Holidays: How to House Guest for the Holidays

By Marni Jameson | Author

A few quick rules to follow that might just get you invited back

A friend called recently in a bit of a huff. “You should write a column,” he said, “on what more houseguests need to know.”

A widower, my friend lives part time at his second home at the beach, where he has a steady stream of company. Apparently, many people assume that a man alone at a beach house must be in want of guests. He’s not.

If your party guests tend to stay late, and you have to be at work early, you may want to keep a stash of these meant-to-be-a-joke-sort-of cocktail napkins on hand.  House guests also should be sensitive about overstaying — remember the three-day rule. COURTESY OF MARNI JAMESON

“I mean, doesn’t everyone know the three-day rule?” he says, referring to the maxim that after three days, both guests and fish start to stink.

Apparently not, because a couple he knew had just told him they would like to come for a week. “Oh, I did my best to dissuade them,” he said. “I told them about my two cats and ornery dog, the limited restaurant options … .”

They came anyway — with their dog. He endured. They’re still friends.

But his story reminded me how touchy this guest business can be. I recently invited some girlfriends to my house for a quick meet-and-greet to welcome a new neighbor. The happy-hour reception started at 5 p.m. My friends didn’t leave till 11 p.m., which I took as a compliment. What was funny to us, wasn’t to our husbands, though. Mine had sequestered himself upstairs for what he thought might be an hour or two and thought he’d never get out. Another drove by to make sure his wife hadn’t been kidnapped.

The runaway evening prompted one guest to drop by the next day with a set of paper cocktail napkins that read, “Please leave by 9.”

“You need these,” she said. We cracked up.

Hosts want to be gracious. Guests want to be considerate. But the success of any host-guest get-together depends on many unwritten (though we’re going to write them here) rules.

So, on behalf of all the long-suffering holiday hosts out there, I am presenting a list of 15gentle reminders for future overnight guests to note.

To compile the list, I tapped the two deepest wells of knowledge I know: the savvy, sophisticated women in my book club, all consummate entertainers, and my Facebook friends. They embraced the task and came up with this collective wisdom on how not to be “that” guest.

Ask, don’t assume >> Mention you are looking to come to town, then wait to be invited. If you hear radio silence, book a room.

Be clear about your timing >> “Don’t be loosey-goosey with your arrival and departure schedule,” said one friend. “It matters for meals and planning.” Hosts have lives, too.

Don’t arrive early >> And don’t overstay.

Don’t count on a ride >> With the easy availability of Uber and Lyft, don’t expect your hosts to provide a courtesy airport shuttle. The exception is elderly family or friends who don’t use ride apps.

Mind your shoes >> Not everyone wants your shoes in their homes. Ask when you enter what the host prefers, or look around the entryway to see whether others have removed their shoes.

Mind your own business >> Don’t snoop. Don’t rummage through the medicine chest to cure whatever ails you. And don’t look in your host’s pantry, then tell her how much sugar is in her food.

Take your stuff home >> Don’t leave toiletries or personal items behind, so “it will be there next time you visit.” Uhh, your hosts may have visitors other than you.

Don’t say you’re up for anything when you’re really not >> Plan some activities you would like, so your host isn’t responsible for your entertainment.

Pitch in >> Set and clear the table. Do the dishes. Offer to cook. Buy groceries.

Be neat >> Don’t leave your stuff lying around the house.

Speak up about your diet issues >> “I’m over guests who don’t say they have food allergies or aversions,” one friend said. “Then when the meal you prepare isn’t something they can eat, they say, ‘Oh, but I didn’t want to be difficult,’ because then they are!”

Be respectful >> Don’t change the TV to your news channel. Don’t reorganize the dishes in the dish washer because you like your way better.

Be sensitive to morning routines >> If you’re up early and your host isn’t, keep the noise down and make your own coffee. Make some for them, too.

Deal with your dirty laundry >> Hang up your wet towels. Ask whether your host would like you to strip or make the bed when you leave, because you’re not going to leave the bed unmade with dirty sheets, right?

Be good company >> Knowing that the person who talks the most has the best time, ask your hosts about their lives. Listen more, talk less and everyone wins.

Marni Jameson is the author of six home and lifestyle books, including “Downsizing the Family Home — What to Save, What to Let Go.” Reach her at

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