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Didi’s Manners & Etiquette: Overnight Guests

Thursday, September 01, 2016


Labor Day is upon us and most of us either wants to get away or have friends and family as guests. Over-welcomed stays and how to be a self-sustaining overnight guest were questions this week at Didi's Manners before the last hoorah of summer.

Unwanted guests

Q.  Every August a couple we've known since college - and that's a long time - arrive to spend the Labor Day weekend and occupy our guest room for two weeks. They are grateful guests; they are so appreciative that they spend the entire two weeks thanking us, as well as being very overly-considerate. In trying to "earn their keep" they bring fresh cut flowers and vegetables from our local farmers' market. 

It's enough already, but we don't know how to break the tradition and say, "You can't come next summer." They constantly say things such as, "We'll have to do that again next year," or "Next summer we'll make dinner reservations at ______ (a popular restaurant) well ahead of time."

We want to say, "Please, don't come next summer," but we don't want to hurt their feelings or make them think they've done anything wrong. To put it bluntly, they're no fun and we don't want them inviting themselves a year in advance. 

How can we be honest and nice at the same time? Any ideas about how to head them off at the pass?  C.L., Martha's Vineyard, MA


A.  As soon as your erstwhile guests mention staying with you again say, "Jean and Eddy, as much as we enjoy your company, we think we're just inviting family next year for Labor Day." Or, "We're hoping to invite friends who haven't visited us before to come next Labor Day." By saying you want to do something different shouldn't hurt an adult's feelings.

If they don't get the hint and ask if they can come for a different two weeks, say that you don't want to make a commitment so far in advance and that you will get back to them. That way you would be telling them "maybe" or "we'll take it under consideration." We all know that is a gentle way of saying "No."

Expectations as houseguests

Q.  We've been invited for Labor Day weekend to what my boss calls his summer house. As houseguests, what is expected of us? The cost of flying there and back is prohibitive enough without having to buy a house present, which my wife seems to think we have to bring. What are the expectations - on both sides?  G.W., Brooklyn, NY

A.  The rich live differently from the rest of us. No doubt, your host has paid for many airplane trips to his summer house and is aware of the cost. Find out ahead of time what is expected of you in terms of what you should bring.  Will you be going sailing, playing golf, tennis, cycling? Having boat shoes for the sailboat and all white attire for the tennis court may be mandatory requirements.

Your question about dress code and your attire should prompt your host to remind you to bring a blazer and tie to wear at a party they're hosting, or he might say, "don't forget to bring your clubs." My favorite is, "Bring old clothes for the clambake."

  • We've even had a host ask us if there was anything we're allergic to or if we had any dietary needs.


The best you can do is to arrive on time and be a self-sustaining guest. It's annoying when a guest is needy for this or that and is never on time.

Arrive with a token gift - or send it ahead of time - such as a book on sailing, a cookbook, or another interest of your host. You needn't spend over a hundred dollars. 

  • Friends once arrived with the most memorable gift ever, homemade jam. We had a great aunt who always packed a loaf of her freshly baked organic bread in her suitcase.

When you arrive find out the drill for the day and the rest of your visit, and think of it as your itinerary. 

  • Then ask if there is anything you can do to help out; for instance if they are hosting a cookout and you'd like a turn at the grille. 
  • Guests who have stayed a week are known to have installed simple lighting in our garden, and another put shelves in the garage. It was a gift of their time and the expense was minimal. In other words, make yourself useful when you can.

Depending how long you're guesting it, make yourselves scarce once a day to simply take a walk or explore the local museum or library.

The morning of the day you leave ask what you should do about your bed linens and towels: take them off the bed and fold them leaving them at the foot of your bed or take them to the location of the washer and dryer. 

  • If there is a staff member assigned to the task, ask if you should leave a small tip, especially if someone has gone out of their way to iron your trousers or bring you Advil or a hairdryer.

Once home, reflect on the highlights of your adventure and remind your host in your thank-you note that you really had a great time.


Didi Lorillard researches manners and etiquette at Didi's Manners.


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