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Being a Pleasant Guest

There are cer­tain rules of behav­ior that are expect­ed in polite com­pa­ny. If you are not pleas­ant com­pa­ny, do not be sur­prised if you are not invit­ed back into someone’s home.

If you have chil­dren, remem­ber that you are always respon­si­ble for your children’s behav­ior. Your chil­dren will find it much eas­i­er to move through their lives if you mod­el these rules of behav­ior and require their use at all times from tod­dler­hood (yes, at home and else­where). If you choose not to do so, at least con­trol their behav­ior when they are out­side your home.

Blood ties do not remove the oblig­a­tion to be polite. In fact, it makes sense to be scrupu­lous­ly cour­te­ous when inter­act­ing with peo­ple with whom you pre­sum­ably have a life­long, impor­tant rela­tion­ship.

  • You are a guest. The home you are in exists for the com­fort and con­ve­nience of its res­i­dents. While good hosts cer­tain­ly want you to be com­fort­able dur­ing your stay, please remem­ber that you do not live in this res­i­dence. Do not treat it as your own home. “Make your­self at home,” is a polite invi­ta­tion to be com­fort­able, not to for­get your man­ners. If you are a very close friend or fam­i­ly mem­ber, “make your­self at home” may tru­ly mean that you are wel­come to do so, and I am assum­ing that you know that from past expe­ri­ence. Do not assume that invi­ta­tion, though, even if you are a very close friend or fam­i­ly mem­ber.
  • If you have any health con­cerns, such as dietary restric­tions or severe aller­gies, make those con­cerns known to your host well in advance of your vis­it.
  • When in a pri­vate res­i­dence, the only things you own are those you brought in with you. If some­thing does not belong to you, and you have not been invit­ed to touch/use/consume it, don’t do so. Ask per­mis­sion. It doesn’t mat­ter what it is, or how unim­por­tant it may seem to you — it may be some­one else’s prize pos­ses­sion. Musi­cal instru­ments are often del­i­cate, valu­able, and very per­son­al. Do not touch or play them with­out a spe­cif­ic invi­ta­tion. Reli­gious items, in par­tic­u­lar, such as objects on a per­son­al altar, are com­plete­ly off-lim­its.
  • Treat oth­er people’s pos­ses­sions with respect and care.
    1. Drinks should not be placed on any sur­face that has not been gen­er­al­ly designed or intend­ed for the prepa­ra­tion, serv­ing or con­sump­tion of food with­out use of a coast­er. Whether or not you use coast­ers in your home, assume that they are in use in oth­ers’ homes, even if you do not see them. Ask for a coast­er, if not nec­es­sary. If the host states that use of coast­ers isn’t nec­es­sary, don’t wor­ry about using one. But don’t ever assume that they aren’t nec­es­sary. Do not ever place food or drink on a piano.
    2. Do not use any object in a way not intend­ed in its design. Cloth nap­kins do not exist for blow­ing your nose. Touch­ing any­thing but food, eat­ing uten­sils or a nap­kin with greasy fin­gers is rude and can dam­age sur­faces. Eat­ing dish­es are not ash­trays. Table knives are not screw­drivers.
    3. If you drop or spill any­thing, clean it up imme­di­ate­ly or noti­fy your host imme­di­ate­ly so that he may do so. This is par­tic­u­lar­ly impor­tant if you drop or spill some­thing on an uphol­stered or car­pet­ed sur­face, as delay may cause stains. On hard floors, a spill might lead to falls.
  • Unless you have been invit­ed to make free with every bit of a res­i­dence, do not enter any area with­out a spe­cif­ic invi­ta­tion to do so. It is gen­er­al­ly safe to assume that com­mon liv­ing areas are open to guests, but do not open any closed doors with­out per­mis­sion. Bed­rooms, in par­tic­u­lar, even if they belong to minor res­i­dents of the home, are pri­vate spaces. Even if the door is open, do not enter that space with­out a spe­cif­ic invi­ta­tion to do so. Open­ing clos­ets or cab­i­nets with­out spe­cif­ic invi­ta­tion to do so is inex­cus­ably rude.
  • If you need some­thing, such as soap, toi­let paper, or a nap­kin, ask polite­ly (and dis­creet­ly, in the case of bath­room sup­plies).
  • Assume that smok­ing is unwel­come in the res­i­dence. If you must smoke, ask the host where you might do so with­out caus­ing any dis­com­fort. Do not take out any tobac­co prod­ucts or acces­sories until you are shown to an area in which you may do so. If you are asked to smoke out­side, do so away from any doors or win­dows, so that your smoke will not drift inside. Dis­pose butts, ash­es or oth­er waste in a trash con­tain­er. Toss­ing butts out­side is irre­spon­si­ble and dis­rep­utable.
  • Humans do not spit in polite com­pa­ny. If you use chew­ing tobac­co, indulge the habit in your own home unless you are specif­i­cal­ly invit­ed to do so else­where.
