#810: Couchsurfing etiquette

dear captain awkward,

> winter break starts soon
> staying in dorm costs too much
> can’t fly home, too far
> v warm v nice family offered home (3 hrs away) to stay for winter
> BUT it was during summer visit
> not sure if offer still stands
> not sure how to ask – awkward
> (have backup plan but entails staying w virtual stranger – awkward)
> help w the email? scripts?
> rules/etiquette of couchsurfing?

thanks a ton,

surfing nothing but a wave of anxiety

Hello Surfing!

Email the people who made you the offer today and ask them if it still stands. “Hi, hope you are well! My winter break starts on (date), and I am writing to see if your offer of a place to stay is still open. Happy holidays, You.” Winter break is coming up soon, so don’t leave it for another second!

As for couch-surfing etiquette, five things come to mind:

  • Make your physical footprint as small as possible, especially during the day. Don’t spread your stuff out all over the place, take a second to tidy up the area where you’re staying each day and make sure that the room is usable for other purposes by the people who live there.
  • A self-amusing houseguest is a good houseguest. If your hosts include you and invite you to things like mealtime and weekly game night, participate and enjoy, but also make plans to take walks, work down at the coffee shop or library, read quietly, go to the movies, etc. by yourself sometimes so you give your hosts some privacy.
  • Pitch in where you can – do the dishes, do laundry, babysit, read to kids, ask for ways to help out. The first couple of days they will say “Nonsense! You’re a guest!” but by the end of the week it will be nice for your hosts to have some of those chores done and not feel like they are waiting on you.
  • Let your hosts know if you are not going to be around for an evening or if you’ll be home late for some reason, so they can plan their lives.
  • Bring a small gift with you and send a thank you note afterwards.

Readers, what am I forgetting?


279 thoughts on “#810: Couchsurfing etiquette

  1. Benjamin Franklin something something guests and fish stink after 3 days. I think it would be great if LW can find accommodations in addition to couchsurfing in one single place for the entire winter break.

  2. Nothing to add to the Captain’s etiquette tips, just throwing out that you should email/text all your possible couch provider options ASAP. That sketch second choice might be the only choice and waiting till the last minute to make a desperate plea isn’t cool (make the desperate plea now).

  3. All of this, and some tips on making your footprint small:

    – If you’re on a sofa, wake up before or with your hosts, fold your bedding and put it into/on a container (laundry basket? your suitcase?). Reset the room so it’s ready to be a living space when the other humans come around.
    – If you’re in a guest room, keep the space clean and tidy enough that the door can be left open, even if you don’t leave the door open.
    – Wipe mirrors and counters in the bathroom if you get stuff on them.
    – Wash, fold, and put away or remake the bed before you leave.
    – Wash, fold, and put away your own laundry (It helps to bring a larger suitcase/duffle bag than you need, a mesh bag for worn things, and keep them contained and out of sight.
    – Find out how your hosts prefer to do chores and do chores their way, even if your way is better.
    – Don’t discipline children or pets, and follow the guardians’ examples of how to play with their children or pets appropriately. (Note that a growling dog or a cat showing teeth and claws is telling you to stop, not keep going; if the hosts do it, well, that’s on them, but you should err on the side of backing off.)

    Depending on regional etiquette, attempting to pay for things or buy groceries might go badly. If you have the means, offer once and take the lead from your hosts after that. If you don’t have the means, thank your hosts verbally on arrival and exit.

    Send a thank-you note, handwritten on paper.

    Hope it all goes well–dorm holiday policies are the worst.

    1. these are all good. typically we ask the host what we should do with the bedding — a common method is strip the bed and take the sheets to the laundry room and then fold up the comforters and blankets.

      1. Yes, I’ve found towels and bedding are things hosts do not want. I was chased out of the kitchen in one home and they even raised eyebrows at my bringing a hostess gift, but being told the blankets were folded and the linens I’d used were in the dryer, got a huge smile of pleasure from them. If you’re told to help yourself to beers and soft drinks, restock without commenting.
        *Don’t use the family towels on the racks.* Consider bringing your own towel and washcloth.
        PS always use your own bath soaps and shampoos- they will notice. Store your own in your bags with your stuff. *Small footprint* you’re camping in their home.

        1. ***** PERFUME ******. Put on once outside. Scent is territorial, and also some may find out too late they’re allergic to yours. It’s weird how we get habituated to a pretty smell but a foul one hangs around forever. Run the fan more than you would at home to get rid of your tolitaries’ scents. I miss some cues and didn’t know “What scent is that?” meant, “I will burn the city it’s made in.”

          1. Eep. I would lean heavily toward “don’t use perfume while you’re staying with someone else.” But one of the friends I stay with most often gets bad headaches from anything scented.

          2. I second this so hard. I host with Airbnb and certain people spray all sorts of shit in my house and I hate it so much and it gives me headaches. They’re paying guests not guest-guests so I haven’t said anything, but it’s really unpleasant.

          3. Seriously. This has been on my mind of late because I have a co-worker who smells as though she bathes in a particularly vile mixture of baby powder and synthetic vanilla extract, and it doesn’t irritate me as much as it makes me ANGRY. I know she puts on as much as she does to mask the scent of cigarette smoke, and that she probably has grown immune to the smell by this point, but I want to run out of every room she enters (and I spray Febreeze every time she leaves my work area). Anyway: yeah, I’d avoid perfume when staying with strangers.

          4. Oh gods, yes, this one too. Having to cope in the office is bad enough, couldn’t do it at home. I’m someone who would rather smell you at your unadorned, unwashed human worst than smell 99% of perfumes out there, so I’m obviously pretty heavily biased, but this is a serious issue for some people.

          5. @ReanaZ, because I ran out of nesting:

            I have not used AirBnB myself, but I assume that any given rental has house rules, such as “no cigarettes inside” or warnings such as “note that owner smokes cigarettes”. Likewise a warning that a given place might have pets, to warn off anyone allergic?

            On that same note, it seems to me that you could reasonably tell paying guests not to use sprays, or only use them in the bathroom, or only in the bedroom, or whatever. Hotels always have rules. Boarding houses always have rules! Equipment-rental places have rules. You can have rules.

          6. Oh my god plus eleven million to “just don’t wear perfume at all.” Just don’t do it. It’s two weeks, you will survive without it.

            (I get sneezy around perfume and would ban it entirely if I could, but that’s not really my call. But when you’re a guest…just don’t.)

    2. Yes, ask what the hosts want done with the bedding. My partner who does the laundry actively prefers that guests not strip the sofa bed when leaving, because on the bed is the best place to leave the bedding out of the way until he’s ready to launder it.

    3. Send a thank-you note, handwritten on paper.

      Eh. I’m not terribly passionate about it one way or the other, but this seems arbitrary to me, a seemingly nice-sounding, kinda middle-class etiquette-y convention that’s not universally customary and stands out, in a sea of useful information about reducing inconvenience and discomfort for the hosts and expressing the proportionate gratitude for their generosity, as serving no purpose (that I can see, other than that we’re supposed to find otherwise serviceable electronic- or phone-based communication “cold” or impolite or insufficiently gracious). If the point of it is that writing and posting a letter is more work for the guest, and therefore more advisable, I’m not too keen on it because I don’t think a sentiment exists that can only be adequately expressed or felt through a certain form of writing. There may be a perfectly good and obvious reason for suggesting it, though, that I’m not seeing.

      1. II agree — it’s a nice thing to do, but it’s not the ONLY nice thing to do, or something you’re rude if you DON’T do (provided you express gratitude and appreciation by other means.)

        1. And it helps reinforce their image of you as a thoughtful guest who is always welcome in their home. Once you have hosted someone – cleaned the guest bath, made the bed in the guest room, then washed the sheets and towels after the guest leaves, plus have the stress of having someone in your space, you see how nice it is to get a note.

          I don’t worry about my guests eating my food and drinking my booze (except my husband’s parents, who went through a half-gallon of bourbon in a few days – they bought it their first day, but once they were done, they started on my booze), because that is part of being a host, but I appreciate a guest who does not make a mess and does not wake me up before I am ready to get up in the morning. I especially do not expect a poor college student to provide his own food! I do, however, expect him to offer to help with the dishes and other chores.

      2. We’ll have to agree to disagree here.

        I think sending a handwritten note on paper really drives home that yes guest appreciated host’s hosting.It’s absolutely not that electronic communication is cold/impolite/insufficiently gracious (I do the vast and overwhelming majority of my communication electronically so house: made of glass here), but that mailing a handwritten note is unexpected, different, and special.

        1. So the worry I always have about mailing a thank-you note is the time it takes to get there. Like, an email is instant. But if I mail the thank-you note, that’s a few days in which I’m fretting to myself, “is it there yet? Do they think I’m rude?”

          But of course, it’s also awkward to do both, esp since I’ve already thanked in person as well. I can’t figure out how to reconcile the whole thing.

          1. I don’t think it’s awkward to do both at all! I often send a quick, informal thank-you before a written one.

          2. It also doesn’t have to be mailed. You could leave it behind on a table or something when you depart their home to go back to school. Somewhere it won’t get lost in the shuffle of everyday items.

      3. The reason the handwritten thank you note is such a common suggestion is that it costs basically nothing but serves as a physical gesture of gratitude that’s pretty much universally appreciated by its recipients. Yes, it requires more than thirty seconds of thought and effort and yes, that’s part of the point. It’s also more formal than email or text, which is a nice way to thank your hosts if they’re significantly older than you or you don’t know them particularly well, as in the LW’s situation.

        No one is saying that a note is the ONE TRUE WAY to express gratitude, but it’s a classic for a reason.

      4. Thanks for the clarifications and thoughts, all. I don’t agree (I think it’s a gesture that’s obvious as “a gesture,” rather than feeling authentic), but I understand.

        1. I think the best way to view it is a the same as a birthday card. You can stick a happy birthday on Facebook or text them, absolutely. But if it’s someone you know well you often take the time to go out and pick a card with a design you think will make them smile and hand write a note and mail it. Or pick up the phone to talk in person. You’re not being a Luddite about it, but the gesture of thought and effort involved says volumes. Like, if my sister only popped a generic happy birthday on Facebook rather than visiting or giving a card I’d be a bit disappointed.
          I’m not big on thank you notes personally – some of my friends send them out for every little thing (like birthday presents) which I personally find odd- but for something like being hosted over a long period of time which is a very big inconvenience even if they’re kind enough to offer it, I’d say a card or note is worth the effort.

  4. It’s hard being a college student on a tight budget. I don’t miss those days.

    I totally agree with the couch surfing etiquette. Try not to disrupt the host’s lives/routine too much.

  5. I agree with the Captain’s advice, and add: since winter break likely involves a large family holiday, and it doesn’t seem that v. nice family is a relation, please use your words and ask how they would like you to comport yourself on Holiday – do they open presents in their pajamas on Christmas, and would it be more appropriate for you to take a long walk? Not to sound stereotypical, but I would direct these questions to the matriarch of the household, or whomever holds that role. It’s quite possible that they’ll tell you not to worry about it, that you’re absolutely welcome to join the family on Holiday, but as a host, I would love to be offered the option and not have to figure out a polite way to tell my guest to get lost because my hypothetical teenaged daughter is uncomfortable being in her pajamas in front of them.

    1. Hmm where I’m from it would be rude to ask a house guest not to participate in the winter holiday. But either way, I think the guest should ask in advance and offer the option. If you’re going to participate you will need to know what is involved and prepare accordingly. For example any time I bring a guest to my family christmas I give them a heads up that they will be receiving gifts from everyone and while we don’t expect them to spend a lot of money on us, one host type gift for each of my parents is probably a good idea to make things go smoothly for everyone (which I will help them choose ofc)

      1. @ph0t0chris89 – “use your words” is a common slang on this website, and it’s shorthand for “just ask the person, rather than silently wondering and wishing and hoping that they’ll say something.”

        1. ^This, and I should hope that at everyone knows to use their words (as taught to children) waaaay before the age of 12.

        1. I actually HAVE read a lot on here. Don’t happen to memorize every single line of speech used on here. Didn’t intend any harm though. Just one of those phrases that irks me.

          Yeah, I am so embarrassed. .yep. You guessed it.

      2. I would guess not; given the number of people who apparently made it well into adulthood without learning this very useful skill, it’s always appropriate advice.

        Also, that’s a decidedly antagonistic comment with zero prompting; you should avoid adopting a hostile demeanor when conversing with well-meaning people in good faith, as it makes you sound like a jerk.

        1. Guessing they don’t really care, considering their follow-up comment below (above?), to which I would personally just say “wow.”

  6. Ask about sleep schedules outright – you might find that you’re either more or less of a night owl than them, which might need some negotiation.

        1. Checking to see if there’s any water rationing recommendations is probably a good idea also, as well as checking on the size of the hot water heater.

          1. That’s a really good point as it sometimes reverses things we would automatically assume to be good manners! Eg not washing dishes as you go but stacking them up to do in one go at the end of the day or not flushing the toilet for a pee are the polite and appropriate thing in my current long guest stay.

  7. Given that it’s a winter holiday from college this is less important than it might be otherwise, but definitely tell them exactly how long you’re hoping to stay. I’ve had cases where if I’d known the person was staying for two weeks I would almost certainly have been fine with it, but I’d thought they were staying for a long weekend that then kind of amoebaed into two weeks and it was awkward.

  8. – Give clear date and time of arrival. If they are picking you up ask them what their preferred times, bus/train stops are. If they are not picking you up, be punctual.

    – Give clear date and time of departure. If you can leave on your own, do so.

