bathroom clean after you’ve used it. That includes the toilet.
  12. Dusty toe prints on furniture, car seats, counters, tables, coffee tables, books etc. will probably not bring about fond memories of you, so keep those toes firmly on the floor.
  13. Even if the sofa looks extremely comfortable and even if you feel right at home, don’t claim it for your daily, lengthy (and occasionally noisy) afternoon naps.
  14. When your hosts have cooked something, don’t tell them about the last time you cooked the same thing and how delicious it was. It’s rude to sing the praises of your own food when you’re enjoying someone else’s efforts. Full stop.
  15. Share the bill and/or occasionally treat your hosts when you go out.  And don’t sulk when the food isn’t prepared exactly like back home. The point of travelling is that it’s not home, capiche?
  16. Look at the menu when you go out. It may even be in English and if it isn’t, you’re still not a lord.  Difficult as it is to believe, those around you aren’t simply waiting to take care of your every need.
  17. De-fish the air by being independent. Even if you just go for a walk, you need to give your hosts some space and time to remember how much they like you.
  18. Don’t talk with your mouth full. Seriously, don’t.
  19. There’s more: please, please don’t suck your teeth, slurp or use your fork (especially one that’s been in your mouth already) to fish for another morsel in the serving dish. It’s neither pretty nor acceptable.
  20. Be interested in your hosts.  Isn’t that why you came to visit them? Not talking about yourself the whole time is an excellent exercise in restraint.


In fact, despite starting to feel like I’m channelling Emily Post here, and despite the fact that this list could go on and on, I’m going to do the same and restrain myself.  If you’re an expat, I bet you could add a few rules of your own here or that you have fantasies about rules you’d like to make known to the wider universe of house guests.  And although both your list and mine have most likely been created as a result of having less than perfect visitors, I’m sure, like me, you still find yourself looking forward to the arrival of guests.  Having said that, let’s also agree that in certain cases the departure always turns out to be better than the arrival…