4 Jul 2024

Country Life for City Slickers

Britain is 85 per cent urbanised, and for all of us town- and city-dwellers the countryside is an alluring prospect of escape, a place where we can indulge in rural pursuits and tranquillity. But we are merely visitors in the countryside and do not depend on it for our livelihoods; it is all too easy for us to see it as a kind of theme park, open to visitors, rather than a place where people live and work, which can lead to culture clashes. We’ve looked at ways in which city-dwellers and people who live in the countryside can interact in a positive way.

How to be a Country House Guest

For a traditional weekend in the country, guests are expected to arrive on the Friday night in time for dinner. If it is not going to be possible to arrive in time for dinner, they can suggest they will arrive late on Friday (having already eaten) or cone on Saturday in time for lunch. The usual time to leave would be after lunch on Sunday, or possibly after tea, but do not expect a Sunday night supper. Know the code: “Stay for lunch on Sunday” means “leave soon afterwards”.

If you are running late, call ahead in good time. If you are arriving by train, you will probably be met at the station, but check first, and offer to get a taxi.

•Come Bearing Gifts

Wine is usually very welcome, but don’t be offended if the wine is put away and not offered – it might not go with the menu or other wines. A bottle of chilled champagne is always a safe option.

Bringing food and drink is not suitable for a very formal or grand house party but may be much appreciated on other occasions.

You can always avoid any potential awkwardness by bringing small gifts for the hosts’ children.

Alternatively, it may be more considerate to offer to take the hosts out for lunch on Saturday.

•Come Equipped

Your hosts may have informed you in advance of their plans (horse-riding, golf, a long walk etc). If they have not done so, you should certainly make sure that you have got appropriate footwear and waterproof clothing.

Dress according to the grandeur of the house. A country cottage won’t require black tie, but a stately home just might. Your hosts should alert you to any planned formal events.

•What about the Dog?

It is essential to ask your hosts first as the host’s dogs may not like other dogs on their territory. The exception would be a shooting dog, but always asks first.

Guests should bring their own dog’s food, basket etc. They should not bring dogs that are used to sleeping on the bed; this may be beyond the pale for many hosts who like to ensure the bedrooms are a dog-free zone.

•The Ideal Guest

The ideal guest is always easy-going and compliant and fits in enthusiastically with plans made for their entertainment.

You will no doubt be told to “make yourself at home” but don’t interpret this literally. That means following the rhythm of the hosts, getting up in time for breakfast, being sociable, and not expecting hotel-style facilities – plumbing, for example, may be antiquated and unpredictable (rural areas are more likely to experience power cuts) so taking endless hot baths is not recommended.

Food should not be taken from the kitchen or drinks from the fridge and ask first before you make a cup of tea. Offer to help with cooking and washing up (even though you will probably be turned down).

Don’t leave your possessions lying around in communal spaces and be meticulous about removing muddy footwear before entering the house.


If there are household staff, they should be tipped. On departure, a tip is left on the dressing table, either in an envelope or just on its own, or ask the host for advice.

•Say Thank You

It is essential that you write a note of thanks within a day or two of your departure (avoid emails and texts). As well as showing your gratitude, you should refer to something specific about the weekend that you enjoyed (a particularly enjoyable walk, delicious dinner, fascinating outing etc)

If you have transgressed in any way during your visit (eg drunk too much on Saturday night or spoiled the evening because of a strident argument with a fellow guest), now is the time to apologise.

Guide for City Slickers

Are you an urban animal who feels adrift in the countryside?


•Come prepared for all eventualities, not least inclement weather. Waterproof clothing and wellington boots are essential; white linen trousers and leather loafers will soon look laughably bedraggled and mud-splattered.

•Remember that – unlike the mean streets of our big cities – where everyone does their utmost not to engage in conversation or eye contact, in the countryside it is customary to smile, greet people and even exchange a few words.

•Accept that life in the countryside is much more slow-paced, and that includes the driving. Hurtling through country lanes at breakneck speeds is extremely dangerous. Step off the treadmill and take the time to really appreciate the tranquil sights and sounds.

•Remember that visiting the countryside is an olfactory experience. If you’re accustomed to nothing more than traffic fumes, you will be assaulted by the scent of wildflowers and freshly cut hay but also by less pleasant odours – animal droppings, manure, cow pats, silage. Gagging into your handkerchief is a real give-away.


•You will be a bit of a laughing stock if you visit the countryside kitted out for activities that you have no intention of pursuing. Jodhpurs, riding boots, thigh-length waders and so on are practical items of country clothing not fashion statements.

•Banging on about yourself and your wonderfully stimulating city life isn’t going to cut any ice at a country house dinner. Do people the courtesy of showing an interest in their lives and preoccupations, ask plenty of questions and listen attentively.

•Wandering disconsolately around a country house or garden with your mobile raised above your head as you try and get a signal is not a good look. Everybody knows that the WiFi signal is dodgy in rural areas; making a song and dance about it is just rude.

•Inflicting your latest list of food intolerances, fads, diets and fitness regimes on your fellow guests may be met with dismay. Most people who live in the countryside are proud of their range of local products and are fit because they walk everywhere, ride or engage in vigorous land management. Your fastidious lifestyle choices will betray you as a real city slicker, and a self-preoccupied one at that.

Not a Fan of the Countryside?

Here’s how to ensure that you will be seen as irredeemably urban and not invited back:

•RSVP and arrive late, bearing a sad bunch of petrol station flowers or, better still, nothing.

•Announce that you are a vegetarian. Time your revelation to coincide with the carving of Sunday lunch.

•Complain about the cold. County house inhabitants pride themselves on their hardiness. If you really want to put their backs up, moan about the lack of central heating and double glazing and sit hunched next to the fire in multiple woolly layers.

•Make loud comments about the one-toothed local in the village pub. Then order a martini.

•Refuse to walk anywhere and insist on using your car. Then complain vociferously about potholes, mud splattering and the paucity of EV charging points.

•Talk about nothing other than yourself, preferably down your mobile phone (IF you manage to get a signal) to someone back in town.

Click here to download our Debrett's Guide to Country Pursuits


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