    – Bring a small present. I know they said not to, but do it any way.

    – Clean the toilet after moving your bowels, even if you don’t do that at home.

    – Be kind and cheerful

    1. “Clean” as in…properly clean, rather than just flush? That seems a bit over the top to me.

      1. Hey, so this actually varies a lot by country. In most of the European countries I’ve visited/lived in, low-flow toilets are the norm, and there is a brush standing by to be used after every flush. In the U.S. (WHERE YOU CAN FLUSH A SHEEP), this often isn’t necessary, but it’s absolutely a good idea to find out where the toilet brush is kept AHEAD of time.

        1. I would like to express deep gratitude to you for the image of “the US: WHERE YOU CAN FLUSH A SHEEP”.

          1. It is oft the case that when one needs the plunger one needs it with NO TIME TO SPARE, OMG, FLEE FOR THE COUNTRYSIDE AAAAA WE’RE ALL DOOOOOMED

          2. Nope. Not that I would know from personal experience of (massive TMI ahead) lying in bed in the dark of night at my ex’s parents’ house, sweating because I knew that if I could just hold it for another eight measly hours, we’d be at the airport with its industrial-strength flushers that could take on a whole FLOCK of sheep. But I couldn’t wait another eight hours. I couldn’t wait another eight minutes, even though I knew the toilet couldn’t handle an embryonic lamb.

            The plunger was deep in the bowels (heh) of the master bathroom, which was past the master bed in which slept the, uh, master and mistress of the house. I don’t really remember how I handled the situation the next morning due, I suppose, to a well-timed case of shamenesia. But it seems just as conceivable that I slipped out the window and fled for the countryside that very night.

        2. You mention the ‘flush a sheep’ thing, but at the same time, US toilets have a serious clog problem.

          We have different toilets in Australia (lower water and seem to flush via differing mechanisms – don’t know how, I’m not a plumber). Most houses here are unlikely to have a plunger. Standard Australian plumbing toilets seriously almost never clog. As an Aussie who went to the US and have since noticed the discussions online, yours, which have water way high, seem to clog enough that most people have plungers and have unclogged a toilet.

          So, Aussies, be aware of this one and offer to plunge. It doesn’t mean that the whole plumbing system is broken, just that a US toilet has done a thing it does every so often. People will have the tech to fix it (plunger) and you won’t need to call a plumber. 😀

          1. As an Aussie, I have long been mystified about the idea that a plunger must be kept near the toilet at all times. I doubt we even own a plunger tbh.

          2. Erm. My personal theory is that as Americans expect to be able to flush a sheep, they occasionally try to flush a Highlander cow and are surprised when that doesn’t go well. . .

          3. Wait a minute, exactly how are Americans supposed to magically make our poops smaller? Because that seems to be what’s being implied here.

          4. I really wish we had Australia’s plumbing aplomb… my 8 year old son has a long and painful history of clogging toilets. Repeatedly. Horribly.

            One afternoon my former boss–the nicest guy ever–was listening to my serio-comic recitation of how that evening I’d have to google how to unclog a toilet that had a serious attitude problem. He wound up stopping by my house on his way home from work, over my protestations, just a few minutes after I’d gotten home from work myself. It took him 20 minutes and a wire hanger and half a roll of paper towels. That bathroom– you needed a gas mask to walk by it, and he was in it for 20 minutes. It was small, too, with an inadequate fan. Then he wouldn’t even stay to boil his hands or have a drink or anything–he was on his way home to his own family. And he was all cheerful about it. I think he felt like he vanquished the toilet. And… he did.

          5. notemily, I was being a bit facetious, referring to a particular situation, and also using an unfortunate metaphor — a recipe for misunderstanding. My father uses an amount of toilet paper that one could swaddle a sheep in. A large sheep. I always presumed this to be the reason for our frequent cloggage. I admit I do not actually know that other Americans use this much toilet paper.

        3. Also good to find out where the plunger is kept. I didn’t know the first time I stayed over with a romantic partner, to my detriment when I had to wake them up at 3 in the morning because the toilet was overflowing. LFMF.

        4. Traveling with former – FORMER – boyfriend in France. He was Belgian, so it’s not like he didn’t know.

          Low-flow toilet. I was – surprised – when I went into the bathroom after he had used it. He had not bothered to use the toilet brush. Really? I am supposed to clean SOMEONE ELSE’S SHIT?

          No. Thanks.

      2. Probably properly clean with the brush and cleaner if there is any…thing sticking to to the insides of the bowl.

      3. Yes. Clean as in neither sight nor scent of poop. That’s actually why I said “even if you don’t do this at home”

        Neither of us knows the standards of the hosts, but I think that erring on the side of no poop will be good.

        1. Oh, and no flushing of sanitary products/ condoms/ plastic wrappers, please. I am the superheroine known as Plunger Girl at work, and, fleece-friendly plumbing aside, you would be surprised at how many grown persons do not known or ignore this rule. Also, if you need to dispose of fouled underwear, wrap them and throw them away. Do not flush them.

          1. People throw away underwear instead of washing? Wtf, world? A little shit or endometrium never hurt anyone, and besides, removing that is basically the entire point of washing. Sheesh.

          2. To emmers:
            My periods are very heavy and also affect my digestion. This sometimes results a mess that cannot go directly to the washer, and is not something I want to clean in the sink next to our toothbrushes.
            Placing the soiled part of the underwear into the toilet while holding the unsoiled part firmly, then flushing the toilet several times is a very effective way to remove enough mess for them to go into the washer or sink.

            As a guest, the risk of accidentally clogging the plumbing would make me tie up the panties in a plastic bag, take them directly to the outside trash bin, and head to a discount store to buy cheap panties I didn’t mind throwing away.

    2. Give clear date and time of departure.

      That is exactly what I came here to say! If you possibly can, tell your hosts exactly when you will be leaving. Sometimes you just don’t know in advance, but if there is any way you can possibly plan exactly when you’re leaving, DO. IT. And then leave when you said you were going to leave unless some actual emergency like a snowstorm makes it impossible.

      And even if you can’t tell your hosts exactly when you’ll be leaving, do not jerk them around by saying “oh I’m thinking of leaving on Saturday” followed up with “maybe Sunday instead” and then “Nah, I think I’ll leave on Monday.” Yes, that is the voice of bitter experience talking and yes, I wish I’d used my words, but oh dear god do not do this it is the worst.

      Also, ask before you borrow your host’s stuff. A simple “hey is it cool if I read your books?” is all it takes. This also gives the host the opportunity to let you know anything you might need to about the item in question – to run with the books example, my absolutely non-negotiable rule is that unless I specifically lent you the book, it does. not. leave. the. house. Voice of bitter experience again.

  9. Ooooh, please remember to be mindful with television and online time. If you are going to be spending a great deal of time with your laptop, tablet, or smartphone, consider going to the local library or coffee shop. With your student ID you will probably be able to get a temporary library card.

    Check for times this facility will be open for the holidays.

    If you are a guest on the family’s wifi, be ultra considerate.

    Tune in to what your hosts enjoy for the holidays. If you are short on cash, gift a movie night with Red Box gift card and a box of popcorn or assorted movie candy favorites. If you make great pizza, offer to do that one night (you can make a gift certificate for it), buy the ingredients, and leave the kitchen cleaner than you found it.

    Take your hosts’ alcoholic beverage practice seriously. Don’t bring it into the house if they don’t want it in the house for any reason. Don’t drink their stuff without express permission, and even then, be respectful. Don’t come back to the house wasted, ya know. And don’t drive while impaired in their town.

    1. All this is really great except don’t drive while impaired *in their town*. Driving while impaired is never ever acceptable no matter where you are. No ifs, ands or buts.

    2. Or just ask about wi-fi/bandwidth usage — I’d feel kind of bad if I’d found out a guest had been leaving the apartment all the time because they didn’t want to be a bother, given that even if they watched Netflix 24 hours a day it wouldn’t inconvenience anyone else’s internet usage here. Monopolizing the TV in the common areas is another matter, but if you’re on your own device I don’t care.

        1. It’s one of the first things I say to guests – “The wi-fi password is that there is no password” because the house is far enough away from anywhere strangers go (the street, next door) that the wi-fi is inaccessible unless you are on our property, and if we don’t know who you are then we have bigger problems than you using our wi-fi.

      1. This is also a bit of a regional variance, I think – one surprise I got moving to Canada from the US was the existence of monthly usage caps for Internet service.

  10. Another option for giving you some variety is to look for people who need a house/dog sitter over the holidays? (If you don’t mind a dog that is.) Rover.com lets people register to dog sit overnight in other people’s homes. It’s probably not reliable for the entire vacation period, but might be a good option for spending a few days away from their couch in particular, and let you pick up some cash. Just a thought, it might be too late in the year, though some people like me wait FOREVER to book their Christmas pet care. Oops. *runs off to send email*

    1. It’s definitely not too late, especially in a large metro area. I just booked my pet care yesterday, and I know lots of people who forget or can’t find anyone good and affordable until late. Normally I don’t like to have strangers staying in my home but I would make an exception for a college student who needed a place and would love up my doggie 😀

  11. Just a quick caveat to all this sensible advise about courtesy, tidiness and allowing the house’s space, I have had the experience of both being and playing host to a guest who is so very grateful to be there and sorry to be imposing that it begins to make the host feel like they’ve not been welcoming enough. Most folks only make sure invitations sincerely. A house guest who is frightened of making their presence felt can be like living with a nervous ghost – it’s very quiet, but then you’re worrying about them and trying to work out how to make them feel more comfortable.

    1. I’m very much with you on this. Things like cleaning the toilet after every bowel movement to the point of there being no scent – while I get there are hosts who expect that degree of tidiness – I personally neither expect nor desire my guests to do that. Obviously, there’s no true telling exactly what your host is looking for – but if your host says “you don’t need to cook/do dishes/don’t worry about where the toilet cleaner is” – after a while listen to them.

      My mother’s family would be horrified if a guest ever cooked in their own kitchen due to a variety of “don’t touch my kitchen” and “you must think I’m a horrible host” issues. However, my dad’s family would appreciate that. If in this family you’re closer friends to either spouse or a child, you can ask discretely “I’d like to say thank you, what would be the best way?” But if the family tells you don’t do something, after a while it’s good to listen.

      1. Yeah – if I invite you to my home, I will feed you. Do not bring your own food. (I cannot convince my mother that I WILL BUY HER DAMN SOY MILK FOR HER!) Even if I don’t drink orange juice, I will provide it for you. Even if I am not lactose intolerant, I will buy Lactaid for you. (But then you better not fill up on my $24/lb cheese.) If you are a vegetarian, I will not serve meat.

        By the same token – if I am visiting you – I AM TALKING TO YOU IN-LAWS RIP – even if you do not eat lunch, I expect you to have something for me to eat for lunch. I do not expect to have to stop at Whole Foods on the way in TO BUY MY OWN DAMN LUNCH. THREE YEARS IN A ROW. (Part of this blame falls on husband for not reading his parents the riot act.)

        1. “if I invite you to my home, I will feed you. Do not bring your own food.”

          And likewise, do not bring your own towels. I don’t want to have to track them through the laundry with my stuff.

          Speaking of laundry: You might get a few big net bags to put your own dirty clothes in, so it’s easy to keep them separate if all the laundry gets done together.

          Basically, just ask about stuff like laundry, cleaning up messes, when to shower, etc.: “I need to get a shower in before 10–should we coordinate the bathroom times?” “I’d like to do some laundry–how should this work?”

          Maintain an attitude of friendliness and good humor.

      2. In my house, if my girlfriend is cooking, you stay out of the kitchen. I’ve found that the least anxiety-horribleness-inducing place to be when acting as sous chef is on the outside of the island bench, which is technically not IN the kitchen, while still having all the benefits of shared bench space. Also, it means I’m not in front of any of the cupboards that contain frequently used items. This is actually really hard to get through to visitors… And it annoys me because it drives my girlfriend nuts and she’s awesome and it’s such a little thing that has such big results, just staying out of the kitchen when she’s doing her thing ARGH!

    2. Yes, agreed. Honestly, a clear attempt to keep your stuff contained, match the practices of the house, and pitch in to some extent is all you need, and it’ll be noticed and appreciated by any reasonable host — you don’t need to be flawless and invisible and a perfect self-effacing helper! All you need to do is show that you’re not taking it for granted that everything should revolve around you and your entertainment. They wouldn’t’ve invited you if they weren’t okay with having a houseguest.

      1. The whole “matching the practices of the house” thing is a big one, I think, no matter who you’re staying with–the last time my mother-in-law stayed with us, she decided it would be a good idea to rearrange our entire kitchen, buy a bunch of new things that we neither needed nor that fit anywhere, and generally overhaul things that were working just fine. It pissed me off. It felt horrendously disrespectful. There probably won’t be the same level of drama potential in the LW’s situation (especially because LW is invited whereas MIL invited herself), but this is still a huge thing to keep in mind: pay attention to how these people live, and try to not cause too much upheaval.

        1. My aunt once visited my parents and decided she would “reorganize” the kitchen. This included very nearly throwing out a number of things that were actually in regular use because she didn’t know what they were, including a rather spiffy collapsible funnel (which I’d bought my ‘rents the previous Christmas), an attachment for the immersion blender, and the sharpening block. My mom has this tendency too, and doesn’t get why I won’t let her “tidy” my space.

