The Art of Visiting

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The most important thing to remember about being a guest is just that—you are a guest.

Your host’s home may not be designed or decorated as you would choose, and your host may not have the same ideas about tidiness or household chores as you prefer in your own home. Rather than reacting to something you may not like or agree with, instead find something interesting you can comment positively about, such as new furniture, a piece of artwork, or an in-process craft project. Yet, as a guest, don’t go snooping about to find that point of interest—you should never go into closed rooms, cupboards, or closets in your host’s home unless you are invited to do so.

It is a thoughtful gesture to bring a gift for your hosts when you are a guest in their home, but it can be challenging to choose appropriate gifts. Try matching the gift to the occasion for your visit, such as bringing along muffins or donuts if you’re dropping by for a cup of coffee, or have a bottle of wine to share with a dinner invitation. A bottle of champagne can be a great gift if you’re congratulating your host; a bouquet of flowers, a scented candle, or homemade cookies can be a pleasant gift for any occasion. You might even try a gift matched directly to your host, such as craft supplies for an avid crafter, a new book for a voracious reader, or seeds or a potted plant for a gardener.

During a visit, good guests will express interest in their host and ask different questions. How is work, family, or a favorite hobby? Are there any plans for upcoming vacations or holidays? Be a good listener, make eye contact with your host, and be engaging in the conversation. At the same time, avoid overly contentious topics that are sure to make a visit unpleasant.

Above all, be careful not to overstay your welcome as a guest, particularly if you’ve dropped by unannounced. If your host appears distracted or unable to focus, that may indicate he or she has other things on his or her mind and it isn’t a good time for entertaining. In that case, say your goodbyes politely and be sure to invite them to return the visit when they have the time. If you’ve arranged your visit ahead of time, ask whether there are any other obligations your host may need to attend to, and make your exit before then. After you leave, especially if you’ve enjoyed an extended visit, don’t forget to express your thanks with a quick note.

As a host, your most important task is to make your guests feel welcome, even if their visit might not be at the best time. Invite your guests in, and offer them a comfortable seat. Refreshments can be a great way to welcome a guest, whether you opt for a cozy cup of coffee in the morning, a glass of lemonade or iced tea on a hot day, or some fudge or cookies during a holiday visit. If your guests will be staying overnight or for several days, you might even try to have some of their favorite foods or snacks on hand for their enjoyment.

For overnight guests, clean sheets on the bed and fresh towels for their use are a must. Take their preferences into account when planning a meal or choosing a restaurant for dinner, and consider activities they may enjoy, such as board games, visiting a local tourist attraction, or just more time to get caught up on each other’s news. Make sure they know their way around your home as much as they need, such as where an extra blanket may be kept, where to find the bathroom, and any household tricks like confusing light switches or sticky doorknobs.

A good host should practice the same conversational skills you would use as a guest, including asking questions and engaging guests in an interesting dialogue. Be a good listener, and be interested in what your guest has to say.

No matter how long or short a visit may be and no matter the occasion for the get-together, it takes genuine interest and interaction to be either a good guest or a good host. This means turning off mobile devices, televisions, and other distractions and focusing on one another instead. Simple chores can be rescheduled, and problems shouldn’t be the focus of conversation. Minimize interruptions, and simply enjoy the company that you don’t always get to have.

Melissa Mayntz is a Florida-based freelance writer.