Basic Rules of Being a Polite Guest

I have repeat­ed­ly threat­ened to write an arti­cle enti­tled, “The Coast­er is NOT a D2!” and sub­mit it to Drag­on Mag­a­zine. I rather doubt that it would be pub­lished, but I think many a host­ess of gam­ing groups would agree that far too many gamers dis­play a regret­table lack of cour­tesy while in our homes.

I find, unfor­tu­nate­ly, that while the issue is most marked in the gam­ing groups I’ve encoun­tered, there are entire­ly too many peo­ple my age and younger who seem to have com­plete­ly missed many of the most basic niceties expect­ed of guests in a res­i­dence. There are also far too many peo­ple who have missed out on some of the basics of being a polite host, but that’s anoth­er arti­cle. Detailed issues regard­ing vis­it­ing oth­ers’ homes with your chil­dren could eas­i­ly be yet another.

I’ve actu­al­ly come up with a list and would appre­ci­ate input on it. Do they make sense? What did I leave out? If you dis­agree, be spe­cif­ic as to why you do so. No, I don’t expect this to ever make much of a dif­fer­ence to the world at large, but this is part­ly a real­i­ty check for me — do I expect too much?

Basic Rules of Being a Polite 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.

1) 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.

2) 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. 

3) 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 prized possession.

4) 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 a spe­cif­ic invi­ta­tion to do so is inex­cus­ably rude.

5) If you need some­thing, such as soap, toi­let paper, or a nap­kin, ask polite­ly (and dis­creet­ly, in the case of bath­room supplies).

6) Treat oth­er peo­ple’s pos­ses­sions with respect and rea­son­able care.

7) 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 the 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 the use of coast­ers isn’t nec­es­sary, don’t wor­ry about using one. But don’t ever assume that they aren’t necessary.

8) If you do not see ash­trays or oth­er peo­ple smok­ing, 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 of butts, ash­es, or oth­er waste in a trash con­tain­er. Toss­ing butts out­side is irre­spon­si­ble and disreputable.

9) Humans over two years old 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 or your host is doing so.

10) 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. Food dish­es are not ashtrays.

11) If you drop or spill any­thing, clean it up imme­di­ate­ly. 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.

12) If you use a nap­kin, tis­sue, dis­pos­able cup/plate/cutlery, or emp­ty a drink can or bot­tle, throw it away in a trash can. Do not leave the trash for your host to clean up unless he or she insists on intervening.

13) 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. And even if you have med­ical or nutri­tion­al train­ing, you have not been invit­ed to a social occa­sion to com­ment on oth­ers’ dietary choices.

14) If you are invit­ed to help your­self to food or drink, do so. Oth­er­wise, do not open a refrig­er­a­tor, cab­i­nets, pantry, etc.

15) 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.

16) 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.

17) 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.

18) Musi­cal instru­ments are often del­i­cate, valu­able, and very per­son­al. Do not touch or play them with­out a spe­cif­ic invi­ta­tion. If there is a piano in the home, do not place food or drink on it.

19) Should you be offend­ed by the con­tent of your host’s book­shelves, the art on the walls, etc. please remem­ber that this is her home, and her tastes are every bit as valid as yours.

20) Should the behav­ior of anoth­er guest offend you, it is best to address the issue with the oth­er guest. If you do not feel that you can do so polite­ly, seek a pri­vate audi­ence with your host to address the issue. You do not have to tol­er­ate rude­ness, but you should give your host the oppor­tu­ni­ty to cor­rect the situation.

Cyn is Rick's wife, Katie's Mom, and Esther & Oliver's Mémé. She's also a professional geek, avid reader, fledgling coder, enthusiastic gamer (TTRPGs), occasional singer, and devoted stitcher.
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