    3. I was going to say this. I was a college student who had to rely on the kindness of others during winter break, because I had no place else to go. Generally people who invited me to stay with them genuinely wanted me there – no one invites a college student to stay with them for 3-4 weeks unless they’ve kind of thought about the implications of that. You want to be a polite and gracious house guest, but you also don’t have to make it like you don’t exist. Like, I wouldn’t expect a house guest not to use my WiFi. I’d feel really bad, actually, if they felt like they needed to go to Starbucks or the library just to check their email and surf.

    4. I absolutely agree with all of this as well. Reading all the additional “rules” listed above, while I’m sure they are very kindly meant and quite necessary in certain circumstances, was making me feel very anxious, even or especially considering them from the host’s point of view. I live in a very convenient location and have overnight or longer term guests over quite often. While I HAVE felt imposed upon in the past, it really was only through some very extreme circumstances, and for the most part I’d really rather see my guests looking comfortable than seeing them bend over backwards to accommodate what they only assume I want. I expect overnight guests to use my shampoo (although don’t mind if they just prefer to bring their own), my wifi, etc. If they’re unsure, they’re more than welcome to just ask, and I’ll happily say, “Yeah, eat anything you like in the kitchen; except that pie crust in the fridge; I’ll be using that tonight” or whatever applies.

      Also, in general, I’m not a very tidy person (a bit of an understatement), and there have been times when guests were cleaning SO MUCH that it actually kind of felt like they were judging me. I’m pretty sure they weren’t, and were actually trying to be nice, but when I say, “Oh no, you seriously don’t need to do that,” I MEAN it, and also mean “Oh my god please stop cleaning in my house it’s kinda freaking me out.” (Oddly enough; this is different when someone OFFERS to help me clean my house as a repayment for my letting them stay; that’s actually kind of awesome. It’s the just quietly doing it as if it’s expected that makes me feel super judged and anxious.)

      1. Oh my god yes. I am a pretty messy person, and when my dad came to visit last he spent hours every day cleaning or doing chores (I’m talking things like *putting up drapes* and *switching out a broken toilet*) which a a nice and useful and all, but I just felt like the whole thing had an undertone of “why haven’t you already done this yourself, lazy?”

    5. I agree! I do have my one weird “please don’t drool on my couch pillows” caveat but otherwise if I had a guest whose main goal was to Be Invisible it would get awkward. FAST. Like, I invited you here! You are welcome and I will do my best to make you feel that way as long you behave in a respectful and kind manner.

    6. Yes! I came here to say something similar. LW, you will be okay. I’ve asked for advice on how to make hosts comfortable before and received a torrent of (useful! well-intended!) advice that ended up looking to me like more than I could possibly be capable of performing and made me feel a bit as if I breathed wrong my hosts’ house would fall down.

      Do things the way they do. Clean up after yourself. Feed them. Say thank you. Everything else is details. Not that they can’t be useful! Skim, absorb the general principles plus any stand-out ideas that particularly fit YOU and THEM, then relax.

    7. I’m with you here. I have a college-age kid, and I can totally see me saying to her friends, “Oh, stay with us!” And if you do, I want you to stop saying thank you and just start being reasonably friendly company.

      Get your own cereal out at breakfast time; set the table frequently; have something specific you were planning to do today (bonus points if it’s, “Are you busy this evening? Want to play a game of checkers?”).

  12. OOOOOOH, yes yes YES to the toilet bit! I’m a squeaky person myself so ymmv, but I am verrrry particular about bathroom/shower hygiene (and kitchen too, come to think of it). Had some *awful* experience with my roomie’s friend staying overnight in that respect (why why why wouldn’t you flush after yourself, WHYYYYYY?!?!!?). Keeping the bathroom/shower in the state you found them before you used them or cleaner is a great way to ingratiate yourself with your host, but do ask first before a major clean-up. I have a friend who cannot handle others cleaning her bathroom, like at all. I think asking about the whereabouts of cleaning supplies would be a good, not-too-blunt way to go, if you’re not into sitting down and offering to divide chores up front.
    Couch-surfing friends of mine used to offer to cook a family meal at least once during their stay, and bought the groceries themselves, too. It’s a very nice gesture if the hosts are up for it.
    In general, I think asking first/ asking for house rules/guidelines / talking about the schedule is a solid policy to adopt.

    1. I think asking about the location of cleaning supplies is a really good idea in any case — if you spill apple juice you want to be able to grab a rag and mop that up immediately, instead of wandering desperately through the kitchen.

    2. What is it with adults who don’t flush toilets? Is this something they never had to do at all growing up? I cannot imagine getting even to age 15 or 16 without knowing that you have to flush afterwards.

      1. My partner and I don’t flush for a pee in our household as we think it wastes water. Obviously it’s polite to remember to flush in other people’s houses, but these are customs not rules, there is no ‘have to’ about it.

        1. This was always my custom when I lived alone or with amenable partners, though I always made sure to flush if I knew I was having company or houseguest, no need to force my old pee on them! 😄

      2. I don’t know about not flushing after you’ve pooped, but lots of people don’t flush after urination to save water. My mom learned that growing up and she’s just always done it that way. I’ve also been guests in people’s homes who specifically told me not to flush after peeing for that reason (which I struggled to remember.)

        1. Lots of folks who have septic tanks would prefer if people refrain from flushing after they just pee, particularly if there are a lot of people staying in the house (e.g. holidays!). Another thing to consider if you’re visiting someone with a septic tank, which is a likely arrangement outside of cities or towns, is to be very careful what you flush. Anything non-biodegradable is a no-no. Asking: “are you on a septic tank and is there anything I should keep in mind?” would be helpful.

          1. I’d say be careful about what you flush no matter what kind of plumbing the hosts have. PSA: The ONLY THINGS that get flushed are human bodily fluids and toilet paper. No dental floss, no condoms, no tampons or butt wipes (they lie when they say they are flushable). You can clog a toilet pretty easily and it sucks and is embarrassing.

          2. butt wipes (they lie when they say they are flushable)

            Friend and his dad had to tear out all the tile in the room where the sewage had leaked and backed up. They believed the butt wipe packaging that they are flushable.

        2. My mother had a terrible time getting back to sleep if woken, and EVERYTHING woke her up. We had a “no flushing between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m.” rule that was strangely difficult to break.

        3. Chiming in a bit late here, as well as the saving water issue, it also depends on the house. In my old house whenever I had someone sleep over for the first time I had to say to them during the night to not flush the toilet after urination, because the tank was right next to my parent’s bedroom and Mum’s sleep never recovered from being a shift worker, and it was very loud.

      3. I honestly did not. I grew up in a lakeside town with a septic tank, where it is very important NOT to flush unless it’s poop, since getting the tank emptied costs and can pollute the lake. Didn’t learn that was a thing until I went to high school in the city.

      4. I got to age 15 or 16 living in California during the last drought. Considering the state of the current one, “not flushing after peeing” is still standard at home.

      5. Despite my obsession with clean bathrooms and Correct Laundry Procedure, my real take on guest etiquette is : ask

        In my parents house we flushed everything immediately. In my best friend’s house, we let pee stand overnight.

        Both my best friend and I adapted easily to different rules.

    3. Just to be clear – we’re talking a standard bathroom in flat in an apartment building of a fairly large city… and not flushing poop. I came back from work late and found it, after an entire day has gone by. Took all I had not to gag on the spot. Even if it’s “only” urine, when you’re not staying at your own house I think it’s common courtesy to flush, regardless of your own habits unless specifically told not to. Unsure? Do ask, by all means. Don’t DON’T just leave it there for the bathroom fairy.

      1. I’m not going to say I recommend it at all, but I have honestly forgotten once or twice. Thankfully I was the only one home to find it.

      2. Sorry for the derail about times when not-flushing is appropriate. I thought your original comment offered perfectly good advice (as does this one), i was just irked by a subsequent comment about how people had failed in their upbringing if they didn’t know they had to always flush. As someone whose family comes from a part of the world where flush toilets were not the norm until very recently, that felt kinda shamey.

  13. Captain’s advice is all super solid as always, especially the bit about keeping your physical footprint small. I have a friend who is dear to me, but every time she visits, her stuff always explodes over every surface in my rather snug apartment and it drives me nuts.

    Be conscientious about turning off lights and other electronics, locking/closing doors and windows, recycling, etc. Don’t leave your devices charging for longer than necessary.

    I would also be conscientious about your bathroom time, especially if you’re sharing with a large family. No lingering in the shower or long grooming sessions.

    If you have any special dietary preferences/requirements, cater for them yourself.

    It’s the holiday season, but don’t over do it on alcohol and definitely don’t come home drunk. If you smoke, find out their stance on cigarettes in the house and stick to it religiously.

    If you’re a competent cook, offering to do dinner or a special dessert one night is an inexpensive and thoughtful way to say thank you.

    Make sure you have a decent pair of pyjamas and use them.

    Good luck and hope you find somewhere pleasant to stay!

      1. Yes, slippers. In american films most people wear shoes all the time, I don’t know if you do it in real life too. In my country a guest who came for an hour and will be sitting at the table drinking coffee the whole time might be permitted to wear shoes in the flat, especially if you aren’t close/you are trying to impress them. But people living in the flat and all guests who stay longer take their shoes off when they enter the flat so they don’t carry dirt from outside everywhere.

        1. But isn’t this covered by “take off your shoes (or at least ask if you should)?” I would never wear slippers (yuck, yuck, yuck) but that doesn’t mean I don’t know not to track in dirt from outside into someone’s house.

    1. Pajamas was the one I was going to add. Even if your sleeping arrangements are somewhat private, and even if you don’t wear them at home, go out and buy a pair, tops and bottoms, and wear them all night whether you’re on a couch in the living room or a private guest bedroom. For the bathroom, wear a robe. For all other times, be dressed right on down to underwear. That’s a bra under your t-shirt if you have breasts and socks on your feet if you have feet. I’m completely relaxed about nudity and semi-nudity in my own home but at some point realized that it’s a point of politeness in other people’s.

      1. I don’t think it matters if you sleep nude or semi-undresesd in a private guest room or wear a robe to and from the bathroom. I think you just need to be dressed when you’re in common areas and/or when someone else can see you.

        1. I’d say don’t sleep nude (sans underwear) in a bed that’s not yours. I’ve had a guest do that and leave “streaks”. I ended up throwing out those sheets.

      2. Does not wearing a bra under other clothes make you undressed? I have breasts and never wear a bra ever (don’t even own one) and I’m now kinda horrified that everyone’s judging me as inappropriate!

        1. Seriously. Dictating that I wear a bra . . . this is kind of extreme to me. I don’t wear a bra unless I am exercising. And socks?? This just seems so odd and arbitrary. I would be more concerned that my guest felt he/she was walking on eggshells more than being offended by their comfort.

          1. I think the issue of the sexism of bra-assumptions isn’t really the point here though. If you’re the guest in someone’s house air on the side of conservative unless indicated otherwise. Like, if (for some godawful reason) you lodge with a KKK member you’d keep it polite and wear what you’d expect makes them comfortable in their town house and when they say hideous shit you keep quiet and distance yourself as much as possible, because of that moment you’re a guest in their house. Same as if you go to the other proverbial strawman spectrum and stay with a stereotypical moon hold hippie. Follow their cues, eat only vegan if it’s on offer and allergies don’t prevent you from doing so. Say thank you. Take the bra off if you see the cue to do so. Nod politely if your host goes on about worshipping dolphins and distance yourself. You’re a guest and just be a respectful blander version of yourself for a while even if it’s not as comfortable as your norm.

          2. @toniprufrock, actually I think it is the point. If we just put the challenging of sexism into a little box to only be discussed in places where those comments are known to be pre-approved then it’s not really challenging sexism. And please note Clarry isn’t the one offering the LW a place to stay, they were offering a hypothetical guest ettiquette suggestion (as we all are) that I am questioning.

            I am not saying dress immodestly, in fact I heartily agree that the ‘dress modestly’ gist of the original advice is a good suggestion when a guest in someone’s house. I am saying that not wearing a bra does not necessarily equal provocative/immodest/inappropriate dress and that equating them is sexist and shaming.

            Also, your KKK comparison is kinda gross. Thankfully I’m not white so would never be a guest in a clanmembers home.

        2. I think this one depends on the size and temperament of the breasts in question. When I don’t wear a bra, it’s very very obvious because mine are big and tend to flop around under my clothes without support. (Camis with built-in support changed my life.)

      3. I too think that dictating a bra is a bit much. As long as you’re not wearing mesh/see through clothes around the house (which might be embarrassing in its own right) or super-duper close-fitting tops, a bra should be optional, in accordance with personal preferences.

        1. My reasoning goes like this. When you live with family or with longstanding roommates, everything is negotiable. Together with the people you live with, you come up decisions about who pays for what, who cleans what and how often it’s cleaned, whether the toilet is flushed every time it’s used, whether running around the house stark naked is O.K., whether people knock at a closed door or just walk in, which items in the refrigerator are off limits and which are fair game, whether you should serve yourself or ask. It’s not that there’s a right way or a wrong for any of this. I have my own opinions, and they tend to be fairly loose. People may or may not be offended by my habits for myself, but they’re my habits in my own house that I’ve worked out with the people I live with. What we’re talking about here are the assumptions that are made when someone either has a guest or is a guest. When visiting, you don’t have time to negotiate everything, and while you might ask about some basic house rules, it’s exhausting to go through every last little thing. For myself, I’m not the least offended by bare feet or breasts or men coming to the dinner table without shirts if it’s hot enough in summer. That’s the way I grew up, and I see nothing wrong with it. I was embarrassed when I discovered that my relaxed attitude about clothing is really bad manners in some circles, REALLY bad manners. Just walking around the house barefooted is considered horrible to some– and I assure you there’s nothing unhygienic about my feet. The same goes for bras. Personally, I often don’t wear one, but when I’m a guest in someone’s home, I do because the baseline assumption is that wearing a bra is part of being dressed just like the baseline assumption is that dishes get washed after each meal until you all talk about it and decide that it’s O.K. to leave them until the end of the night. Of course it makes sense to go sleep nude if there’s the assumption of privacy in a guest room– right on up to the minute when you discover that in the household where you’re a guest someone may come into your room to get something out of the closet they forgot.