  • If you use a nap­kin, tis­sue, dis­pos­able cup/plate/cutlery, or emp­ty a drink can or bot­tle, throw it away in a trash can. Ask if the host recy­cles drink cans or bot­tles before dis­card­ing them. Do not leave the trash for your host to clean up unless he or she insists on inter­ven­ing.
  • If you do not care for the food or drink offered, the polite response will always be a vari­a­tion on a sin­cere, “No, thank you.” If your opin­ion and tastes are solicit­ed, offer them in a polite man­ner. Remem­ber, how­ev­er, that you are not in a restau­rant. Even if you have med­ical or nutri­tion­al train­ing, you have not been invit­ed to a social occa­sion to com­ment on oth­ers’ dietary choic­es.
  • If you are invit­ed to help your­self to food or drink, do so. Oth­er­wise, do not open a refrig­er­a­tor, cab­i­nets, pantry, etc.
  • Do not turn on or adjust a tele­vi­sion unless you are invit­ed to do so. One pre­sumes that you are present as a guest because the host wish­es to inter­act with you in a social man­ner. Hav­ing a tele­vi­sion on does not encour­age qual­i­ty inter­ac­tion.
  • If you dam­age any­thing, offer to make repa­ra­tions imme­di­ate­ly and then do so. Fol­low up in a time­ly man­ner. Don’t make some­one ask you to do so, or remind you.
  • Unless the host offers to do so, do not expect that fam­i­ly pets will be con­fined away from your pres­ence dur­ing your vis­it. They live there, you don’t.
  • Do not bring any ani­mal with you unless your host has agreed (BEFORE the vis­it) that the ani­mal is wel­come. If it is wel­come with cer­tain restric­tions, such as that the ani­mal remain out­side, fol­low them. Of course, ser­vice ani­mals are an excep­tion.
  • When inside, please use a rel­a­tive­ly qui­et tone of voice appro­pri­ate to the sit­u­a­tion. Shout­ing is not appro­pri­ate indoors unless there is an emer­gency that requires the atten­tion of every per­son present. Run­ning, jump­ing, climb­ing and throw­ing things are also unwel­come indoors.
  • Arrive on time. That does not mean an hour or two late or even fif­teen min­utes ear­ly. If you do arrive ear­ly, stay out in your car and read or find some­where else to go until the time spec­i­fied on the invi­ta­tion. Your hosts are prob­a­bly cleaning/showering/wandering around naked/arguing, and your pres­ence will not enhance any of these activ­i­ties.
  • If you have been invit­ed to a social event that is cen­tered around a par­tic­u­lar activ­i­ty, such as a game or watch­ing a movie, do not talk over the event or oth­er­wise dis­rupt oth­ers’ enjoy­ment of it. Dur­ing role­play­ing games, while many GMs are fine with you doing some­thing qui­et (stitch­ing, draw­ing, etc.) while you aren’t “in play,” doing some­thing that makes noise (prac­tic­ing a musi­cal instru­ment) or pre­sum­ably takes most of your atten­tion (like read­ing) is very rude.
  • Cer­tain top­ics of con­ver­sa­tion are very like­ly to lead to heat­ed dis­cus­sions. While “nev­er dis­cuss pol­i­tics, sex, or reli­gion” need not be observed strict­ly, it is wise to tread very care­ful­ly when dis­cussing these top­ics or mon­e­tary mat­ters. There is nev­er a rea­son to ask “How much did that cost?” If you know that your views on these mat­ters are very dif­fer­ent from those of your host or oth­ers present, it is best to sim­ply dis­cuss oth­er things. If those top­ics are dis­cussed, remem­ber that there is no “One True Way” observed by every­one, even if you per­son­al­ly believe that such a thing exists. Pros­e­ly­tiz­ing is unwel­come in polite com­pa­ny. Con­ver­sa­tion is not a com­bat sport, and should not be engaged with a goal of “win­ning.” Dis­cus­sion of sex is com­plete­ly inap­pro­pri­ate and unwel­come if minors are present.
  • Big­otry is always rude. Think before speak­ing. I can­not count the num­ber of times peo­ple in our home have made deroga­to­ry com­ments about Mor­mons before find­ing that a mem­ber of our fam­i­ly of choice, usu­al­ly present on these occa­sions, is a mem­ber of the Lat­ter Day Saints. “I was just jok­ing” is not an excuse for big­otry. It is best to sim­ply avoid deroga­to­ry com­ments, par­tic­u­lar­ly those regard­ing reli­gion, race, eth­nic­i­ty, gen­der iden­ti­ty, sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion, polit­i­cal affil­i­a­tion, size, and dietary choic­es.
  • Wipe your feet on the door­mat when enter­ing any res­i­dence, even if you do not think you need to do so. If your shoes are par­tic­u­lar­ly soiled, change them at home or leave them out­side or in the entry­way. If the house­hold cus­tom is to remove shoes in the entry­way, observe it. If your cloth­ing is soiled and you absolute­ly can­not change into clean cloth­ing before your arrival, do not sit on the fur­ni­ture or floor. Ask for a tow­el to sit on if nec­es­sary.
