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Guest Etiquette

Guest Etiquette

Eight common etiquette violations all guests should watch out for.


"Never again" is not supposed to apply to visitors you've recently hosted. There are guests who stay too long and those who don't stay long enough. There are guests who are too demanding and guests who are too passive. How do we strike the proper balance without losing our minds or patience in the process?

Some of the burden for maintaining our savoir faire lies at the feet of our guests. The overriding principle is: Don't do anything to annoy the host. Obvious, right? The reality belies this assumption. Here are eight common etiquette violations all guests should watch out for.

Etiquette Violation #1: Don't ignore your hosts and their other guests. Friends are often invited over at the same time, and they usually have a lot of news to catch up on (having not spoken in at least an hour!). So they seat themselves at the end of the table, turn to each other, begin talking and proceed to ignore the rest of us the entire evening. Under such circumstances, I feel like a waitress and am tempted to ask if "Table Two in the corner" needs anything!

Etiquette Violation #2: No whispering. This is a behavior that even very young children recognize as slightly mean and exclusionary, which is of course why they do it!

Whispering is usually the perquisite of married couples, and while their comments may not really be about the tastelessness of the soup or the recent weight gain of their hostess, it is nevertheless inappropriate and, dare I say it, rude. Same goes for speaking in a foreign language!

Etiquette Violation #3: Don't make derogatory, impatient or dismissive comments about your host's children (even if they deserve it!). As parents, even though we may find our children occasionally frustrating, it is always tempered by tremendous love. Without the love, it's only hurtful. It's my children's home too and they are sharing it with the guests.

Conversely, guests who pay special attention to all the members of our family, who treat them with respect and sincere interest, become regular invitees, and often good friends.

Etiquette Violation #4: Never insult your hostess' cooking. In fact, obsequious flattery is a fine strategy.

Etiquette Violation #5: Don't communicate that you can't wait to leave, even if your children keep piping up, "Can we go yet?" Some people are always rushing. They've squeezed a meal at your home in between birthday parties, golf games and afternoon tea. They never stay until the end of the meal. This can be disconcerting and a little demoralizing to the hosts.

As hosts, it is our responsibility to end the meal before the natives get restless (We operate by the principle of "leave 'em wanting more"). As guests we need to be attuned to social cues and stay until the end, unless that end is seriously delayed or there is a genuine medical emergency.

Etiquette Violation #6: Don't ask unnecessary personal questions, like details about your host's income and business deals. Along another vein, when my kids and I were younger, people would walk into our home and be surprised by the size of our family. Frequently their first question would be, "Do you plan to have more?" Back to manners class.

Etiquette Violation #7: Failure to appreciate that the host and hostess have spent time, money and effort on your behalf. Though the host may try to dismiss it as "I was cooking anyway," the clever guest knows that this is not all true. Hostesses plan for the individual needs of their guests. They plan for the number of guests and types of guests and carefully match personalities. Even if they enjoy entertaining (which I do), that doesn't make it effortless.

This means that last-minute cancellations should only be done in the case of the aforementioned medical emergency, with a few other exceptions. But certainly not in the case of another invitation, laundry to do, work to finish or when "something came up".

Etiquette Violation #8: Not saying thank you. Thanks can be expressed in many forms -- oral, written, or a small present upon arrival. Expressing gratitude is essential for the character of the guest and the continued good spirits of the host.

In Judaism nothing is left to chance. Proper interpersonal interactions are not instinctive. We need training and guidance to treat others appropriate in each unique situation. And maybe if I can communicate these ideas to my family, and we really assimilate them and become the ideal guests, someone will actually invite us over...

Next Week: The Host's Responsibility

Click here to read Host Etiquette.

January 7, 2006

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Visitor Comments: 28

(28) Anonymous, May 29, 2009 5:05 PM

Using commodities

Clean up after yourself and never, never , never leave your grungy-haired soap in the soap dish!!! Also, bring your own soap (in a soap dish) and toothpaste. Never sit in Big Daddy's recliner. Never try to remind a host that they are out of toilet paper!!! Buy some! Impress your host

(27) carol fox, November 20, 2007 8:01 AM

small gift for a dinner host?

This was never a practise in my social circle as a young person, and there are those who consider this now as a faux pas. It seems to indicate, to me, that the guest often sees the gift as recompense for the invitation, and does not plan to return the hospitality.
WE once brought wine to a party, and the host seemed offended. They entertained a great deal, and I think knew better than we did. In fact, at the time we thought we could not return the invitation. Fortunately, we were able to at a later date, and then none of our dinner guests brought a gift. We were glad they didn't.

(26) Anonymous, July 10, 2006 12:00 AM

When grown children visit

Do you have any suggestions or etiquite when grown children visit home?

(25) Anonymous, June 25, 2006 12:00 AM

guest etiquite

when a potential guest calls and invites themselves to a long weekend about 6 weeks out. Is it the host's responsibility to follow up to see if the guests are still planning to visit?

(24) Anonymous, January 21, 2006 12:00 AM

Behavior of guests and hosts varies by culture and custom

I recommend reading books by Deborah Tannen, two of which are "That's Not What I Meant", and "You Just Don't Understand", in which she shows how many misunderstandings between people can be avoided if we take into consideration the culture, custom, and language style of other people.

Some of the letter writers said they wanted guests to "help out" in various ways, or help themselves to food in the refrigerator or pantry, or even gave guests a house key. Those behaviors may be the norm in some cultures, but they are not in others. In some cultures, it is considered rude to help oneself to anything in someone else's house without asking, or waiting to be served. If those two cultures collide, you have one person hungry and thirsty, wondering why the host hasn't offered anything, and the other person thinking, why doesn't the person help him or herself if they are in need?

In some cases giving out house keys would place the security of the household in jeopardy, and it may not be wise to be handing out keys, which may then be copies, and improperly used or fall into the wrong hands. This could encourage people to overstep boundaries, and the hosts may find themselves barged in upon or their house used inappropriately.

Some people do not want guests to help for various reasons, such as that it is not seemly for guests to have to do that. The guests are not hired help, maids or butlers, and unless the host is ill or handicapped, would prefer their guests to sit and relax. If the host is frustrated by this, they should invite help, hired or not, to do the work, so the host can also sit, relax, and enjoy the company of the guests. This way, everyone could enjoy the drash being discussed and other topics of conversation.

Other reasons that help may be unwanted or unwelcome, is that guests may not know about the kosher standards of the home, which is the milk or meat side, or what to do with things.

Or the dishes may be delicate, or family heirlooms with sentimental and/or monetary value, and both the host and guest might be upset if the dishes and crystal were broken.

Do they expect the guests to wash the floors, clean the bathrooms, wash the laundry? It is nice if these activities are mutually agreed upon and appreciated, but some may feel that part of the definition of being a guest is that they are there to enjoy and be served, and both the host and guest may share this definition.

People should not jump to conclusions about other people's behaviour based on insufficient evidence of the background, culture and beliefs of the other.

Deborah Tannen's books are very helpful to gaining understanding people and being understood, and opening the lines of communication.

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