          1. I think if someone has strong views on guests’ underwear they shouldn’t be having guests. If it makes you feel more confident that you’re doing guesting right, of course keep doing it, but I really don’t think it’s a reasonable obligation.

          2. I totally agree with your general point about following general norms and making certain assumptions to create a pleasant living experience. However i think there’s something kinda gross, shaming and sexist about mandating bra wearing. I agree that it’s a good idea for people of all genders to err on the side of being more conservative in their dress if they don’t know what their hosts preferences are, but I think the idea that not wearing a bra being in and of itself provocative or inappropriate is something that needs to be examined.

            I have a gender identity disorder and wearing bras (or binding) causes me to experience gender dysphoria. So I don’t wear a bra or bind. I also know plenty of people with breasts who don’t wear bras for comfort or feminist reasons. That doesn’t mean i /they are necessarily being provocative or inappropriate. It’s possible to make clothing choices that are covered and conservative without including bras.

          3. Yeah, the bra thing is highly variable, both in how big a deal it is to others and how much of a hassle it is to the wearer. (I have fibromyalgia, and sometimes a bra strap on a trigger point is pretty painful.)

            My general advice to boob-having house-guests would be wear a bra if you can comfortably do so. If you can’t, but you can comfortably do something else to make the bralessness less obvious (eg, camisole + looser top), do that.
            But don’t hurt yourself, whether that’s gender dysphoria or chronic pain or betraying personal ideals, or whatever the case may be.

          4. I agree with your general guidelines, really (especially the sleeping in the nude bit), on everything but the bra. I’m not talking about walking around topless or poking eyes out with nipples, but as long as you have a not-too-tight not-too-sheer top on – what goes on beneath it is nobody’s business but the wearer, regardless of location. There is so much you can ask and/or expect from a house guest.

        2. I think basically the point is make yourself presentable. It might not be go out in public to the store, cafe etc presentable, but at least ‘around the house if you are not alone’ presentable or ‘taking out the garbage’ or ‘walking the dog’ presentable. So if that does not include a bra for you, that’s cool. But if you wouldnt go out front or to the garbage chute without one, put one on. Personally I wear a bra at all times even while sleeping but for me guest presentable includes a pair of sweats or shorts for after waking up but before showering, and a hat to help tame my bedhead. I also bring a tshirt and shorts or sweats to the washroom with me to throw on when walking between the washroom and guest room after showering, while at home I would just wear underwear

    2. Yes on finding out your hosts’ stance on cigarettes and other substances that leave olfactory traces. I’m hypersensitive to cigarette smoke. Could very well be psychosomatic (an assertion supported by the fact that I have absolutely no comparable issues with pot smoke), but regardless, if I so much as catch a whiff on another person’s clothes, I’ll be really reluctant to even let them in my car, since I know I’ll convince myself for weeks afterwards that the passenger seat reeks of thirdhand smoke.

      Since I don’t think most people are as hyperaware of it as I am, though, I’d suggest that any possible couch surfers who do smoke simply be as conscientious as possible around hosts who don’t. Wash hands after smoking, maybe wear a jacket or sweatshirt on smoke breaks that can absorb the odor, definitely make sure butts are discarded properly, etc.

      1. +1 on making sure the butts are discarded possibly. Nobody in our house smokes, but I still find cigarette butts all over our driveway and front porch after certain people are over, and it’s really infuriating.

        1. On that note, if you’re hosting a smoker, give them a can or ash tray or something fireproof into which to discard butts that can be kept near the designated smoking area and emptied every day or whatever. Our outdoor garbage can is about 150 horizontal and 20 vertical feet from our back door, and asking even able-bodied smokers to trek that after every cigarette strikes me as unnecessarily demanding when there’s a simple solution; for my smoking houseguest this past summer, who has limited mobility, it would have been impossible.

          1. It’s also not exactly a good idea to chuck smoke butts into a garbage can. It only takes one spark for it to go up. For my mom, we have coffee can outside with dirt and rocks in it.

            It’s not really a big deal to rinse a soup can or something out to NOT have a fire, lol.

      2. I totally get it! I myself am hyper aware of cigarette smoke (I can smell it 40ft away before I even see the smoker) because I am allergic to it and it can potentially trigger an asthma attack. So can fireplaces and charcoal grills, so I hate the smells of all three! Pot smoke doesn’t set off my illnesses like that (or at all).
        As a consequence, people have never been allowed to smoke cigarettes in my living spaces, not even room mates or SOs, but they can smoke all the pot in Humboldt and it’s NBD (just open a window, please ;] )

        And that right there is an excellent example of why one should ask in advance and be considerate of their host’s wishes involving any substance of an olfactory nature, even if they may seem contradictory (like my above example) or odd (“cigarettes ok, perfume no way!”) because you never know what their reasons are and they could have serious repercussions.

        1. I’ve got allergies and mild asthma, but I think the reason for my hypersensitivity has to do with the fact that I don’t know what caused my mom to die at 52, but I wouldn’t be surprised if smoking was a contributing factor. Though I also get itchy around perfumes and other artificial scents, so maybe that’s just another component of the sensory issues package I scored at birth? Either way, I know that there’s a reason I consider odors and their possible traces to be Priority # 1 for prospective guests!

  14. Depending on your age (standard undergrad?) and the adult family members (your parents age?) – if you’re going to be out very late, definitely let them know/check in. And this is double if you’re a woman. No matter how “you’re an adult, go out and have fun and explore the city” they sound at 4pm, finding out that they’ve been waiting up for you at 2am is awkward for everyone.

    Definitely give a rough idea of the time, send a text around midnight or whenever if they’re ok with that – just the basics and when you expect to be back. My worst case of this was staying with my uncle and getting the whole speech about how I should go out and enjoy New York City – went out with a friend and ended up nodding off at his apartment. I then received a very pleasant phone call at 4am from my uncle just wanting to know how I was doing. It was a pretty embarrassing misread on my part and definitely made the rest of the visit fairly awkward.

    My experience is that when there’s a significant age difference between host and guest, is that no matter how lovely and adult everyone is in the daylight – things can get a lot more parenty after dark.

    1. Not just an age difference thing.

      I once clashed with a new housemate over this. My expectation was that I would notice she wasn’t home yet and leave the light on for her, and she would (a) turn it off when she got home, or (b) let me know that she’d be out all night. And that if she failed to come home unexpectedly, it was my duty as a housemate to worry and possibly call the cops. Meanwhile, HER expectation was that she was no longer living at home and no longer had to ask permission to stay out all night, and therefore did not have to mention anything to me.

      She fielded quite a few panicked 6am calls from me, when I would wake up and find the light STILL on, until we worked it out…

      1. I’ve been living with my dad since my divorce, and this was a slight thing when I first moved back in. The procedure now is that we each let the other know where we’re going and when we expect to be home, more for safety purposes than anything else. But I very rarely stay out later than about midnight anyway since my dog tends to get upset if I’m not back before then.

  15. Had a friend stay for an indeterminate amount of time once (ended up being a year and a half – after 6 months of couch surfing she moved in!) and thanks to her guest etiquette it was the best thing that ever happened in my roommate years. She did everything the Cap’n suggests and made her 6 month stay a complete and total non-issue for me and our other roommates.

  16. Invite them to do something free with you, like hitting the museum or a screening or art show. Everyone gets that nice feeling of hosting the event. I went on a fun walking tour with hosts who said, “We never seem to get out to do this unless we have guests!”

  17. Get a sense of what time the family gets up – and get up when they do. Nothing more annoying than wanting to start your cooking, cleaning, whatever, but feeling like you can’t make noise because guest wants to sleep til noon right in the middle of your living room. Or having guest get pissy because you woke them up – as if they’re entitled to sleep all day.

  18. I have couchsurfed a fair amount, but I sadly am not the best houseguest ever. A random list of things:

    – if there is more than one bathroom, find out if there’s one you can’t use.

    – check for your hair in the shower.

    – I usually try to cook a meal for my hosts or give them some nice chocolate. If you take the former option, CLEAN AS YOU GO.

    – odd, odd, odd, but: I would recommend taking a couple of physical books with you for entertainment if at all possible. If you are staying with family of people of varying ages, my experience suggests that a certain type of 45+ person often feels weirdly aggressive toward younger people, especially younger people they don’t know, plugged into a bit of technology and apparently “unresponsive.” Also “sitting in the kitchen reading a book” reads as both companionable and nonintrusive to me. YMMV.

    – set an alarm for a reasonably early time (anywhere between 6-8 AM) and be up and about by then. I’ve had the thing happen where I didn’t set an alarm because I figured that the people I was couchsurfing with would wake me up when they set off about their day. NOPE. Don’t assume that. And people are often unpleasantly judgmental about sleeping in.

    – have a couple prepared topics of discussion — books you read this term, classes you took, any hobbies you might have, maybe a historical issue you find interesting, or a fun science fact. My experience, again, suggests that having a couple fun conversations under your belt leaves a positive impression on your hosts and leaves you feeling more sturdy.

    – but also have a few exit lines prepared for any times you’re feeling uncomfortable or overwhelm. “I need some fresh air! I’m going to take a walk now.” “Excuse me.” “I’m going to run to the convenience store for a snack, do you want anything?” You want to project cheery independence.

    These last two are maybe really obvious, but when I was in college I didn’t the wherewithal to realize I might need these sorts of tactics to make myself comfortable as a guest. It’s good to have them already in mind and practice saying them so you don’t feel too weird.

    – Finally: I’ve had a couple unpleasant experiences with people who said I was welcome and then made it abundantly clear that I was not welcome at all. What I have to say about that is: that’s their deal, not yours. If you do your bes to be polite and tidy and people are still weird about you being there, at some point you just have to shrug it off as “a thing you tried that didn’t work so well.” It’s uncomfortable, but you’ll get through it.

    1. Really helpful tips – re: your last point, I really hope the hosts were sincere in their offer to the LW, but it probably would be a good idea for them to put some feelers out to other friends they might know in the area/have a backup plan/have a plan in place for how to get back from somewhere 3 hours away from where they live. Even asking in advance to stay for a few days somewhere if the hosts don’t work out would be better than being caught flatfooted with nowhere to sleep.

      It’s unpleasant but I was in that situation over a holiday weekend where I was invited to a beach house, then it was made explicitly clear that despite having been invited I wasn’t actually welcome (my host’s mother threw a screaming tantrum in the living room about guests at the house), after having driven four hours to be there.

      Fortunately I had my own car, so I got the fuck out. In this case there was literally nothing I could do, since she was spraying her untreated anxiety disorder all over everyone in the house for Reasons that I’m sure were clear to her if not to anyone else, but the point is that sometimes hosts do horrible things, and if possible it’s a good idea to have some semblance of a plan if you need to peace out.

      1. Thank you very kindly! I have an addition: ASK ABOUT THE LAUNDRY SITUATION. One needs to know if one is expected to go to the laundromat, if one can wash at will, or if one needs to wait and combine one’s laundry with other folks’ laundry. V. important.

    2. “I usually try to cook a meal for my hosts or give them some nice chocolate. If you take the former option, CLEAN AS YOU GO.”

      Yes, THIS. One of my more unpleasant housemate experiences was when I was living in the house of some good friends and some of their friends came over for the weekend while they were gone (not as weird as it sounds; they had people in and out all the time, since they love hospitality, and this other couple lived in another town). My housemates had just had a death in the family and so were off dealing with Details, and the friends decided it would be the kind thing to do to fix up a big pot of food to leave for them. This was a lovely idea, but then they left ALL of their cooking dishes ALL OVER the counter because they had to get back on the road. There was no way I was leaving my housemates to deal with all of those dishes coming back from Funeral Details, so I spent over an hour (if I’m remembering correctly) washing the pile o’ dishes (some, to be fair, were from housemates who had been so distracted when they left that they forgot it, but only ONE was mine in any way, shape, or form). For all of that time, I could have just done the cooking myself and washed dishes while the casserole was in the oven.

      (Although it wouldn’t have to be clean as you go as long as you take care of it; I have a family member who generally would rather that I get things going if I’m cooking at his house, go visit, and then wash up later. If that’s their preference, then that’s fine too.

  19. I’m a little bit puzzled as to why it would cost too much to stay in the dorm. Doesn’t the rent get paid on a monthly basis? (I never stayed in a dorm when I was in college, so I’m unfamiliar with this.)

    1. At most US universities, the dorm fee covers staying in the dorm while school is in session, but doesn’t cover extended breaks when it’s assumed everyone will go home; often one or two dorms stay open, and students can stay there for an additional fee (at my local university it’s $10/night), but the other dorms are completely closed and not staffed over the holiday.

      1. Yet another reason why Hogwarts rocks. Harry and Ron got to stay in their own cozy dorm with that big fireplace.

        1. Hogwarts is impossibly awesome. Shame the ‘house elves should get rights!’ thing was never properly resolved seeing as it was them doing all the work!

