So you’re going to be attending a lovely, intimate little dinner party/weekend sleepover on the shore/holiday smÃ¶rgÃ¥sbord of events with the in-laws, or, conversely, hosting the same. While it may seem like the rules of engagement differ widely from event to event, the basic requirements of non-evilness are fairly equal across-the-board. Below you’ll find a list of Do’s and Don’ts culled mostly from a) things I’ve done (and yes, some of them were pretty evil), b) things my guests/hosts have done, and c) the occasional gem my friends shared with me.
On Food – Host Version
DO – Make perfectly clear to your guests what you expect them to bring, if anything, and do not throw a hissy fit if they show up empty-handed, bring a dish that is not “fancy” enough for your ultra-cool vegan party, or bake brownies with nuts to which you are allergic. And do not inform them that you “don’t eat cream-based sauces,” just smile, take the dish, and offer it to all the other non-snots/non-peanut-death-prone.
DO – Ask your guests about food allergies/preferences. Sure, it’s hard to cook a meal when the people you’re serving “don’t like vegetables,” but you’ll figure something out. A little spinach tucked in a lasagna never hurt anyone.
DO – Attempt to have your guests’ favorite foods/snacks on hand if they’re going to be staying for a while. It’s nice to wake up to more cereal choices than Grapenuts, which are frankly inedible.
DO – Cook more than enough food as a safety net (my rule of thumb is 33 – 50% more than the number of guests–so for 4 people, I usually cook enough for 6, and for 6, I try to cook enough for 8 or 9). Eating reheated pasta for a week isn’t fun, but it’s better to err on the side of plenty than have guests saying, “So … do you mind if I poke around in your fridge?” You never know when someone will discover you rarely have anything in there but Diet Coke and cheese, then ask to order Chinese, then expect you to pay for said Chinese.
DO – Ensure long-term guests, particularly if they are children, have at least pseudo-nutritious fair. Hot dogs and the occasional handful of lettuce is fine. Reheating a single piece of KFC every meal for a week, until the skin is falling off and the meat tastes like sandpaper, is kind of mean.
DON’T – Ever comment negatively about how much or how little a guest is eating. For all you know, they have digestive problems or are still getting over an ill-advised Bud Light Lime binge, and are struggling to down even a few bites of your casserole without throwing up.
DON’T – Fail to open the bottle of wine your guests brought and then go, “Here, you can take this back,” when they’re leaving. Generally, you should try to open what people bring, and if not, just consider it yours for the keeping.
On Food – Guest Version
DO – Always offer to bring something, especially if you’re past the post-high-school/college years when everyone’s broke and half a bag of crushed Doritos is like manna from the gods. If your host turns you down but likes alcohol, bring a bottle of wine or a six-pack (and resign yourself to the fact it might not be opened–it’s a gift, meaning your host doesn’t have to share it with you). If you’re part of a couple, err on the side of generosity and bring one thing per head: wine/beer, wine/dessert, wine/rolls.
DO – Compliment the food, even if it tasted like warmed-over stomach bile.
DO – Offer to assist the host with preparations/cooking, and if she takes you up on the offer, don’t try to weasel out of it. Staying up all night Christmas Eve baking cookies with your mother-in-law could be a lot more fun than you think.
DO – Respect house rules about where you can eat and drink. Some people are up-tight about drinking wine in the living room, for example, and that’s usually because they have a nice rug in there. If you’re the jerk who spills wine on it, don’t try to cover it with your shoe. You’re just making things worse.
DON’T – Give patently underhanded compliments like, “Well, that tasted better than I thought it would.”
DON’T – Just bust in and start cooking stuff and randomly stirring crap without asking, especially if you don’t know how to cook, i.e., if your host is making perfectly symmetrical, beautiful omelets in the morning and leaves the kitchen for a moment: now is not the time to teach yourself how to make omelets. She doesn’t want to eat your plate of charred egg placenta.
ON APPROPRIATE CONVERSATIONS – HOST AND GUEST
DO – Be inquisitive about other people. Particularly if you’re with a medium-sized group (say, 8 – 12 people) and you don’t know everyone–introduce yourself instead of standing around awkwardly, casting furtive glances and retreating to the bathroom every five minutes.
DO – Be inclusive. Don’t spend the whole night/weekend repeating the same unfunny in-joke or talking about future plans you made to go to the Superbowl with the two guests who are clearly your favorites.
DO – Respect the boundaries of guests and hosts alike. Some people don’t like swearing, so make an effort to tone it down. And if you scream “What the f—!” multiple times upon losing Cranium, you might want to take a minute to examine your life and your choices, just to see what brought you to this dark place.
