Courtesy Redux

Edit­ed to reflect the sug­gest­ed changes. I may post this on my web site. I would­n’t have thought to send it to Dear Abby, but I sup­pose I could. Is that okay with those of you who con­tributed changes/additions?

Edit: I added items to the end.

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.

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.

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. 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.

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. 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.

4) Treat oth­er peo­ple’s pos­ses­sions with respect and care.
a) 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. Do not ever place food or drink on a piano.
b) 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.
c) If you drop or spill any­thing, clean it up imme­di­ate­ly or noti­fy your host imme­di­ate­ly so that they 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.

5) 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.

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

7) 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.

8) 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.

9) 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.

10) 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.

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

12) 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.

13) 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.

14) 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.

15) 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 remains out­side, fol­low them.

16) 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.

17) 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.

18) 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.

19) 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 the goal of “win­ning.” Dis­cus­sion of sex is com­plete­ly inap­pro­pri­ate and unwel­come if minors are present.

20) 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.

21) Wipe your feet on the mat, if it is present, when you come in, 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.

22) Con­tem­po­rary Amer­i­can soci­ety expects that you bathe dai­ly, use deodorant/antiperspirant, 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.

23) 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.

24) 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.

25) 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.

26) Do not ever take any ille­gal sub­stances into any­one’s home.

27) 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.

28) 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.

29) 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 imme­di­ate­ly to address the issue. You do not have to tol­er­ate rude­ness, but you should give your host the oppor­tu­ni­ty to cor­rect the situation.

30) If you are or have been ill with any­thing that is 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.

31) Do not bring any­one who has not been specif­i­cal­ly includ­ed in an invi­ta­tion to any­one else’s home, even for a moment, unless you have cleared doing so with your host.

32) When an event such as a game or movie, is over, 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. If your host is obvi­ous­ly want­i­ng to go to bed, be sen­si­tive and go.

33) 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.

34) While it is under­stand­able that you may receive a call or page 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.

35) Inter­net access is not a right. Do not expect that it will be pro­vid­ed to you.

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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