24 Dec 2022

Make yourself at home?

When you are a guest in somebody else’s house you are on their territory. They may have invited you to share their space, but it is primarily theirs and you must respect that. No matter what travesties of taste, awkward room layouts, chaotic clutter or poor housekeeping you encounter, you must resolutely keep your thoughts to yourself. Hosts will, of course, insist that you make yourself at home, but this is a customary polite gesture and shouldn’t be taken literally. There are a myriad of ways in which you can cross the invisible boundary into unacceptable behaviour, turning yourself from welcome visitor into nightmare guest.

Most of us will know these things instinctively, but it is worth mentioning a few of the worst offences:

• As a guest you have no right to rearrange, alter or ‘improve’ any aspect of the host’s home. If you have been given a guest bedroom, it will temporarily become your own territory, so it is acceptable to reposition a chair or move excess pillows to a sofa, but only if you remember to put everything back precisely as you found it.

• Leave your room looking reasonably tidy in the morning – a host might be discouraged or downcast if they happen to see their carefully prepared guest room in a state of chaos and dereliction.

• When it comes to leaving, ask the host about the bedding. Some hosts will appreciate you stripping the sheets and duvet cover, but that is not inevitably the case. If you are leaving the bedding intact, make sure that the bed looks neat and tidy.

• In communal areas of the house – for example the living room, you must not alter anything – that means steering clear of moving around the furniture, rearranging cushions, moving side tables or using your laptop to create a desk area in a communal room.

• Bathrooms are a particularly dangerous area: you should never change the position of the loo roll in the holder (end of the roll hanging on the exterior or the interior – the jury’s still out on this vital question, and there is no ‘right’ way to arrange it). Don’t clutter up bathroom shelves with all your own toiletries – it’s better to keep them in a washbag, which you can either leave discreetly in the bathroom, or carry back and forth.

• Clean up after yourself. If you have a bath or shave in a shared bathroom, give the surface of the bath or basin a quick wipe to ensure you have not left any tell-tale scum or tide marks.

• Never treat the house like a hotel, where housekeeping will clean up all your messes and spillages – if you accidentally squirt some toothpaste on the mirror, for example, don’t leave it for someone else to clean up. Take responsibility for your own mess and clean it up yourself.

• After you have used your towels take them back to the room and find somewhere to leave them to dry. Don’t clutter up a communal bathroom with additional towels.

•While it’s fine to use a host’s toothpaste, shower gel or soap, restrain yourself from ferreting around the bathroom shelves and cupboards and don’t use the host’s own body lotions, shaving soap, shampoo and conditioner. If you have exclusive use of a guest bathroom, which is equipped with plentiful toiletries, the assumption is that you are being invited to use them.

• The kitchen is the host’s domain. You should never open a fridge or cupboard in a host’s house and help yourself to food unless you are invited to do so. The same goes for making your own tea or coffee – most hosts will show you where to find basics, breakfast cereals, bread etc. and invite you to help yourself, but you must wait until they do so.

• While many hosts will welcome your help in the kitchen and appreciate it if you offer to lay and clear the table or load the dishwasher, you should defer to the hosts at all times, ask “is there anything I can do?” or make a gesture towards giving a helping hand (eg starting to gather up the dirty plates from the table). If the host doesn’t want your help, they will tell you so.

• Respect your host’s space and do not leave any of your own clutter lying around. Ask where you should put dirty shoes, wellington boots, or coats. Never sling a discarded jacket over the bannisters or on a convenient chair. If you’re drinking tea or coffee, carry dirty cups through to the kitchen. Don’t leave books, or half-read magazines or newspapers scattered around the living area.

• If you find that your host’s home does not match up to your own exacting standards of tidiness and cleanliness, you must resolutely refuse to do anything about it. Unless you are explicitly requested to help out, you should never rearrange your host’s possessions, tidy up the living room, reorder d the bookshelves, polish their neglected bathroom fittings, or scrub their bath and tiles. All these actions, which might have been undertaken with the best of intentions, will look like a reproach to the host.

• Every host will want you to feel comfortable in their home, but they will also not want to feel that you have colonised their territory, leaving irrefutable evidence of your presence wherever you go.

A wise guest is a model of tact and discretion, who shares the host’s space with a light touch and leaves no discernible trace of their stay.


MPA House
66 Baker Street
Weybridge KT13 8AL
United Kingdom
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MPA House
66 Baker Street
Weybridge KT13 8AL
United Kingdom
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