DON’T – Discuss politics unless you belong to the same party and can rail against the other side with impunity, or unless you’re one of those special snowflakes who doesn’t get offended ever.
Examples of things not to say:
– “Here’s an article idea for you: write about how lazy unemployed welfare queens are.”
– “If my wife ever served me a vegetarian meal, I’d tell her to go back to the kitchen and put some meat in it.”
– “This shooting range was so cool. As you’re driving up to it they have a bunch of signs with pictures of dead liberals.”
– “Have you two had sex yet?”
– “So I guess you guys can’t afford much furniture, huh?”
– “Is that even a real religion?”
– “Have you gained weight or does your hair just look different?”
– “Good to know there are still a few places where they don’t tolerate [insert slur for GLBT people, people of color, people with disabilities, etc.]”
– “I hate fat people.”
DO – try to keep the peace. It’s infuriating to be subjected to hateful or rude talk, but it’s better to confront people alone, after the event, rather than start a huge argument that pulls multiple people into its stormy, evil vortex.
ON CLEANING/CHORES – FOR HOSTS
DO – Honestly assess your comfort level with messes against that of your guests, and clean accordingly. If you know people well and your place smells ok, you probably don’t need to do as much work as if your grandmother’s coming and the very presence of dust makes her hysterical.
DO – Thoroughly clean the bathrooms, which are always grosser to outsiders than they are to you and your loved ones. Like, you know how it’s not a big deal to re-use your own butt-wiped towel or see your own toothpaste spit in the sink? That stuff bothers other people.
DO – Parent-proof/friend-proof houses as needed. I.e., hide your copy of The Anarchist’s Cookbook if your conservative parents are coming (or if, like, anyone with a sense of moral decency is coming), and don’t ever leave contraceptive items or sex aids just laying around. Ever.
DON’T – Make your 12-year-old niece spend an entire weekend re-organizing your basement and watching the kids in your daycare, while your own son sleeps until noon and takes two-hour-long showers upstairs. Frankly, don’t expect guests to clean or assist you with anything – that’s just one of the sacrifices hosts make.
ON CLEANING/CHORES – FOR GUESTS
DO – Offer to help with whatever you can, i.e. doing the dishes after dinner or vacuuming your room after you’ve been staying there for two weeks.
DO – Strip your bed of its sheets, even if you didn’t have sex in them, but especially if you did. No one wants to touch your damp, nasty sheets.
DON’T – Ever rearrange furniture or knick-knacks in someone else’s house. When they have to spend ten minutes looking for their kitchen utensils, they will hate you and give you the toughest portion of pot roast.
DON’T – Go snooping around. If a door is closed, that’s probably because the host consolidated their mess and threw everything in there so as to prepare a clean, welcoming public space for you. If you think you’re entitled to look in people’s drawers or poke your nose in the back of their cabinets, don’t freak out when you find things you don’t like, i.e., mouse poop, smutty magazines, the gift you gave them last Christmas.
DON’T – Start cleaning excessively, even if you ask first, even if you’re staying somewhere that’s like one step below Hoarders-level uncleanliness. Think about your host’s feelings and the implication you’re making about their housekeeping skills.
DON’T – Sit on the couch, silently braiding your girlfriends’ hair, while your host runs around trying to clean up and put together a meal for you, since you showed up unannounced and apparently with no intention of doing anything but tracking in dirt and being obnoxious.
RULES ABOUT DRUNKENNESS
DO – Be careful about who you get drunk around, keeping in mind your propensity to shout obscenities or spill family secrets. It might seem like a good idea to confide your childhood trauma in a tractable acquaintance, but you’ll feel embarrassed in the morning.
DO – Accept offers to stay the night if your host doesn’t want to drive you home and you’re clearly incapacitated. The next morning, make any and all efforts to compensate, including buying everyone involved breakfast and cleaning up the bathroom you threw up in.
DON’T – Try to be sneaky about the fact that you fell down the stairs and dented the wall. Everyone can see it. They all know it was you.
DON’T – Get so wasted you knock over a Christmas tree or a mini-fridge. That’s a clear sign you’ve had too many.
DON’T – Start having sex on a trampoline/balcony/with your door open because you think no one’s around. There’s always someone around. (OK, because I’m a prude and easily embarrassed, I have to stipulate I have never done this. But other people have).
THE GOLDEN RULE
DO – Treat others as you would like to be treated. It’s a simple rule, but the most effective.