Being a good guest – not so simple.
Summer is guest season for lots of us in Maine, and just as likely we’re guests of someone else when we hit the road. We’ve all seen it from both ends – being guests, and hosting guests – and over the years I’ve been compiling mental notes on how to be a very good guest, whether it’s for a single dinner or for a long weekend.
More often than not, guests are family or close friends, but now and then you might pick up a “stray” – someone who’s sort of a friend whom you haven’t seen in awhile. In any case, I’ve got some thoughts on how to visit people with real host-pleasing “guest-pitality” that will have them welcoming you back for more.
Main Idea: have a good time, give a good time.
Know your host’s space and pace. If you know your hosts pretty well, you can already anticipate how it will “feel” inside the house – the excitement and volume levels, the pace and energy of how they do things. Everyone can tweak their own behavior a bit, so adjust accordingly. If they’re quiet and contemplative, join in the silence and let it breathe. If they want crackling conversation, you can crank it up a notch. Remember, it’s their turf, and they don’t want to turn the place – or their lives – upside down when company comes. And one more thing: turn your smart phone off.
Don’t help too much. A few hosts love lots of help. Most of the time, though, hosts prefer to be hosting and doing most of (if not all) the work. When a host cooks, he/she almost never wants help. He/she also can’t talk to you because cooking takes focus. Give your hosts plenty of room when they’re at the stove. And then the dishes thing. We had guests once who insisted on doing the dishes after supper. We said, no thanks, no guests in our house ever do dishes (true fact!). They insisted. We said, no. They pushed ahead, and we said Please NO! They got up from the table and loaded the dishwasher anyway as some kind of weird power play, in violation of our three “nos,” misloaded the top rack so a wine glass broke, and we’d really rather they didn’t come back.
Seek cross-gender balance. Frequently guests will be another couple, and just as frequently the men pair off and let the women do their thing. That can happen for brief periods of time, but it shouldn’t dominate the visit. Take a chance and spend some quality time with your opposite sex host.
Conversation skills: tougher than you think
People have written books on good conversational skills. Let’s start with what can go wrong…
Joe (host): My wife and I had a fun morning. We took our boat down the river —
Jim (guest): HANH?! [infraction: interruption]
Joe: I was saying, we took our boat down the river, got some great photos —
Jim: You have a boat? What kind of boat is it? Is it a big boat? What kind of photos? [infraction 1: interruption. infraction 2: multiple questions]
Joe: It’s a little runabout with a ten-horse. We bought it last summer and —
Jim: I never had a boat, I had an ATV when I was a kid, we cruised all over the place and got into all kinds of trouble, and later I got a little Honda motorbike…(etc. etc.) [infraction 1: interruption. infraction 2: turning the conversation to yourself. infraction 3: ranting monologue]
*SIGH.* Yes, I made this all up, but I’ve also been a party to “conversations” like this enough times to acquire some expertise in naming the infractions. So let me give you my own rant on how to engage in quality conversation.
Be interested and interesting. Be engaged, and engaging. Try to share “speaking space” fifty-fifty with the other person. If they have a long story to tell, go with it and let them finish. If you’re having dinner for four, have one conversation among all of you, no more (dinner for six? it’s okay to have two people break apart for their own talk for awhile). Ask one question at a time, and don’t ask too many in one sitting. Build on what the other person says so that you can explore new ideas together. Keep “free advice” to yourself – wait to be asked what you think. No whining, no kvetching, no TMI, no criticizing of other people, no interrupting, elevate the dialogue past kids-dogs-movies-restaurants into new ideas, fresh thinking.
There are people who talk mostly about things. There are people who talk mostly about other people. And then there are those who focus on concepts and helpful information (best!). Learn from others when you talk, and let them learn from you.
Have a good time, give a good time.
End of rant.
(my photos here)