My love for etiquette shouldn’t come as a surprise. Anyone who knows me knows that I love rules and lists. I mean, I basically got a master’s degree in systems of organization!
And though the word has all the allure of a sepia toned photograph featuring an unsmiling woman in a stiff collar, etiquette can provide a map to staying inside the lines of social interactions. Whether you are a guest or a traveler, being aware of your environment and trying to accommodate the other party will work wonders for your visit.
I have to say that the past few weeks we spent having visitors went exceptionally smoothly and we really enjoyed every moment. Unfortunately, though, that’s not always the case. International assignments can bring a whole different type of visit—most likely of the longer variety. And depending on the location of your assignment, you may find yourself with more visitors than you were expecting.
Below are a few thoughts to keep everyone happy.
Some tips for the Guest:
Go with the flow
International visits tend to be longer than the average stay. Considering this, your host will most likely not have the ability to be away from the office for the entire length of your trip (the same goes for kids in school). Always remember that you are coming into a home where routines are in place. Do your best to fit in with their schedule. If you’re an early riser, do your best to silently grab that cup of coffee and enjoy a book in your room until the rest of the house is up. For families with little ones, keeping quiet in the morning is important!
Also, don’t treat your friend’s home like a hotel. Let them know when you’ll be coming and going and if you’ll be joining them for meals. With a previous group of visitors, it drove me nuts to come home to an empty house with no note and not knowing if I should include them for dinner. Along these lines is to try and keep your things picked up. I’m not telling you that you have to maintain hospital corners when making your bed, but try and keep your things in your room. If you’re sleeping in a public space (like the living room), you’ll have to make your bed every day and keep that suitcase from overflowing.
Bring a gift
It’s always a good idea to bring a small gift if you’re staying in someone’s home. If you’re visiting someone on an expat assignment, this can be a real treat. Think or ask of something your host misses from their native country and surprise them! Our friend’s girlfriend brought me a stack of magazines after she heard that was something I had missed from the U.S. You don’t even necessarily have to make a purchase—my in-laws let us ship things to their house and then brought them to us during their recent visit. It was like free international shipping for us and they arrived with built-in souvenir space!
If you are an acquaintance or casual friend primarily needing a place to stay while you’re traveling rather than having an “I miss you so much” visit, this piece is especially important. Definitely bring a gift and in addition, spring for a meal (in a restaurant or made at home) to make up for all the laundry you’re doing and to alleviate the general feeling of being used.
Have an idea of what you want to do
If you’re not an experienced traveler or it’s your first time in the place where you’re visiting, treat your trip as if you were going alone. Doing a little research will not only leave you better prepared for your trip, but it will mean that when your hosts ask your opinion when planning activities, you’ll actually have one. Know the major museums you’d like to visit or foods you’d like to try! Doing a bit of reading before hand is also important if you aren’t at all familiar with the language and culture you’ll be living in for the next few weeks. Knowing a few pleasantries and cultural norms will make you feel more comfortable in your new surroundings and less dependent on your hosts.
And for the host:
Prepare your guests
Logistics are important when you have guests traveling internationally to visit you. I always try to make sure our guests have a rough idea of our plans, especially if we’re spending time in different locations. Before we hosted our first long term guests I made sure to let them what to bring since we’d be spending time hiking and swimming in sweltering Parque Tayrona, as well as in rainy Bogotá. Make sure guests know your address (often needed for immigration forms), phone number, and have an understanding of how to get to your home (or where to meet you if you’ll meet them at the airport). Lastly, I always try to prep our guests for what their accommodations will be like (whether it’s hotels we’ve booked for an overnight or where they’ll be staying in our place). It’s always nice to know what you’re getting yourselves into.
Prepare your home
Pumping the air mattress as your guest is trying to unpack is not the way to make them feel welcomed. In the day or so leading up to our guest’s arrival, I always do a thorough cleaning of the house and make sure everything is ready. With the guest room, I try and think of anything they’ll need. Think toiletries and lots of towels in the bathroom, hangers and an extra blanket in the closet. My mom is the best at this: she always stocks the bathroom with lotion, toothpaste and more towels than I could ever use and leaves a robe and slippers in my room.
Alongside getting everything ready is giving your guest a tour when they arrive. If they’ve never been to your country, don’t take for granted that they’ll know how things work. Show them how the appliances work, tell them if they can drink the water, and make sure that they have a key and can enter/exit your building freely. If you want something left a certain way, tell your guests the first day otherwise it’ll seem overbearing. And please, give them the Wi-Fi password as soon as possible.
Stock the kitchen
I get groceries each Sunday and stick to a pretty strict list based on what I’ll be cooking that week. To outsiders, I suppose the fridge can look pretty sparse. That being said, when we are having guests for an extended period I’ll go out of my way to make sure we have plenty of ready made snacks, drinks, and things for breakfast. If I really know my guests I’ll buy things I know they like to eat as well—having something familiar in a foreign place is always a nice welcome. Along these lines is to have something to eat ready to go when your guests arrive. Show them their room and while they’re settling in, set out some things to munch on.
Consider what you know about your guests. Do they like to have a set plan every day or decide on the fly? When I travel I love getting out and exploring, but I also love down time. I can’t be on the go 100% of the time in my life and chances are your guest feels the same way. Since I know that my in-laws are super laid back, we planned actives for the weekends and left the midweek more low key. And once they knew where the park, grocery store, and coffee shops were, I felt free to do some volunteer work and get out of the house for a couple of hours while they explored on their own. No one ever complained about sleeping in and beating a few levels of Candy Crush.
Cody and I are pretty tidy people and when it’s just the two of us our house stays pretty neat. That being said, it’s normal for people to want to leave their coffee cup out to use for the day or for you to rearrange furnishings to accommodate the larger group. Accept the fact that while people are in your home, it’s going to look different. Constantly tidying up after your guests will only make them feel uncomfortable and make you look frazzled. Besides dishes after meals, I’ll usually do just one round of tidying up before I go to bed. Leave the line of glasses on the counter and the chair out of place, no one will die.
Looking over my rules, I think it all boils down to a bit of the “shoe on the other foot” mentality. We haven’t had any guest horror stories (yet!), but I wouldn’t mind hearing yours if you have one to share!