      2. This is actually the first I’ve heard of US universities keeping any dorms open over break. The ones I’m familiar with keep the international and married housing open, but not the dorms. Actually for this reason about ten years ago I had a boyfriend of a little over a month stay with me over winter break because he had nowhere else to go.

        Now that I think about it, to that end, LW, be prepared to cover your own food budget. I know it’s not strictly host/guest etiquette, but when the boyfriend stayed with me I had assumed he would be buying his own food, and he didn’t, and as a result I couldn’t make rent that month.

    2. Well, when I was in college, almost everybody was expected to clear out for the holidays (and yes, it was terribly annoying if you couldn’t get transportation at just the right time), and if you did stay, you had to get special permission, pay extra, and stay in the one building they’d chosen for that (probably they preferred to heat 1 full building than 15 almost-empty ones).

      1. In my experience, it’s partly to save heating costs, yes — they do turn off the heat in the other buildings besides the one(s) specially chosen for students to stay in (for an extra cost, and with requesting to do so by a certain deadline, unless you can demonstrate that it’s an emergency.) The other part is that they use this winter break time to do repairs to the dorms, work on the electrical wiring, etc. It’s not as dramatic as over summer break, since winter break is shorter and the dorms are generally full of students’ stuff, but all the same the other dorms are genuinely not set up to be inhabited during the break, because they’re cold and probably full of off-and-on construction.

          1. And hosting conferences or other events. Some of the dorm buildings at my university certainly got used this way (students had to move their things to storage areas over the break).

          2. My addition is: a family who offered to allow you to stay with them for 3-4 weeks knows what they are getting themselves into. Yes, you do want to be a gracious house guest – clean up after yourself, be polite, replace things you use up, don’t use all the household resources 24/7. But at the same time, your hosts are probably also going to be gracious *hosts* – realizing that their normal way of life is going to be disrupted at least a little bit for a couple of weeks because *they offered*, and probably being okay with that. Most actual gracious, warm hosts are going to let you live your life for the most part.

            I have stayed in places during the winter break and other times, and while I have adhered to some specific rules (one family wanted me up before 10 am, one family asked me to limit my showers to 5 minutes – a priori, because I was studying abroad and this culture had a very different perspective on water usage than the U.S.) for the most part my host families let me live my life and I let them live theirs. I cooked for them a few times, and in some places I brought my own groceries. I was respectful of their belongings and their common space (generally, I tried not to spend too much time in the common space unless they were all in there, for socializing purposes). But they didn’t ask me to conduct myself in any particular way, and I just was myself. If they didn’t like me they wouldn’t have asked me to stay, and the same is probably true for you.

            Honestly, I think certain things are honestly a bit unreasonable for house hosts to expect of their house guests. Just like a guest should be respectful of the host, a host should be respectful of the guest. And quite frankly if I invited a college student to stay with me for 3-4 weeks and she wanted to sit around like a bump on a log most of the time…I respect that. That’s what I wanted to do on MY breaks!

      2. There were some holidays we could stay on for (Thanksgiving was one, ditto Spring Break) and some we could not (Xmas, most of summer break) because the latter two required the building to be evacuated for three or more weeks. We could arrange to come early (once we’d been there at least a semester) or stay late, but that was often limited to a matter of a day or two at most, and you had to get permission. These days, with legal and security concerns, I am not sure the college still offers that much leeway.

    3. Some colleges raise their rates out of term time.

      Also even if the dorms are cheap, for whatever reason the LW can’t afford it. It doesn’t really matter about the whys and wherefores to the question at hand though.

      1. I don’t think RSVP was trying to challenge them, just curious about their being an extra cost in the first place.

    4. Some colleges close their dorms and then have maybe one open during holidays for students who can’t go somewhere else. Since this is a special service there is an extra charge for it. The dorm “lease” does not cover winter break even though students may leave their things there over break.

    5. Usually you pay a fee per semester and the dorms are closed over the longer breaks. Sometimes you can pay extra to stay over the break, which might involve having to stay in a specific dorm that remains open and possibly not having access to your usual meal plan in the dining hall.

    6. At my particular college, they leave 1 dorm hall open for international students (who still have to pay to stay), and then turn off the heating, staffing, and everything else in all other dorms. This is up north, so you could quite literally freeze over the winter. From what I can tell, this is pretty common — a lot of schools do their best to make it difficult for you to stay between semesters, because it saves them money. (We also pay for the dorm in one big chunk at the start of each semester).

      However, yeah, the important thing is that the LW can’t stay in the dorms, but I figured I’d shed some light on a few more possible reasons.

    7. At my university, most of the dorms are closed during winter break. You literally CANNOT live there. The few that are still open charge extra, and are mostly occupied by international students.

  20. Dear LW,

    I am very sorry that you are in this situation (I was in several similar situations when in college, not wanting to spend holidays with abusive family and trying to elicit invitations from friends in not-subtle ways). I currently own a house and have hosted many guests, some very welcome and some not. Let me give you a list which I hope will make you feel better about your ability to be a thoughtful guest:

    –Do not insist that your hosts leave the door unlocked after they go to bed, leading to fears about intruders and the escape of indoors-only pets.
    –Do not demand fresh towels after one day of use as if the house were a hotel.
    –Do not say rude things about the food on offer (for example: if the household is vegetarian and you are not. Even if the household is not vegetarian and you are). I mean, don’t eat it if you don’t want to, but announcing loudly that you “don’t eat vegetables” in a vegetarian household is not going to strike people as the best manners.
    –Related: do not refuse to drink anything offered, follow your hosts into the kitchen, peer into the refrigerator, and offer to drink the chocolate milk which has NOT been offered (because it is the only way someone in the household will take their pills). Do not consume food that has not been explicitly offered.
    –Do not sneer, talk over, and/or comment about how the media entertainment on offer is inadequate or stupid, ruining it for everyone else.
    –If you are uncomfortable in the house (because of: dietary restrictions, allergies, political differences, or whatever), do not inform the hosts about how you felt so much better the moment you left.
    –Do not arrive covered in poison ivy and only mention this after you have sat on the living room furniture and rolled around on the rug with the dog.
    –Do not insist that the guest room is haunted, making an excuse to sleep on the floor of your hosts’ bedroom. That’s just intrusive.
    –Do not make disparaging remarks about the decor, tidiness, presence of pets or children, or other similar characteristics of the house.
    –Do not insist upon using the laundry facilities at inconvenient times, like the middle of the night or after you are scheduled to leave.
    –Do not extend your visit uninvited.
    –Do not make racist remarks at the dinner table.
    –Do not assume you are allowed to take things from the home, such as books, flowers, vegetables from the garden, or similar small items.

    Since I am SURE that you would not do any of these things, here are a few small actually helpful bits of advice:

    — a gift is always welcome. Consumables, such as a small box of chocolates, are good (also consider cheese, if the household can eat it). Wine is good, but don’t worry about it if you are underage — also, your hosts may or may not drink. Other good gifts are: cute dishtowels (the printed kind, if you can find them — they are usually not expensive) or other small useful kitchen things, or even some flowers, not too expensive. In this case, it is really the thought that counts.

    — think about bathroom use — this may be less of an issue during the holidays, but worth making sure that you don’t jam things up too much by needing it when everyone else does!

    — definitely keep your bag/things tidy and out of the way (and this includes your sponge bag in the bathroom — if there isn’t much counter space in there, repack it in your bag after every use). It can also be worth asking where your hosts prefer used towels to be hung up to dry if there isn’t an obvious place.

    — offer to help do dishes, walk dog, other small things.

    Visiting people can be stressful, but with a little consideration, there will be much less stress for you and your hosts. And also, I am sure you are a much better guest than many, as shown by your writing to the Captain in the first place!

    1. Molly Grue, you have ALL my respect. It’s frankly amazing the number of things you would not think people would not realize NOT TO DO.

      1. another thing for that list: if you sleepwalk, WARN your host. especially if you’re male and she’s female. there are few things more terrifying than finding that out at 3am.

    2. Oh man, while we’re on the topic of things houseguests have actually done, this is on our house rules that we send to all houseguests:

      “Don’t go out on your own, get incredibly drunk, run down your phone battery, forget where we live, forget how to take a cab, get lost on the subway, and finally stagger in at 4 a.m. when we’re all frantic with worry.”

      After that incident we printed up business cards with our address and a map, and gave them to anyone who stayed with us. LW, you are undoubtedly a thoughtful, considerate person–so get a blank/old business card, put your host’s address and phone numbers on it, and keep it in your wallet. Along with info for taxi services if street hails don’t work where you are and/or transit stops running at some point, and cash for a taxi, and change for a pay phone call if your phone is dead. You want to be able to contact your hosts and get home regardless of circumstances.

      1. A friend of my daughter was in Barcelona, staying in a hostel there. He went out for the evening and then forgot how to get back — the only thing he could remember was that the hostel had large wooden carved doors. Great, except that EVERYWHERE in Barcelona has large wooden carved doors. Luckily he stumbled across the Canadian embassy and a counselor officer drove him around the city and finally about 3 am he found his hostel.

    3. “do not refuse to drink anything offered” <- Nope
      You can offer me wine all day long, I'm still not going to drink it.

        1. Yeah even still, I disagree. Being a houseguest doesn’t mean relinquishing control over your drinks, putting up with smell issues, going thirsty because nothing you CAN drink was offered, etc.

          “No thank you” is always polite. And it is a refusal.
          I get the context of the story, but still have to nope.

          1. Yep, agreed. As a picky person with dietary issues, “No, thank you” is polite. And in a sane world you can ALWAYS ask for tap water. If you’re one of those people who is always thirsty you can ask for a glass that you can fill up from the tap. More importantly:


          2. I didn’t think this meant “don’t refuse drinks,” I thought it meant, “don’t ask for a special item which hasn’t been offered after having turned down all offers”. Because in lots of places, if they haven’t offered a thing, it’s because that thing is not available to be offered, for Reasons.

            “No thank you” is fine, even in the context of the original comment.

            “No, but I see you have [a thing that was not offered], I’ll have that!” is rude, and I believe that’s the point..

          3. (@Godric but nesting) Actually, here, if I had guests I wouldn’t let them drink the tap water. Regional things! Ours tastes disgusting, it’s not palatable at all. We also fairly recently had a full week of a boil-water advisory. Not good hosting to give your guests a parasite! XD

        2. I don’t drink. How many glasses of alcohol am I wasting letting pile up because I’m being passive aggressive? How about the caffeine and dairy I can’t have? This is getting expensive and I’m still thirsty!

      1. I read that as “do not refuse all possible drinks which are offered and help yourself to something that was explicitly not offered”, rather than “never refuse any drink”.

        1. In that case “do not help yourself to something not offered” is much preferable to “do not refuse offers”.

        2. Yes, given the rest of the sentence and the context of the clause, that was my reading as well. Like, water is a thing nearly everyone can drink, with possible exceptions for unfamiliar parasites (in which case, buy your own bottled water, houseguest) or areas without secure water access. If you don’t want to drink the things that are offered to you, supply your own alternatives.

      2. I think Molly Grue meant that the person in question refused all of the various drink options that were offered to them, then went into the kitchen and asked to drink something that had purposefully not been offered to them because it was meant for someone else (the chocolate milk). Not that, as a guest, you have to accept/drink everything that is offered to you or drink something you do not want to, like alcohol.

        1. That’s clearly the point of the full story, yes, but it’s still not a good admonishment. I’m done quibbling 🙂

      3. I think that meant “do not refuse all the various things I offer you, and then ask to drink someone I specifically did not offer”. As in, multiple things were offered and the person turned everything down in favor of a not-listed option. Obviously if someone offers you wine and you don’t drink, you can say no.

      4. The meaning was: do not refuse everything that is offered (it was a wide range of things) in favor of something that is not offered, not “you must accept everything that IS offered.” After all, the wine issue was dealt with later in my comments.

        I thought the context was sufficiently clear.

        1. It was. I think Nanani is missing the point on purpose for Reasons related to Making A Point. If you’re offered, say, four drink options, and none of those are things you can/want to drink, it is totally ok to say that and ask if your preferred alternative is available.

          But unless you have the type of relationship with your hosts where they are okay with you rummaging through their refrigerator, don’t go through the fridge and help yourself – especially in a house with kids, where there will often be food/drinks that are for the kids because they’re the only thing the kids will eat.

          If you would like specific drinks or snacks or whatever, buy them and bring them with you.

          1. I suspect they just read it differently. The way I read it was two separate points. The latter was to not request to drink something not offered, which I’m entirely on board with. The second read more as an obligation to drink whatever individual thing is offered, whether you like it or not. Said reading was likely at least partially informed by people who do offer exactly one thing then get upset when you don’t try it. I haven’t dealt with this personally; I have been around when my vegetarian, alcohol-avoiding mother was repeatedly hounded at family gatherings to eat a meat dish or drink some booze, and then told that she was the rude one for not doing so.

      5. I think it was the whole thing — do not refuse everything offered and then follow the host into the kitchen, peer into their fridge, and take a non-offered drink.

      6. I read it as don’t refuse anything offered and *then* go snooping in the kitchen and request something that was explicitly not offered.

    4. “Do not make disparaging remarks about the decor, tidiness, presence of . . . pets . . .”

      Yes, this. Do not be my older sister.

      Do not try to train your host’s dog with a different set of commands because you saw that on TV.

      Do not “offer advice” about cleaning products and strategies that “make it so much easier to keep up with the mess.”

      Do not offer your personal philosophy about achieving work-life balance, especially if you neither work full-time nor have kids. Do not do this repeatedly.

      Do not disparage the quirky local restaurant you chose when offered a list that included national chains that are safe bets.

