My dear friend from college left Wednesday, after spending two weeks here. And David and I would have been happy if she decided to stay even longer, because she was the best guest ever! The secret? We gave each other space and she didn't expect to be entertained/doted upon 24/7. She was extremely thoughtful and respectful of our time. Plus she happens to be an intelligent, interesting woman, who's very engaging and curious about her surroundings.
One of the things we talked about is key attributes both for being a gracious host and a good house guest. Both of us grew up in the South, where manners are important. I told her about the tongue-in-cheek article Weekends only I'd written, after a particularly difficult guest came to stay.
The thing about being an expat living in Europe is that you have a never-ending stream of visitors. Over the years we have had many many guests, who were an absolute pleasure to host. But after a few unpleasant experiences with clueless individuals who took advantage of us - including those indicated below - we grew weary of acting as an unpaid bed-and-breakfast and started saying "No!" to other than the occasional good friends, experienced travelers or family.
Over-staying your welcome
In Paris, I lost count of how many guests came to stay, not all of them welcome. Two days after I'd returned from Nepal, a long-time friend arrived, supposedly for three days. She announced she had no money or credit cards, then changed her flight to stay even longer! She planned to take a train to Strasbourg to see a man who was playing mind games with her. But she didn't believe me when I said she needed advance reservations for a Thalys train; insisting she could just hop on any train at any time. And the man-in-question kept toying with her and ignoring her messages. So she stayed with us for eight days, obsessively dithering over the not-worth-her-time loser. Consequently, we had no choice but to finance her stay.
I practically had to force her to leave by phoning a taxi to take her to the airport, as later that day David and I were going by train to Amsterdam. My friend later sent a series of emails and tweets from Jerusalem, suggesting I was the "hostess from hell" and berating me for not letting her remain in our apartment while we traveled.
A woman I knew casually (we'd never even had lunch together) via my office in San Francisco came to see us in London, en route to France. She'd purportedly lined up odd jobs in various towns and planned to work her way to Italy. She asked if she could leave luggage containing camping equipment behind, saying she'd send for it shortly. After a few days, she abandoned her plans and returned to the US. And we had to move the bag with us to Paris. It stayed in our cave (wine cellar) for three years, before I insisted she retrieve it. In the interim she came to Paris twice and failed to contact us.
An American lawyer from my Spanish course in Seville showed up - ostensibly for three days while she spent time with a French guy from our class - only to cancel her planned trip to Ireland and stay an entire week. Oddly, she met the French guy only once for tea. Guess any notion of romance proved a figment of her imagination. She then had dinner with us every night. When we took her to an elegant restaurant, she didn't offer even to pay for the wine. Basically she had an eight-day holiday in Paris at our expense!
If you never want to be invited back, these schemes are foolproof:
Have your hosts make dinner reservations for a Saturday night (essential in a city like Paris). Your hosts will get dressed up to go out, but you don't turn up in time to make the reservation. This forces the hosts to cancel reservations, rush to the supermarket 30 minutes before it closes and cook dinner. But you're on holiday, so everyone else can accommodate your changing whims.
Come to an elegantly-set table in your bare feet, even though your hosts are dressed for the occasion.
Start eating before everyone at the table has been served.
Ask if you should tell an off-colour story at dinner and when told no, do it anyway, (leaving everyone with unpleasant images lingering in their minds).
Drink too much, talk loudly and constantly ask for your glass to be refilled. You're on vacation, so it doesn't matter how much you drink!
Dip your French baguette in your wine glass (!) and drop wine on the vintage linen tablecloth, creating huge stains. No doubt your hosts will laugh all the way to the drycleaner!
Ask for seconds of the main course, then, after the cheese course and dessert, ask if there's more food.
Cut the rinds off your cheese and arrange them on the cheese tray, rather than on your own plate. So creative!
Offer to help with the dishes, then bring two plates to the kitchen and leave the others for the hostess to clear and wash and dry by hand. She loves waiting on you!
Try to converse with the hostess when she is washing dishes, etc. At this point, chances are she has nothing polite to say to you.
Shout from one room to the next and expect your hostess to 1) hear you and 2) respond, while she is hand-washing and drying crystal glasses.
After a long, hot day walking around the city, take your shoes and stinky socks off and leave them under the coffee table. Put your dirty feet on a French linen-covered chair that's 170 years old. Another visit to the drycleaner or possibly the upholsterer?
Eat greasy potato chips while sitting in the same antique chair (see above).
Set your steaming mug of coffee on the 1940s glass coffee table, ignoring the coasters there for that purpose.
After you have had your shower, hog the bathroom putting on makeup, while others wait their turn. Ignore the perfectly nice mirrors in your room.
Arrive with four suitcases for a six-day stay, but forget an important prescription medication. Wring your hands with worry, but refuse to see a local doctor. You seem so anxious that your hostess asks a French pharmacist if they have a mood-stabilizer like the one you were prescribed in the US. In French, she begs the pharmacist to give you the drug; otherwise she'll be obliged to book you into a hotel.
Expect your hosts to drive you to and from the airport and to various towns and tourist attractions - places they wouldn't be going if not for you - but don't offer to purchase petrol.
Insist you're getting up early to run, then go back to sleep after the wake-up knock on your door. Expect your hosts to change their plans to accommodate your revised schedule. It's all good!
Leave your bed unmade and messy, wet towels on the floor and the door open while you're away during the day.
Leave the lights on in every room you depart; European electricity is very expensive, but your hosts are paying, so no worries.
Constantly mutter to yourself as you move around the apartment. Fun!
Spend time on your hosts' computers writing email, but repeatedly complain about the unfamiliar keyboard.
Don't bother to close the door behind you when entering or departing the apartment! That's what a burglar alarm is for, right?
When your hostess escorts you down the metro stairs to buy tickets and show you which train to take, don't offer to carry her heavy cart filled with groceries up or down the stairs. And especially don't offer to reimburse her for the tickets she just purchased for you!
When your hosts are meeting you at the airport and ask you to wait at a specific spot, don't stay there! Wander around while your hosts spend 45 minutes trying to find you (even better if you don't have a phone).
When your hosts ask you NOT to mail a package to them, ignore them! Never mind that they'll have to pay 19 percent tax upon arrival of your belated "hostess gift." (Either bring a hostess gift with you or not. Despite your good intentions, if you must send something after the fact, make it flowers, which won't require paying tax upon arrival).
When your hosts suggest you make event reservations in advance of your trip, pay no attention. Your hosts will be thrilled to help you book last-minute tickets online, while you fret about event times and miniscule price differences of said tickets.
Talk incessantly and/or constantly boast about yourself. After all, could there be a more fascinating topic of conversation??!!
Repeat the same story over and over and expect your hosts to laugh every time.
Take one of your host's stories and over the course of a few days, repeatedly attempt to make a feeble joke about it, even though the story has nothing to do with you.
Talk "at" the chef and distract him while he is preparing dinner, even when it's clear he'd prefer to be left alone while juggling tricky timing of various dishes.
Interfere with your hosts' personal belongings. Make yourself at home! Because it's the last time you'll be invited.
Have you had some unusual experiences with guests in your home? Do tell!