The happy houseguest: How to have — and be — one over the holidays

Residents share their advice

By: Cortney Casey | C&G Newspapers | Published December 7, 2011

 With the holidays comes obligatory family togetherness — which often results in becoming or hosting a houseguest. A little effort on both sides can make the experience pleasantly memorable.

With the holidays comes obligatory family togetherness — which often results in becoming or hosting a houseguest. A little effort on both sides can make the experience pleasantly memorable.

This holiday season, the population of Casey and Tara Colussi’s household tripled.

For five days over Thanksgiving, the Troy couple, who has two children, hosted Casey’s parents, sister, brother-in-law, two nephews and two family friends.

It was the second installment of what’s become a holiday tradition for the Colussis, and though their recent move to a larger home eased the congestion somewhat, “even with the extra space, it’s a pleasant chaos, is always the best way to describe it,” laughed Casey.

The holidays’ arrival inevitably triggers family get-togethers, and for those divided by distance, it often leads to putting up overnight guests — or becoming one.

When it comes to staying under someone else’s roof, preparation and common courtesy can determine whether the experience ends up memorable in a good way or bad.

For more than two decades, Dolores and Jim Jakubowski of Sterling Heights stayed with Jim’s parents in Buffalo, N.Y., over Thanksgiving. Many years, they had all three of their children in tow, making the dearth of bathrooms — there was only one — the biggest challenge.

They avoided infringing on each others’ privacy and routines by staggering morning and evening bathing times, and verifying that no one needed the shower urgently before jumping in, said Dolores.

For the Colussis, two showers for a dozen people posed few problems, as everyone seemed content to lounge in sweatpants for five days straight, joked Casey.

“Nobody seemed in a big rush to jump in the shower,” he said.

Bring your own toiletries, so you won’t deplete your hosts’ supply, said Jim, and Dolores said travelers with children, especially, should bring a small stash of medication.

“You can almost count on someone’s going to start getting a cold or tummy trouble,” she said.

Casey suggested bringing snacks to share, especially if you have dietary restrictions.

Your host may have a staunch shoe-removal policy, so bring slippers to avoid awkwardly trekking through the house in bare feet or socks, advised Jim.

Since all parties’ daily routines may not align, he said, it’s polite to mimic the hosts when possible.

“When I’m at someone else’s home, I try to be respectful of them,” he said. “If they go to bed early, I’m willing to go to bed early.”

In terms of expected level of involvement in the household tasks, Dolores and Jim advised taking a cue from the hosts.

“A lot of people don’t want their guests doing things,” like cooking and cleaning, said Dolores. “Other people might be, the more the merrier. Go along with what makes them happy.”

It’s best to offer a hand with chores that don’t require intimate knowledge of the household, as the hosts might be particular about how they prefer dishes replaced in cabinets, leftovers stored, etc., she added.

When he’s a host, Jim said, he’s a proponent of the “help yourself-type attitude.” Want a pop? Want a snack? Go ahead and get it. If you ask once and your host gives you the green light, don’t keep asking — just do it, he said.

Even if out-of-town visitors aren’t taking up temporary residence in your house, you can still act the part of gracious host.

Debbie Donnelly of St. Clair Shores remembers when she, her husband and a few other couples visited a high school friend in Ohio. They were staying in a hotel, and “when we went to our rooms, she had a bag — like a snack bag, like a junk food bag — just all sort of fun things,” she recalled. “It was just kind of a fun surprise.”

Such gestures go both ways: “I’m a big believer (of), maybe you want to bring a bottle of wine or some flowers, or take your hosts out to dinner, that sort of thing,” said Jim. “Don’t use it as a free hotel, in other words.”

Above all, flexibility — on both sides — is essential, said Casey. Last year, he entertained delusions of meals and activities occurring at specific times; this year, he let the schedule fall by the wayside.

“Let it be everybody’s week and not just yours,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be exactly the way you want it.”

Hosts should dismiss minor annoyances like a stray newspaper left beside the couch or toiletries temporarily cluttering a counter, said Dolores.

“Make your houseguests feel welcome, as if they were at home,” she said. “Be open to the idea that it’s going to be different with extra people in the house that aren’t used to your routines.”

As stress already runs high around the holidays, Donnelly considers herself fortunate to have houseguests who help, rather than hinder.

She hosts her sister and her husband around Thanksgiving, and “I couldn’t wait until my sister came down, because I knew she would pitch right in and help with whatever is needed,” she said.

Whether your visitor will grease the wheels or put a wrench in the works is something to think about before extending an invitation, said Donnelly.

If you’re hosting an overnight guest you don’t know well, “you would feel like you’d have to entertain them,” she mused, “and you wouldn’t want to have to ask them to do stuff for you.”

Most problems can be headed off by only offering accommodations to people guaranteed not to drive you crazy, Casey agreed.

“My biggest recommendation is, only invite people you really like, because in general, 12 people aren’t meant to live under one roof for an extended period of time naturally,” he laughed. “You really have to like them ahead of time to really enjoy them when they’re there.”


Mind your manners

The Emily Post Institute, which originated with Emily Post’s 1922 book “Etiquette” and continues today to “promote etiquette and civility in America and around the world,” has much to say on the topic of houseguests — and it’s of little surprise, considering the range and depth of possible faux pas.

The Vermont-based, family run business supplies an exhaustive list of do’s and don’ts for houseguests on its website, www.emilypost.com, all of which revolve around displaying “positive qualities” such as “enthusiasm, congeniality, consideration and thoughtfulness.”

Among them: Be complimentary to the host about the surroundings and company; be “a willing participant,” remaining engaged in the conversation and any activities; and be considerate, with gestures like using coasters for drinks, leaving bedrooms and bathrooms tidy, keeping showers brief, and avoiding the old feet-on-the-coffee-table routine.

Don’t even ask to bring a pet, the institute warns, and while it’s crucial to afford hosts their own alone time, it’s polite to clear outside invitations — such dinner requests from other friends living nearby — with hosts before you abruptly abandon them.

If something gets broken, promptly notify the owner and offer to repair or replace it, and keep your nose out of hosts’ cabinets, closets, desks and other personal areas, the institute warns.

Volunteer to help serve, clean up, etc., but if the offer is declined, don’t insist.

If the stay’s duration is three days or more, taking the hosts on a “pre-planned dinner or outing” is an appropriate gesture of gratitude, according to the institute.

Perhaps the most valuable tip: “Do be adaptable,” the institute urges, “ready for anything — or for nothing.”