Monday, May 18, 2009

Politely turning away houseguests

Dear Etiquette Bitch,

I recently moved to a desirable location that is popular and expensive to travel to. I am in the early stages of renovation, and will be in the midst of some level of chaos for the foreseeable future. That said, I enjoy being able to share my home and good fortune with friends. In the 4 months I have lived in the house, I have already had quite a few house guests, and twice as many requests to visit.

A couple of the guests were fantastic. They stayed 2-3 days, made their impact small, and made contributions to the shared visit.

The other group hasn't been a nightmare; it's that their expectations are out of line with what I can comfortably provide, and out of scale with our friendship. That's the reason I write you.
I rarely stay with others. I know how disruptive even considerate house guests can be, and thus being one makes me feel immediately apologetic.
My second group seems to operate in an opposite manner. They push for increasing amounts until my limits are reached. This places me in a terribly awkward position. I take my duties as host seriously. My guest's comfort and happiness are very important to me. But at this point I have begun feeling taken advantage of, and it's souring me on the idea of any guests.

Before it gets to where I cut it off completely (excluding the closest of friends), I'd like to figure out a way of politely telling people, "Yes, I appreciate you sending me your proposed itinerary which indicates you plan on staying with me for 10 days, but perhaps you might want to see how long I can host you in a less, 'I am one button push away from making all the decisions for both of us' manner."

People seem to get offended when I tell them I cannot host them for their entire trip. I realize this is their problem, but I do not want to lose additional friends over it. I have seen the island many times over now, have my own life to run, and cannot be their tour guide or long term innkeeper.

Can you help?


First off, mad props to you and to your first group of friends -- y'all seem to understand that "friend with a house in another locale" is not synonymous with "all expenses paid Hilton." The prudent (and desirable, invited-back) house guest is mindful of the host; pays for a meal or two (or three or four); contributes to the upkeep of the house (even if it's just making the bed); and leaves the host alone for some time.

The other group, well, you described them perfectly in your letter. I appreciate the delicate, uncomfortable situation you find yourself in. I'm going to give you some suggestions, and then I want you to practice saying these out loud. I promise you, if you don't practice, you won't use 'em when the time comes. How did Tiger Woods get so damn good at golf? He didn't think about it or read blogs about it -- he did it.

Now, on to you: You actually have the perfect out: you're in the middle of renovations. Heck, far as I'm concerned, your renovations are going to take years, especially when your 2nd group of friends calls you.

That said, I'm also not a fan of lying to get out of something, but in your case, it' s not a lie. So, we're going to practice a couple of routes, all involving the truth.

When someone sends you their 10-day itinerary, including a 10-day stay at your house:

"Hi, Jim, it's P. calling. Thanks for sending me your travel plans, but I'm sorry, I won't be able to host you all 10 days. I've got the plumber coming all that week, and with the way he's ripping out the walls, there's no place for me to put guests, and dust will be everywhere. I can have you stay that weekend, but not all ten days." [Or, "I'm sorry, it's just not going to work out this time."]

Or, just be straightforwardly honest:

"Carla, so glad you'll be in my neck of the woods! Listen, I don't want to offend you, and I hope this won't cause any friction between us, but I'm just not able to have any house guests right now. I've already had four visitors, and it's not even June! I'm just a little wiped right now, and I haven't even had time to attend to that drywall I'm putting up, but I'd love to see you for dinner on that Thursday you're here. I hope you understand. If you need a place to stay, I can recommend a timeshare up the road."


"Jake, hi, I got your email about your visit. This is uncomfortable for me to say, and slightly awkward, but I'm afraid I can't offer up my house or play host this time. I've just been swamped, and I really need to catch up. Would you like to meet for drinks on the Thursday or Friday you're here?"

(You don't even have to offer to meet for drinks or dinner; I just threw that in in case you do want to see these folks.)

If someone dumps you as a friend because you couldn't be their free meal ticket during a vacation, well, is that person worth keeping as a friend? You also mention that the second group, who show disregard for your time, space and needs, aren't really your closest why worry?

Host those who are near and dear to you, when you can. And remember, it's your home. Etiquette is about making others feel comfortable and at ease, but also about setting appropriate boundaries. Your non-close friends who would impose upon you when it's outside of your capacity...well, they're not practicing good etiquette, are they?

Maybe point them to this blog, where I'll remind them that it's bad manners to invite one's self to another's home.