Being a good guest starts before you arrive. Reply to any invitation as promptly as you can. (If you can’t accept, say so early.) The answer to any invitation is yes or no; you don’t have to share issues with how you’ll get there, babysitters/parking/travel/what you’ll do with Granny and the dog. Talking of which, don’t ask if you can bring extra guests or pets who weren’t invited – that bit is your job to deal with.
1. The best guests are … hosts. No one has the potential to understand what is needed of a guest and how to behave more than those who regularly invite people into their own house. The worst guests are those who never reciprocate and never have guests round themselves. These are the people who think it is OK to ask an already busy host for a 33rd cup of tea and act as if they have checked into a hotel. Prefixing everything with “do you mind if we have?” does not make it better.
2. Never turn up empty-handed unless you are visiting the house of someone whom you also regularly host. Saying “I didn’t know where the local supermarket was” or “we came on the train” are poor excuses for laziness and lack of organisation. You do not need to spend loads (although a well-picked personal hamper always goes down well if you are staying overnight, but avoid chutneys because good hosts always have at least 15 different chutneys and they really don’t need more).
3. Do not bring food that has to be consumed during your stay but underestimates the number of people it has to feed. Unless it’s cheese. Do not have a complicated, indulgent list of what you or your children won’t eat. Unless you are allergic to something, the correct response to any food likes is “we eat everything and anything and are grateful for it”. Your host is unlikely to cook tripe and liver unless they hate you. And if there is something you don’t like, you don’t have to eat it.
4. When food is served, if there is something you don’t like, just shut up and avoid it. You don’t have to announce to the whole room that you will only eat line-caught fish, organic raspberries or that it’s “not your favourite” (I have done this, and cringe when I remember). Do not – ever – say the words “eating clean”. If you want a menu to choose from, go to a restaurant and pay for it.
5. Do not spend the whole time you are there on your phone. No one is that important. Do not bicker with your partner, children or anyone else in the party. Do not use this opportunity to espouse your political views or call Jesus into the fray. If you are a bad drunk, don’t drink. And if you plan to drink loads (but are a good drunk), bring some (good) booze. Do not use this opportunity to have a go at the host and ask why they are not married/don’t have children yet.
6. Make a positive comment on something to do with the house. Lie if you have to. Saying nothing, especially if it’s the first time you have been to someone’s house, is pretty shabby. Even if you ache with jealousy, find it deep in your core to say something nice. Passive-aggressive comments such as “this house must be a lot of work” just make you look very sad.
7. If you do drink lots of tea/coffee, ask if you can be shown how to make your own and offer others one, too – especially your host. Use the same cup each time, otherwise your host will have a nervous breakdown.
8. When the host sits down after a meal, this is probably their one pit stop before it all starts again for the next meal. Do not use this time to ask if your child can have a ham sandwich because “they didn’t eat much at lunch”. Tough.
9. Offer to do the washing up and bring your plate into the kitchen unless your host has asked you not to (some people don’t like anyone else in their kitchen). This isn’t so relevant if you regularly visit each other’s houses.
10. Leave when you said you would. If you are fussy about bedding, bring your own. Bring extra layers if you are visiting someone in the country. Don’t ask if they can turn the heating up (or on). Do star jumps.
11. Smile and enjoy yourself. The lowest impact guests are the ones who leave everyone feeling good, either by helping, or not hindering. If you get an invite back, you’ll know.
This article first appeared in The Guardian Family section on 24 December 2016. Just in time for Christmas :).