      LW, you won’t do these things because you sound like a self-effacing person. But there’s one other breach of conversational etiquette to watch out for. This one’s endemic to awkward college students on breaks:

      Do not turn every conversation into, “Actually we covered that in my Intro to Hamster Fur / Underwater Basketweaving / Bassomaticology 101 class. Let me now inform you about How Things Really Are.”

      I know a lot about this one, having been an egregious offender and then spawning two myself.

      1. All of these are very good advice, but yes yes yes on the work/life balance, I would like to shoot all unsolicited advice on that topic into the sun.

    5. You deserve many medals and gold stars if you have dealt with all of those Bad Guest Behaviors. I’m aghast (and somewhat agog, especially at the “sleep on host’s bedroom floor” one. Egads.)

  21. As someone who is half through a a 6-week house guest, may I say that the Captain is absolutely right about all the things she mentioned? We’re fortunate that we have a spare bedroom and bathroom for our guest, and not just a couch, but even in those circumstances it’s still really, really important to clean up after yourself. I’m not saying you have to scrub the bathroom, but just try not to leave things lying around the main part of the house and don’t leave your dishes lying around and for goodness sake, when you do wash the dishes (Thank you for doing the dishes!), please be sure you are getting them actually clean. Also, when your hosts are finished work, they may need some downtime. You may have spent the bulk of the day at home alone, surfing the Internet because you don’t feel up to going out, and are thus ready for some companionship. Your hosts, on the other hand, may simply be exhausted from interacting with people and making decisions or standing on their feet all day or whatever, and they just want to sit quietly and recharge before carrying on with the making of dinner etc.

    Yes, we are struggling a bit with our current situation, why do you ask? But it’s mostly just that we’re a pair of introverts hosting a jet-lagged, slightly ill extrovert plus holiday stress!! and we are all adjusting.

    1. We just finished up a 6-week house guest stay, and it did not go well. Luckily we could offer him his own bedroom/bathroom/living room, but his living room was also the only place with tv, so really we also needed to use it sometimes. On the weekend I like to binge watch shows and I couldn’t because he was always. there. on. the. couch. watching. tv.
      He kept the tv and lights on when he went to other rooms, even if he’d be gone for an hour.
      He left yesterday and when I came home from work I realized that he left a ton of stuff lying around. In the bathroom. In the bedroom. In the living room. It was always going to be the case that he would leave stuff with us, but for f’s sake, at least organize it neatly! And let us know what you’re leaving. There is some contraption in the bathroom and I have NO CLUE what it does, but I guarantee you I DO NOT WANT IT.

      Basically he hit 1 out of 5 points listed above: he did the dishes every day. Which I did appreciate. But I totally struggled. Host-solidarity-fistbump…

      1. Fistbump! Ooo, leaving the lights on! I’ve got that too. And I get it, she’s been living in a tropical country with lots of light, and here we are in the northern hemisphere with the shortest possible days. It’s dark and it’s gloomy and it’s cold and it’s getting her down. And yet!

        1. I had a friend stay in our lounge when I was a student; he knew we had no tv and no licence so he brought a tv along. We told him to either buy a licence for our property, Or please not use the TV, same as we had agreed before he came. He agreed.

          For a few days we kept finding the tv plugged in, and unplugging it… Eventually my partner said “ooh! Since you can’t use a tv here, we put it in the store cupboard so it didn’t get in the way.”

          The guest’s mother came to visit that weekend, and she took it home again. Phew!

          So… Don’t do things you’ve expressly been asked not to do, or bring things you’ve been asked not to bring!

    2. “when you do wash the dishes, please be sure you are getting them actually clean”

      So, so important. It’s worse when it’s a long-term roommate with whom one has this issue (oh, the days of washing every dish both before and after using it), but it’s still a problem with a shorter term guest.

      1. I have spent so much energy trying to find a polite, tactful, non-rude way of saying “After you wash a dish, look at it. If it still has food particles on it, that is a sign that you need to try again.”

        Yeah. I’ll be living alone as soon as it’s financially feasible, and not a minute later.

        1. I used to have to hand dishes back to my brother when they were still dirty. His response: ‘SEE this is why I don’t help with the dishes, you’re such a perfectionist, I’m out of here bye!!!’ and exit without finishing the dishes. And then he would use my apparently overly perfectionist desire for there to not be food on the dishes after washing to get out of dishes as much as possible. Maybe this is a sibling dynamic only, I sure hope so. My housemate in my first shared living place never washed the underside of plates (somehow they can get really dirty) and another would absent mindedly put dirty forks and knives into the clean cutlery drawer after using them. I HATED finding them there. I love that my two housemates now barely use the kitchen. (I don’t know where and what they eat, maybe they photosynthesise? Works for me anyway)

          1. My ex would handwash all the dishes and never change the water, so by the time he got to the end of it all, there was a film of grease on the water, and hence on everything (sometimes, he’d wash the dirtiest pasta sauce pot FIRST, and the water would be gross from that moment on, and he works in a KITCHEN, which meant my insistence on cleaner plates than he provided bothered me like whoa). We got a dishwasher, which removed that source of ARGH, and replaced it with his refusal to run the dishwasher unless it was ‘full enough’ and insisting that it was OK to run it when it was too full to clean the dishes properly because you can’t leave a dish for the next load, and still continuing to not check the dishes are clean before putting them away. Or indeed, checking that they’re clean before using them. Not that I feel strongly about this or anything…

  22. I’m currently staying with relatives I don’t see very often for a month over the holiday period. Stuff that’s helping is being attentive about how they do things and asking if I’m not sure, eg ‘can I put this in the dishwasher or do you prefer this be washed by hand’, and being unobtrusive (ie not commenting or reacting or getting involved ) if they need to discipline their kids in front of me. I also booked into a hotel for a short holiday out of their town in the middle, partly to have a holiday while I’m in their neck of the woods, but partly so we can all have a bit of space. I know money is tight so holiday or hotel might not be an option, but maybe offering to do a few nights in a youth hostel or visiting a friend might help break up your stay if you feel like they need it?

    1. So important! I would actually recommend buying your own personal hair strainer for when you wash your hair, if the bath/shower has a plug hole that is compatible with one. I hope these are widely available in other countries, they’re just a cheap metal thing that goes over the drain and can be removed and emptied after use. I say this because I used to have long hair and I know it can somehow get too low into the drain to be pulled out no matter how much you pull, and will require a plunger/drain cleaner.

      1. We’ve got a plastic one that I bought at the grocery store. Would probably fit most any drain. 4 dollars at the grocery store, but you could probably find something pretty universal at the dollar store.

        Did solve an argument that, no, I was NOT the one clogging the drains. Muahahaha.

    2. Please allow me to add “or very haired” to your description above. Some people have pelts that shed…

  23. IMHO it’s a good practice to feed the folks you’re staying with at least once, if possible. If you can afford it, take them out to dinner, but since you’re probably not rolling in cash due to the circumstances, offering to cook a meal would probably be just as welcome. Risotto is a good thing to cook: it’s easy, it’s cheap and it is unlikely to be something that anyone’s got a health issue with. But just chipping in with meal preparation would be grand if that’s all you can manage.

    I hope you have a good stay.

  24. Couchsurfed for almost a year and the Captains advice is spot on. Nothing much to add, except the obvious: make sure that noise and light is at an absolute minimum when they go to bed. Maybe try and go to sleep at the same time they do, if their bedtimes aren’t too different from yours.

  25. Ask before inviting a guest over – especially overnight! Not everyone is cool with that.

    1. I would go so far as to say simply do not invite other people over, period. It’s not your house – your hosts have invited YOU to stay, but not anyone else. If you want to hang with someone because you make friends or sexyfriends or whatever (yay!), do so in their space, in public spaces, in a hotel for a night, if necessary. But, indeed, at the very minimum, ask, and be ready to take “no” as an answer (and actively look out for a soft “no”, interpret hesitation as “no”, etc.).

  26. Good personal hygiene is important. We once had a houseguest who didn’t want to use too much in the way of water (thoughtful) but consequently had really terrible body odour and nasty, funky clothes (not thoughtful). Don’t hog the shower or the washer/dryer but do use them as needed!

    Also if you are lonely or going through an emotionally difficult time, be mindful of how much support, listening and validation you are asking of your hosts. This can be truly exhausting.

  27. We recently hosted someone for 10 days and Captain’s advice is perfect. Every hosting situation is different, and in our case money is tight for both us and our guest, so we preferred that our guest directly split the shared homecooked meal and beer cost during his stay rather than give a gift. For us, the money in the pocket was more useful than a gift and didn’t require too much energy for him to think about what to get.

  28. For me, I am happy to host but hate last minute surprises and completely avoidable “emergencies” that put the potential host on the spot at the last minute. After the immediate situation is handled, spend some time reflecting on why you didn’t make plans (and contingency plans) sooner.

    1. I am pretty sure that leaving a comment that offers no advice but only judgment for the predicament the LW finds themselves in is the opposite of helpful. You, I, and everyone here knows spectacularly little about what’s going on with the LW other than what’s in this very short letter.

      I have been in the LW’s situation before. Someone telling me “Have you considered that this problem is all your fault?” would have made me more upset and less able to cope with the situation at hand.

      1. This. There’s no reason to think that the LW’s situation was completely avoidable, and even if it was it sounds like they’re already being punished in the form of the abovementioned PANIC and stress.

        Plans fall through sometimes. Shit happens. Telling people ‘why don’t you reflect on what you did wrong and how this situation was completely avoidable’ is usually not a helpful thing to do, and it presumes a just world in which ’emergencies’ are always the sole result of poor planning.

        I mean, I get the ‘poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine’, but that’s not really what’s going on here.

        1. The LW is not behaving in an egregious fashion; I think we can trust her would-be hosts to be as pleased or put out about being asked to host them as they so choose. We don’t have to put energy into imagining their possible irateness. Depending on the school schedule, there could yet be a week before the LW’s winter break starts, and I have known PLENTY of people who would be happy to host with a week’s warning. (I actually know more than one person who is okay with hosting with a day’s notice, though I admit that’s not as common.)

  29. My roommate’s boyfriend will stay for 8 to 10 days and take two to three showers a day. And never sprays the mildew preventing stuff so that even if I spray it every time it get ahead of me. Don’t do that.

  30. asdfasdfaewasdf so much this.

    I just had a couchsurfer who had been leaving her things spread alllll over the living room, wasn’t doing one bit of the chores, and rarely left the house. So I finally told her, “this is an enormous drain on me and I can’t cope, I can’t have you staying for the rest of the month if this doesn’t change.” In response? She did none of what I asked for several days. The process of kicking her out took days and involved her accusing me of domestic violence????, calling the police, insisting upon financial compensation, my partner and I sitting in the living room for eight hours trying to make a deal with her, her threatening to sue, and some other person finally picking her up.

    I gotta say, getting accused of abuse by someone I couldn’t even *pay* to leave me alone is a mindfuck.

    So yes: please please please try to participate at least equally in the chores, and leave your space available for others to use as much as possible. Have a backup plan ready to deploy if your hosts ask you to leave, but try to be thoughtful enough that they don’t have to. If things do go south, be gracious about it.

    As a host: Figure out the limits of what you can provide. Don’t agree to an indefinite stay; find a firm exit date you can agree on. If they’re using the space in a way you know you won’t be able cope with over the full term, make that clear as soon as possible.

    But I know there’s no way I’m offering my couch again anytime soon.

    1. Oh my goodness. I know you really don’t want the Survived The Worst Guest Ever trophy, but I think it’s yours.

      1. Ayup. That is indeed what happened.

        dear ex-guest: “the police can’t forcibly remove you” != “you get to stay until they do”.

  31. In a small house/apartment it can be psychologically exhausting for the host if you are always there (not such a big issue if the house is large or has multiple living areas), and I’d encourage spending a little time away every day to give them some space and privacy. Take your cues from the others in the house as to how things are done and if in doubt, ask. Mismatched expectations can be very stressful for everyone, and are often related to things that would not occur to you in a million years. For example, in my family of origin we drink tap water if we are thirsty and while you might have a glass of juice or milk with breakfast, to drink multiple glasses of these in a day would be considered greedy and rude, especially if you used up all the milk and there was none left for tea and coffee. If it had already been discussed and catered for then there would not be a problem, but that might not even occur to someone with different habits.

    1. So much this. If you’re staying in the living room and that’s the only common space, spending some time away is super important. If the only way for your hosts to get some alone time is to hide in their room, that’s a problem.

    2. Can I also suggest that if something like the Too Much Milk Means You’re Greedy Rule exists in your household, actually mention it to the guest? There are few things that suck worse than realizing you’ve violated some Super Important But Unstated Rule and are now being considered the Worst Ever.

      If your household has certain quirks or habits, it is totally ok to mention these to houseguests in advance! When I have folks stay over I always ask if there’s a particular food/drink they eat/drink a lot of and then stock up (for example, I am not a milk or coffee drinker, but if someone is staying over, I will ask if they are and then pick it up for them, or if I don’t want to buy it I will tell them I don’t drink milk or coffee and they can bring their own supplies).

      Same if there’s some special food reserved for someone in your household that you don’t want your guest to eat, if your towels need to be replaced on the rack a certain special way, if your house has plumbing eccentricities, if you have an unstated lights out time, etc. etc., saying something will make your and your guests’ lives easier.

      1. I do think a bit of observation and questioning can be useful here. For example, I think “Do you guys generally use milk in your morning coffee/tea?” is a helpful inquiry, and one can infer from that there must always be morning milk. (I have encountered a few individuals who are VERY PARTICULAR ABOUT MORNING MILK.)

