Home » Etiquette » 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 understandably 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

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