Emily Postmodern: The Gracious Hostess and The Grateful Houseguest

I’ve heard that the place I live is the greatest city in the world and I’m not going to present an argument one way or another. If that is true it sure would go a long way in explaining why my roommate and I seem to have a constant stream of houseguests in our teeny-tiny apartment.  But, when I travel and someone offers to put me up so I don’t have to shell out the bucks for a hotel, writing a very large check for what feels like a very small space makes it all worth it.

There is an art to being a gracious hostess whether you live in 78 square feet or your own personal palace.  While letting someone know they have a full run of the west wing and then promptly vanishing into the east might feel less welcoming than setting up the futon with a folding screen in your studio, that’s neither here nor there.  No matter what space you live in, making someone feel at home in your home is a really nice gesture.

In a dream world, I have a guest bedroom and a second bathroom and everyone who passes through town can stay with me in high style.  The real world is different, but I still aim to make my house guests as comfortable as possible. No one ever seems to initially want take me up on the offer, but I always try to yield my bedroom to visitors. That way they have a door to shut and my roommate isn’t navigating around a stranger on the fold-out couch that takes up the entirety of our living room. I doubt my friends and family expect a mint on their pillow, but having whatever sleeping surface you are offering up ready with clean sheets and towels is a relatively easy thing to do ahead of time. Sometimes, ahead of time turns into right before someone gets to my house and then they have dryer fresh towels. They think it’s a thoughtful luxury, but I know it was my own procrastination. I also tend to use visitors as a good reason to give my house a thorough cleaning. Not that I live in filth on the regular, but the impending presence of say, my mother, does seem to encourage me to clean the bathroom grout with baking soda and a toothbrush.  The last thing I always prepare for my company is a set of spare keys and some entertaining hand drawn maps of my neighborhood. I know we all have GPS smart phones these days, but sometimes you actually are smarter than Google maps.

As a guest, though, sometimes I feel like I descend unto my friend’s perfectly curated lives like a hurricane. As adults my close friends have scattered across the country to diverse places. Some of them live in that west coast city with skyrocketing rents while others have settled down in suburban homes complete with mother-in-law suites and mud rooms.  Just in case my presence upsets the delicate truce between their roommate, cats, children, or just the general feng shui of their living room I like to come with a hostess gift in tow. This doesn’t need to be some expensive or grandiose item, but just a small token that shows you appreciate them sharing their home with you.

If it is a close friend you probably already know what to bring, but when it is someone you don’t know as well I always err on the side of something tasty from my town (assuming I know all their allergies and diet restrictions). A tribute to the aforementioned roommate never hurts either most especially when you are staying for more than a long weekend. You might be having a great time visiting with your friend, but their roommate has to navigate their daily life with an extra person draining the resources of their house. Acknowledging their generosity is important! I also make an effort to be as generous as is within my budget, treating my host to drinks or a meal a meal and buying groceries to cook together.  While staying with someone I make every effort to be a better version of myself. I do my best to remember the small gestures that mark a good houseguest, tidying up the space I was provided to stay in and stripping the sheets off the bed so my host doesn’t have to when I vacate. Despite the fact that they love you and your dirty laundry, it is thoughtful to not ask them to get too up close and personal with it.

Hosting and guesting is part of the fun of having a wide network of friends across the country and the world. It’s a great way to show off your city and to visit other places without feeling like a tourist.  These customs may seem silly and possibly even overly formal especially if the person you are visiting is someone you may or may not have shared a twin bed in a cabin in Cuba with after a midnight encounter with a mouse, but actions of gratitude have lasting meaning. Showing someone you appreciate them by taking the time to make space for them in your home or that you acknowledge that they made a place for you in theirs expands the places you can call home.