  • Con­tem­po­rary Amer­i­can soci­ety expects that you bathe dai­ly, wear clean cloth­ing, and brush your teeth after meals at the very least. Wear­ing any very strong scent is offen­sive and can present health haz­ards for some peo­ple. Oth­er humans should not be able to smell you at all unless they are prac­ti­cal­ly nuz­zling you.
  • Exte­ri­or doors are to be closed unless your host prefers to leave them stand­ing open. It only takes a moment for pests to come in or fam­i­ly pets to dash out.
  • When invit­ed to din­ner, ask if you should bring a con­tri­bu­tion to the meal—dessert, wine, etc. If your offer is declined, flow­ers are appro­pri­ate. When invit­ed to a less for­mal event, ask if you should bring some­thing. Dur­ing games, for instance, it is always wise to bring the kinds of snacks and drinks you per­son­al­ly pre­fer, pro­vid­ing enough to share with oth­ers. If you are asked to bring some­thing spe­cif­ic, do so. Con­sid­er oth­ers’ tastes—if you are asked, for instance, to bring “wings,” few oth­ers will enjoy the “atom­ic sui­cide” vari­ety.
  • Be sen­si­tive to oth­ers’ stan­dards regard­ing things like alco­holic bev­er­ages. If you do not know that they are wel­come in your host’s home, ask. Some peo­ple have reli­gious objec­tions to them, and oth­ers (such as recov­er­ing alco­holics) have oth­er rea­sons for not want­i­ng them on the premis­es.
  • Do not ever take any ille­gal sub­stances into anyone’s home.
  • Should you be offend­ed by the con­tent of your host’s book­shelves, the art on the walls,the music being played, etc. please remem­ber that this is her home, and her tastes are every bit as valid as yours.
  • If reli­gious cus­toms that you do not nor­mal­ly observe, such as pray­ing before meals or cir­cling, occur dur­ing a social event, be respect­ful. Even if you do not agree with the prayer or deity being addressed, be silent and still dur­ing the prayer. You should not be expect­ed to join in any reli­gious cus­tom that isn’t yours. If you are asked to offer a prayer before a meal and you don’t wish to do so, sim­ply say, “No, thank you.” Fur­ther expla­na­tions are not required. If you wish to join some­thing like a cir­cle and you are not a mem­ber of the host’s faith, ask if you might do so.
  • Should the behav­ior of anoth­er guest offend you, it is best to address grin and bear it if pos­si­ble. If you can’t do so, qui­et­ly speak direct­ly to the oth­er guest about the prob­lem and attempt to come to an under­stand­ing. If you do not feel that you can do so polite­ly, seek a pri­vate audi­ence with your host imme­di­ate­ly to address the issue. You do not have to tol­er­ate rude­ness, but you should give your host the oppor­tu­ni­ty to cor­rect the sit­u­a­tion.
  • If you are or your child have been ill with any­thing that might be con­ta­gious, please inform your host in advance so that she may make an informed choice as to whether or not she wish­es to be exposed to said con­ta­gion.
  • Do not bring any­one who has not been specif­i­cal­ly includ­ed in an invi­ta­tion to anoth­er person’s home, even for a moment, unless you have cleared doing so with your host.
  • When an event such as a game or movie, is over, vis­it for a few min­utes after­ward, then leave unless you are specif­i­cal­ly invit­ed to stay longer. If an event is sched­uled to end at a par­tic­u­lar time, do not make your host kick you out. Pay atten­tion to social cues. If your host is obvi­ous­ly want­i­ng to go to bed, be sen­si­tive and go.
  • Homes are not hotels. If you need lodg­ing, ask your host in advance unless you have specif­i­cal­ly been invit­ed to stay overnight. Do not assume that you will be wel­come to do so, or change impor­tant details (such as the num­ber of peo­ple stay­ing) and assume that the changes will be fine with your host.
  • While it is under­stand­able that you may receive a call or text that you might need to answer, it is insult­ing to car­ry on phone or text-mes­sage con­ver­sa­tions while you are a guest. If you need to deal with a call that is an emer­gency, ask your host to direct you to a place where you might do so pri­vate­ly. If you are “on call” pro­fes­sion­al­ly, let your host know that you may need to take or make calls relat­ed to your work.
  • Sim­i­lar­ly, sit­ting down to read instead of par­tic­i­pat­ing in con­ver­sa­tion is an egre­gious offense.
  • Inter­net access is not a civ­il right. Do not expect that it will be pro­vid­ed to you. If Wi-Fi access is pro­vid­ed, be polite. Don’t con­sume exces­sive band­width, and for good­ness’ sakes, don’t vis­it any ques­tion­able sites or down­load any­thing less than legal.
  • Dur­ing an extend­ed stay (one or more nights), real­ize that your host will need time to take rest, recu­per­ate, and deal with rou­tine main­te­nance or per­son­al care. Retreat­ing to your room to “rest” for an hour or so each day will prob­a­bly be high­ly appre­ci­at­ed.

Last updat­ed August 9, 2003