It's that time of the year again...the temperatures drop, the leaves fall, off the trees, and that's how we know. It's Guest season! Yes, indeed, it is that special time of the year, when people who do not actually live in your house show up to eat your food, drink your beer/wine/beverages, steal your comfy chair, and use your bathroom.
I dread it. It horrifies me, the thought of anyone invading my "inner sanctum", mostly because my child has about 4,000 toys strewn all about, including an infinite number of tiny Lego pieces. I can't even contemplate cleaning all that up; it gives me a migraine. I certainly don't want my parents here, because my mother is one of those extreme clean freaks. The sight of my living room would likely cause her to have a conniption. So no people over this Guest Season. I will instead be the Guest.
My parents were serious about their visiting. My brother and I seemed to be constantly dragged to different houses in different places, my mother speaking to us firmly as my father drove. Mostly her lectures referred to what would happen to us if we broke anything, but some tips for being a good Guest seem to have stuck with me. I thought that, on the eve of Guest season, that I would share.
1. If this is your first visit to a house, bring a gift. It doesn't have to be anything extravagant; I usually bring a bottle of moderately priced wine. A friend of mine brings a small framed photograph of flowers. Whatever. A small gift immediately starts your first Guest appearance on a positive note; everyone loves to get presents. There is also the very old tradition that says that if the host accepts a gift, the visitor is under the host's protection for the duration of their visit. That protection may come in handy if you forget that your Aunt Edna's new husband is a rabid member of the NRA and the discussion gets heated.
2. Ask not what your hostess can do for you, ask what you can do for her. Be as agreeable as possible. Don't start telling the cook that she's putting too much oregano in the stuffing. Don't criticize the color palette of the home's decor. Don't park yourself in the host's favorite chair. Don't demand that the hostess rise at 5am to make you coffee. Instead, always try to fit in with the routines of the household. Offer to help with food preparation. Clean up after yourself in the bathroom. If you are an early riser, ask the hostess to show you how to operate the coffee maker and where she keeps the sugar. These may seem like little things, but they go a long way in making your hostess' life easier. This makes it more likely that you will be invited back, which is very important if the hostess makes the best damn poppyseed cake on the planet.
3. Diet is important, but try not to be a jerk about it. If you have dietary restrictions, let the hostess know as soon as you accept the invitation so there is time to adjust the menu. Otherwise, eat what is put on the table. Nothing insults a hostess more than when an invited guest won't eat the food they've spent hours preparing. You do not have to choke down huge helpings of everything, but a tablespoon of corn casserole is not going to hurt you. You might even like some of it, and expand your palate. While it might be part of your weight-loss program, there is absolutely no need to ruin the meal for everyone else by revealing the number of calories in each bite.
4. Send a thank-you note after your visit. NOT an email. Not a phone call. Certainly not a text message. An honest-to-goodness handwritten note, written by you or a family member, thanking the host for inviting you into their home. Describe at least one thing that you enjoyed about your visit, even if it was only the green jello salad with the carrots in it. For those who are challenged by writing, here is a form:
Dear Aunt Edna,
Thank you so much for inviting me to your home for the holidays. I really enjoyed visiting with you and your new husband. Sorry about that bullet hole above the credenza. I particularly liked the corn casserole; perhaps one day you might share the recipe?
Three sentences and you are all done! That minor in English finally paid off.
Did I forget any other tips for being a good guest?