        1. Yup – while I rarely drink coffee, when I do it has to have a lot of milk because I will get heartburn and an upset stomach otherwise.

          It is totally ok to have household quirks and idiosyncracies. It is not ok to not communicate those to a guest but expect them to somehow know about them.

    3. “In a small house/apartment it can be psychologically exhausting for the host if you are always there (not such a big issue if the house is large or has multiple living areas), and I’d encourage spending a little time away every day to give them some space and privacy.”

      I think this is great advice for any cohabitation, whether temporary or permanent. As someone who spent three years living with a then-boyfriend in a 300 square foot studio apartment, who often had to shut themselves in the bathroom because it was the only private area in the apartment, I cannot stress enough the importance of giving the people you share your space with–whether it’s for three weeks or three years–the benefit of a little alone time. Even 15 minutes alone to gather oneself after returning from work is helpful. Especially during winter months when people are, generally speaking, more inclined to relax at home.

  32. – If you’re bringing food, drinks or plants as a gift, find out about dietary restrictions and allergies beforehand.
    – Use your words. It’s better to be a little awkward and know where everyone’s boundaries lie than to have to guess. State your needs, respect their needs. When in doubt, defer to what they tell you.
    – No one reasonable is going to be upset with you because you don’t know your way around their house. Or the desired/accepted ettiquette. We all have to start learning somewhere, so don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get it right in the first try. God (and all my hosts) knows that I’m a super awkward, let-me-be-your-grateful-House-Elf-you-won’t-even-realise-I’m-here guest, and yet they keep inviting me. You’ll do fine, LW ^^
    Possible script:
    “Could you clarify something for me, please? You see, because of X I’d like to know how you do/feel about Y in your house. Could you please explain? Thank you”
    “I’m so grateful for your kindness! I’d like to do something nice for you to express that, how would that/Z look like for you?”
    Best of luck and I wish you a good winter break 🙂

  33. If you are a compulsive hand washer like me, don’t use up all their fancy bottle soap or buy them a refill. Also, give them privacy while they are making personal phone calls.

  34. Hosts may feel pressured to be polite and say “don’t worry about it” when you ask to help with chores, even when they want you to. Help make things less awkward by joining in the chores and giving a lame excuse if they tell you it’s not necessary. “Oh, you don’t have to clean the bathroom,” could be met with, “Thanks, but I spilled a bottle of lotion and I wanted to get it cleaned up before the whole room smelled like mango!” If they’re super insistent about taking care of things for you they’ll stop you anyway. If they actually want you to help they’ll leave you to it and/or show you the cleaning supplies. Same thing with dishes. An excuse could be: “I’m so stuffed from dinner I needed to get up and move around!”

  35. I may be overly sensitive to these types of things, but turn off a lot of the things in your phone, iPad, and laptop that makes noise. I’m driven crazy when a particular friend stays with me and she has keyboard sounds on her phone. Every long text she is typing, there is a popping sound for every key she types.

    Another friend has a loud ding on her laptop which goes off every time she gets and email or has a Facebook alert. Which seems to be every 30 seconds. I don’t mind these guests in general, but all of these buzzes and beeps are highly annoying.

    1. It might also be good to consider lights that flash from electronics — I’m used to what light my computer/phone, etc. make, but other people are not.

    2. I had to change my new email sound once because I was using a soundclip from Blue’s Clues (“We just got a letter! We just got a letter! We just got a letter! Wonder who it’s from?”) and back in the day a few friends and I used email practically like an instant messaging platform. That song every minute even for fifteen minutes was understandably a bit much for my flatmates.

      1. My boyfriend uses this soundclip as his ringtone. He is almost 20 years old. It brings him so much joy.

  36. Bring at least one warm outfit and one cool outfit, consider layers. You won’t know ahead of time if these people have their house set to Arctic or Hell’s Waiting Room and it’s really hard to get comfortable if you’re don’t have the appropriate clothing.

    1. I SECOND THIS SO HARD! Christmas for me necessitates a ridiculous range of layers, as Parents are set to Arctic and Grandma is set to Arizona Dessert except when other family arrive and open the windows and Partner’s family’s house is set to normal. My pro-strategy is to have zippered hoodie you can wear zipped, unzipped, or around your shoulders like a cape/blanket.

  37. Someone may have said this but it’s a huge pet peeve of mine. If you are truly “couch” surfing, make use of their sheets. Many of us (myself included) are sweaty/stinky/drooly/ sleepers. I get weirdly territorial about my couch (aka: my second bed) and when people sleep on it without a sheet a covering it because *they* don’t mind I have to find a finesse way of conveying *I* do mind without being rude. Use the sheet covered pillows (not the pretty throw ones) and cover the couch with a sheet.

      1. I’m reading it as thetigerhasspoken provides bed-pillows in pillowcases and yet has had guests use the pretty throw pillows. Then again, perhaps covering the throw pillows with pillowcases would be sufficient?

    1. Yes – didn’t realise this was a think multiple people did, but I had a houseguest who ignored the full set of bed sheets I gave him, but he slept on the folded up sheets so after he left I had to wash the duvet, the sofa throw AND wash and iron the sheets again.

      LW, you sound considerate and like you want to be a good guest so this probably doesn’t apply to you, but one piece of advice I’d give is listen really hard for subtle requests on the part of your hosts. E.g. when I tell a guest “don’t go in there its really messy” I mean “I don’t want you to go in there” and the correct response is not “I don’t mind the mess”.

      1. THIS.

        I am by nature a cluttery person and while I will clean up for guests, that usually means the clutter has been temporarily rehomed in another room.

        I have a friend who is by nature a very neat person (her house looks like a model home. Mine…does not.) and it drives me crazy when she comes over and starts making comments about my house being cluttery. Sometimes she will actually start picking things up and trying to put them away, which I HATE, because after she leaves I can’t find anything when it’s all been swept into a drawer. And on top of that I do have a lot of house shame/anxiety and her visits just exacerbate it.

      2. when I tell a guest “don’t go in there its really messy” I mean “I don’t want you to go in there” and the correct response is not “I don’t mind the mess”.

        Ohhhh yeaaaah. So when we have guests, we will clean the living room/kitchen/bathroom areas. We won’t clean our bedroom. Some guests (people like my sister, who tend to be fairly unobtrusive as it is and are close to our age) are allowed in the bedroom anyway. Some (like my mother-in-law, who would absolutely start commenting on everything and then cleaning without permission) are not. Barging into the bedroom when I was half-naked to tell us some minute detail that reaaally could have waited: nooooo.

  38. Don’t wake your hosts up for anything short of a life threatening emergency. Don’t have loud phone conversations or talk to yourself where they can hear you. Wash any dishes you use and put them away as soon as they are dry, or stick them in the dishwasher if that’s an option.

    1. Please be aware that sound can carry weirdly. I had a room in which, because of heating vents, I could hear my roommate’s Netflix binges better than she could. Living together would have been much more harmonious if she would have taken “Please consider using earphones if I am home from my night shift job,” more seriously. As it was, after a True Blood marathon that left me unable to sleep for sixty hours, I was a complete and utter bitch to her when she was in the sort of deeply vulnerable emotional place that necessitated a True Blood marathon. We don’t talk to this day, and I feel HORRIBLY guilty.

      1. That’s her problem, then. Sleep deprivation is literally torture.

        I’m sorry you lost a friend over it, though, but it doesn’t sound like YOU did anything wrong.

        1. Thanks for the validation, Emmers. That having been said: No, I was seriously a bitch. I wish I had known enough about boundaries to knock on that door, and say, “I love you enough to be a LITTLE selfish and be KIND of a jerk,” but I was also in recovery from… a lot of heavy shit at the time. (Not that this is any excuse for my behavior.) Normal people, healthy people, good friends can be trusted to say, “Hey, enough with the literal torture, already…” Oh, well. Fodder for a different column. Tread lightly around others, sometimes, is all I meant to say.

          1. The Awe Ritual, don’t be too hard on yourself. It’s hard to be the best person you could be when you’re sleep deprived! I recently had a flatmate who would mutter, shout, and sometimes even punch the walls during the night. Even though I tried to be polite about telling her to please keep it down I ended up raising my voice when, for the third night in a row, I asked her to keep it down and went to bed again, and she knocked on my door a couple of minutes later just to ask whether I was sure the noise had woken me. Repeatedly stop someone from sleeping long enough, and they will almost certainly lose their temper.

            To return to the original point though, keeping sound to a minimum even during the day is an excellent suggestion. Headphones are a great invention!

  39. Great advice! For sure, the top five are:

    * Offer to cook at least once a week.
    * Keep your shit tidy and as out of the way as possible.
    * Help with chores (hoovering, cleaning bathrooms, dishes).
    * Be up when they’re up.
    * Be able to amuse yourself.

    Finding out about bathroom schedules is also a must! In addition, you’re going to need to do washing. Ask when a good time would be (i.e. not inconveniencing your hosts by using the machine when they need it) and buy detergent (unless sensitivities/allergies make this not a good idea). Offer to throw in your host’s things, but be extra careful about ruining stuff! That is, say “I’m doing a load of whites, do you have anything you’d like me to throw in?” Some people hate other folk touching their laundry, others would love to have theirs done for them, but you won’t know which your hosts are until you offer.

    If finances allow, pitch in for groceries. If it’s at all a possibility, see if you can find a seasonal temp job while you’re there. You might have too much school work, there might be no suitable opportunities, or transport might be an issue, but if it’s possible I would do it. 1) It’ll get you out of the house, which is nice for you and your hosts. 2) Money is nice, and will allow you to offer to pay for groceries and take them out for dinner.

  40. Please, PLEASE, follow basic hygiene! If you’ve forgotten some essential, BUY ONE or ask if your host has a spare. We had a couch surfer stay with us over Thanksgiving…who didn’t brush their teeth the entire time! By Saturday, his breath was so bad, I had to open windows to keep from gagging. My husband quietly took him aside and asked if he needed anything. Turns out he had forgotten his tooth brush…and thought he’d just wait until he got home instead of buying a new one. We promptly gave him a spare and pointed him to the bathroom.

    1. Oh lord, I wish someone had taken me-of-16-years-old aside and informed me of this back then. I spent a week at my great-aunt’s once, and didn’t want to inconvenience her or my great-uncle (who were both very old) by waking them up with the sound of the shower in the morning, since I found myself getting up earlier than they were.

      Unfortunately, this snowballed into “I did not shower for the whole week I was there”. It was, um. Well, I wish someone had told me that no, it’s better to be clean and not have greasy hair, and if you wake them up, you can apologize and then ask when a better time to shower would be, so that it doesn’t happen a second time.

  41. As someone who has been hosting houseguests a majority of the time for the past sixteen months, I want to reiterate this bit:
    “A self-amusing houseguest is a good houseguest. If your hosts include you and invite you to things like mealtime and weekly game night, participate and enjoy, but also make plans to take walks, work down at the coffee shop or library, read quietly, go to the movies, etc. by yourself sometimes so you give your hosts some privacy.”

    People offering you a place to stay are not offering to be your 24/7 entertainers. It’s not only a matter of privacy, though that is sometimes nice; for me, it’s mostly a matter of time and energy. For example, I have a job with standard hours, while the houseguests staying with me have not been working; when I get home at the end of the day, I am exhausted and socially drained, and while it’s unfortunate that you, dear houseguest, have been getting bored and lonely sitting around the house all day, I don’t have the energy – let alone the ability – to grant you an instant social life. While I think it would be unfriendly and rude to NEVER engage with someone staying with me, and I definitely made an effort to involve my houseguests with things I was doing several nights a week, they had this bizarre expectation that I involve them in my activities nearly every night, which is not at all what I offered. When you’re staying with someone, you’re not actually joining their family (though there are certainly people out there who approach guests like that), nor do you instantly become friends with everyone they know, nor must you do everything together even if you ARE all friends (see the Geek Social Fallacies).

    As others have noted, you’re also not (necessarily) being offered free meals when you’re offered somewhere to stay: start with the default assumption/expectation that you will be purchasing/preparing all of your own meals, and then adapt to the actual situation from there. You can, of course, gracefully accept offered meals, and you may even offer to cook for everyone, but DO NOT assume that your offer will/must be accepted – people’s food preferences are not actually a referendum on your value or status as a person, despite numerous social conventions in various cultures that dictate otherwise.

    If you need any special accommodations, it’s alright to ask for them, but you’ll need to be open to negotiating a plan that works for everyone involved. People who let you stay with them (for free) are ultimately doing you a favor, and in any cases of irresolvable conflicts, their needs take precedence. Especially if you, the houseguest, are not working but your host is, you may well need to schedule your active awake time around their schedule (as opposed to, say, when the hottest local clubs are most lively) – if you’re keeping them up late or waking them up early, that can be a serious problem. Bathroom time, especially in the morning on work/school days, is another common area of conflict, and explicitly negotiating time slots is not a bad idea, especially if the houseguest also has scheduled commitments like work or school.

    Don’t snoop through people’s shit, and respect any explicitly stated boundaries absolutely – and this goes both ways. For example, if someone declares anything OFF LIMITS for any reason (whether you think that reason is good or bad), respect that boundary. Don’t go looking through your host’s rooms, closets, etc. that have been indicated to be restricted (or even ones that haven’t – unless it’s truly an emergency, you can wait until your host is around to ask e.g. where the extra blankets are stored or give them a call, as many, many people have mobile phones these days, especially here in USA), don’t go snooping through your guest’s baggage or computers or whatever. Along similar lines, while it may be tempting to clean, wash clothes, etc. as either a guest or a host in order to be polite or pitch in, DON’T DO IT WITHOUT ASKING. You don’t want to accidentally break something, wash clothes that need special care and ruin them, reorganize someone’s possessions such that they cannot then find them, etc. The people suggesting pushing against stated barriers that you suspect the host might be asserting as a simple matter of politeness are flatly wrong – do not try to push past your host’s barriers, irrespective of whether you think they are serious or not. You can question it directly, once, e.g. “I know you said you don’t want me to help clean, but I just wanted to make sure that you really wanted me to not clean and weren’t simply trying to be polite. If it won’t cause problems, I’d like to do my fair share to help with household chores. I’ll drop the issue going forward, and if you do change your mind, please don’t hesitate to ask for help!” Your default assumption as a guest should be that you are taking care of all and only your own considerations – you do you. The default assumption for hosts is similar, though there is an added consideration for making sure the household generally is maintained in a livable state. Different arrangements can be explicitly negotiated based on the needs and abilities of all parties involved.

    Hosts: don’t expect your guests to know your particular norms or read your mind. If you have rules, state them clearly and explicitly. Bring up any issues that do arise on your end calmly, directly, and as soon as possible, while extending your guest the benefit of the doubt, since there is no reason for your guest be aware of any rules or norms you forgot to mention (things that supposedly “everybody knows” or “everybody does” are not actually universal knowledge or behavior).

    Basically, becasue everyone’s social habits, preferences, and finances are different, there aren’t going to be any universal rules, so the most important thing is to not go in with any expectations beyond some baseline amount of safety, respect, and consideration to which everyone is always entitled. I suggest a default approach of thinking of the place like a hotel or hostel where other guests happen to be staying over; do not assume you’re gaining a surrogate family, household, social group, or anything else (though of course it can be great if things do happen to work out that way).

    1. johann7, the reminder to NOT CLEAN WITHOUT ASKING is pure gold. While I would nearly always welcome someone doing my dishes, for the most part, I don’t want people to clean my space because I don’t want them to touch my stuff. It’s an invasion of privacy that I find inappropriate (and usually comes packaged with an implicit judgment of my housekeeping skills.) I have several relatives who do this, and it makes me grit my teeth.

      1. Ugh, that’s too bad. Privacy is a very good reason to not push past any explicitly-stated boundaries (and perhaps even assume some extra unstated ones), especially becasue people have very, very different conceptions of what is and is not private. I don’t think I’d mind anyone rummaging through the stuff in my room (if they didn’t break or misplace anything), but my computer or phone would be another matter entirely. Some people are totally fine with anyone flipping through their phone or computer, but will react badly to others examining their physical possessions uninvited. With new people, we don’t ever know for sure, and people cannot read minds (and despite the too-common assumption, our norms and values are not universal), so it really always pays to ask rather than assume whenever possible. Along similar lines, we should take people at their word when we don’t know them well – this increases the likelihood of everyone respecting boundaries and getting along, it makes balancing competing needs or desires easier by making the discussions direct and forthright, and if there are any miscommunications, they’ll be the result of someone else expecting mind-reading or assuming universal norms, not our own poor behavior. I realize there are a lot of cultural norms that demand that people DO NOT take statements at face value (I’m from the Midwestern USA, and, for those not familiar, we’ve turned repression into an art form), but in unfamiliar situations, the only truly practicable course is to try to be as forthright as possible, since we have insufficient experience to properly direct our interpretations of implicit or connotative meaning.

  42. Oh, I regret that I need a new one:

    If you borrow your host’s vehicle – or anyone’s really! – put some gas in it. Or tuck some cash somewhere that they will find it. I’m not saying you have to fill up the tank, but I consider it a good policy to make sure there was more gas in when I left it then when I started.

    This comes up because my houseguest asked to borrow my car when I knew it was very, very low on gas. Meaning as I arrived home last time I drove it, I realized with surprise that it was ticking quite close to empty. I said “Sure, you can borrow the car, just bear in mind that it’s really close to empty, you could run out of gas, put some gas in”. House guest returned proud that they hadn’t run out of gas – but also hadn’t added any, meaning that it was even more likely that I would run out of gas before making it to a gas station to fill up. (Readers, my car coughed it’s way into the pumps.)

  43. Oh boy, reading through all this I feel really bad for the LW if they are reading/have read this far down. Everyone clearly means absolutely the best but ……. for someone already a bit anxious about the situation… oh boy.

    Don’t be smelly!
    But don’t wash too many times!
    Clean up after yourself!
    But don’t clean without asking!
    Cook food for the hosts!
    But stay out of the kitchen!
    Wash the dishes as you go!
    Only maybe don’t and save them all to wash at a certain time of day!
    Amuse yourself!
    But don’t hog the TV!
    Also don’t use your own electronics in the house or use too much internet!
    Scrub the toilet after you poop!

    Oh boy. LW, it’s going to be okay. You seem like a thoughtful and courteous person by the very nature of the questions you are asking. As long as you are a thoughtful and courteous guest, you do NOT have to be a mindreader. If your hosts are thoughtful and courteous and if they would prefer you do something differently, they’ll tell you. If you accidentally offend them and they passive aggressively fume instead of saying something, that’s not your fault. You’re going to be fine. Good luck!!

    1. I think the lesson here is that folks have different preferences, so really the best thing to do is to maintain a friendly and helpful attitude, and to ask about the nitty gritty of the household. Nobody is asking anyone to mind read.

      I also don’t see a lot of those things as being mutually exclusive. There’s a world of difference between cleaning up after yourself (e.g. washing your own dishes and wiping the counters after making food) and unasked for deep cleaning of the kitchen, right? I can also think of a ton of ways to amuse myself that don’t involve hogging household resources (e.g. the TV, or capped internet).

      But yeah, just ask.

      “Are there any jobs I could help with while I’m here? I’m a dab hand at scrubbing bathrooms!”
      “Do you guys wash dishes as you go, or do you prefer to do them all at once?” (N.B. If they pick option 2, say “OK, would you like me to take care of those?”)
      “Is there a morning schedule I should know about?”
      “Would you like me to cook dinner?”
      “Is there a cap on your internet or is it unlimited?”
      “Is there anything specific to this house that I should know about?” (Make up an old living situation with idiosyncracies, if it’s easier. “I just ask cos I once lived in this house where if more than 3 people took a shower in a morning the boiler sounded like it was about to explode.” “I just ask cos I always forget to tell people about the recycling system at my place.”)

      Yes, if you to something to annoy your hosts, they should ideally say something. And no one is expect you to be a particularly helpful ghost. But you can avoid a world of resentment by just asking simple questions.

  44. I don’t really have any advice about being a houseguest that others haven’t already shared, but I want to suggest a few options for your next college break, if you’ll need a place to stay in the future.

    I second the house sitting suggestion! I’d love to have someone pet sit our cats and keep an eye on our house when we are out of town for Christmas. If you’re near Chicago and you want to house sit for strangers, reply and I’ll give you my contact info and we can see if it would work. I’d pay something too. In the future, you could ask your professors or other adult staff at your school if they know of anyone who might need a house sitter over a break.

    Don’t be embarrassed to let your friends know you didn’t have a place to stay this break, especially if they live within driving distance to your school. I know it’s embarrassing to share, but I’d never knowingly let a friend be in a panic about not having a place to stay, especially over what is, for my family, a season of sharing and friendship. My family had my foreign-born roommate to stay for Thanksgiving our freshman year both so she could experience Thanksgiving with a family and so she had food, since the cafeteria was closed. It hadn’t occurred to me that she had nowhere to go that was affordable until a random conversation, not because I didn’t care, but because until that point everyone I knew lived with their families, not in a dorm thousands of miles away from their home. I would have done the same for someone who wasn’t my roommate; it’s simple kindness. Hopefully you’ll be inundated with options for spring break or whatever!

    Don’t be embarrassed to contact the people who offered you a place to stay. Most people won’t offer unless they’re willing for you to take them up on it! Go for it and see what happens!

    My husband and I, and our toddler, are actually going to be guests in someone’s “snorebox” (think separate small building with bed and bathroom, pretty common where we’re going) on vacation this year. My parents don’t have space in their tiny vacation place for a toddler, but some family friends have space they’re not using this year. We can’t swing paying for plane tickets and a rental place, so when several friends we’ve gotten to know from vacationing in the same place for decades found out we weren’t going to be able to come for Christmas any more, we were offered two different places to stay! We were definitely hoping that someone we knew well would have space for us, so we politely put out feelers, and they did. Hooray!

  45. Considering that you live in dormitory housing I’m guessing that you probably don’t have any pets who will also need a place to stay, but just on the off-chance that you do, ask explicitly whether you can bring them, and do that when you make your initial request. Do not simply show up with a cat and say “Where should I put the litter box?” If you get any inkling that your pets would be inconvenient to have around, find other accommodations for them. And if your hosts do say, “Sure, no problem! We love reptiles!” be sure that you yourself do absolutely everything that must be done to care for your pet, that it does not pee on/barf on/poo on/scratch/chew anything in the house, bark/cry/scream when anyone is trying to have quiet time, or otherwise do anything to annoy your hosts. If your pet has behavioural problems such that you foresee any of that being tough to control, look for somewhere else for it to stay during the winter break. If your pet has no prior behavioural problems, and you do your best, but it does chew up a pair of shoes or whatever, replace the thing which was damaged/destroyed quickly and without being asked, and don’t make a big deal about it. Have a back-up plan in place just in case things go sour — if it turns out that your pet really doesn’t get along with their toddler, for example — so that you’ll have some alternative place for your pet to stay and be cared for.

    Good luck!

  46. I have a suggestion for hosts that just occurred to me today, hope it’s okay to make it here since we’re on the subject: please make sure you put a small trash can in the bathroom your guest is going to use. Few things are more mortifying than having to go into the kitchen or other common areas to throw away a bloody tampon/used buttwipe.

    1. The very most embarrassing conversation that I can recall from when I was barely twelvish was with my two aunts at my elderly grandma’s house. They had tracked me down with marvelous deduction to have a chat about leaving used pads in the restroom of elderly relatives that may no longer be menstruating themselves. Their advice to little mortified me was to wrap up the used pad and make sure it ends up in either the proper trash can outside, or some trash recepticle in the house that is certain to be emptied fairly promptly.
      If I could have died on the spot I would have.
      So, yeah. If you are hosting, provide a convenient trash can. If you are guesting, be aware that not everyone thinks to empty the bathroom trash cans regularly, and some things do start to stink.

      1. In the case of your grandma, or of anyone who might have physical/mental issues that make it difficult to empty the bathroom trash can regularly (or to remember to do so), I agree that it’s best to use the main trash receptacle. In other cases, though, I’d argue it’s the host’s responsibility to make sure the trash doesn’t stink, unless they have an agreement about splitting cleaning responsibilities with their guest. Which isn’t to say I’d completely ignore a caused-by-me smelly trashcan if I were someone’s guest for a few weeks! Of course I’d offer to empty it, and change my behavior if I saw it was necessary. I just wouldn’t go so far as to pre-emptively not use a trash can simply because my host might, possibly, hypothetically, not remember to empty it. YMMV; for me, that’s just too self-effacing.

        1. We had a similar embarrassing situation at my boyfriend’s mom’s summer house, except it’s because the dog would retrieve used sanitary supplies from the trash can and strew them across the bathroom.

      2. Also, I sympathize with twelve-year-old you! That must have been excruciating. At least it sounds like your aunts were kind about it. I was not so lucky when I had my own mortifying (lack-of-) trashcan moment.

  47. Everyone has come in with advice for your situation in the short-term, but I’m wondering about the long-term. This might be a good thing to bring forward to your housing office/Dean of Students, etc. You’re probably not the only student weighing high cost vs. staying with strangers. Perhaps you could suggest that your university list alternate options, such as hostels, or start a faculty/staff ‘adopt a student’ for the holidays program.

  48. I’d say instead of the “don’t discipline pets” rule, ask your host. I’ve never stayed with a friend who didn’t want me uncomfortable about yelling at the dog (in whatever way they took care of it, naturally) when it jumped on me. I’ve also had more than a few friends arm me with squirt bottles to keep cats out of places cats do not belong, like the kitchen counter and dining room table. But there could be people out there would wouldn’t be cool with this! Also, there are people who have different ways of disciplining their pets, and if you’re staying somewhere long-term, it’s useful to know how to do such things, because pets will misbehave and push limits, particularly around new people and you know what the deal is, particularly with indoor-only cats who fancy themselves escape artists (saying that mostly as a companion to one fluffy escape artist who is a complete shit and knows that guests are easy targets for her to practice her escape skills on with success).

  49. I would encourage the houseguest to remember, even in the course of doing any “pitching in,” that above all your job is to remain gracious to your host. One might think this goes without saying, but here’s my story: When I was still living with my last roommate, we hosted a very old friend of hers for a stay that ended up stretching a fair bit longer than originally promised. Said friend was an excellent cook, and that was her way of pitching in while staying with us. However, she was NOT an excellent cleaner-up of the kitchen, and a dirty kitchen is one of my bugaboos, so I would tend to get right to that as soon as dinner was over. One night, while cleaning up, she snapped at me because I put sauce and pasta away in the same container. Yep. Girl, first of all, really? Second of all. IT’S MY HOUSE and you and your stuff are there rent-free, so if I do something housekeeping- or cooking-wise that’s different from how you might do it, you smile and grit your teeth and roll with it.

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