Friday, August 30, 2013

The Greatest Guests

Over the years at Casa SerandEz (I, II, III, and now IV!) we have been fortunate enough to have hosted hundreds upon hundreds of guests, many of them having stayed over - from the couches in our one-bedroom apartment to the beds in the girls' room or couches in our two-bedroom; to their own room or the basement in our New York "house" to having their own floor (and bathroom!) in our house in Cleveland.

In just the 8 weeks* since we've arrived in Cleveland, we've had over a dozen sleepover guests (including a few family members and a lot of visiting friends), and while our friends are always awesome guests, I think I have noticed it a lot more here because they have their own floor that we theoretically have to prepare and clean up after... and it's theoretically, because we've basically done nothing at all.

While talking to one of those guests recently after they had gone home we discussed what makes guests great, and really, it's about not being a guest at all - the greatest guests are the ones whom you never need to actually host. They come, and they feel right at home (within reason), not making the hosts constantly feel like they need to cater to their needs or feel horrible afterward upon realizing that they forgot to give them some essential items.

With that, here are some basic tips for being a great guest - and if someone could tell us how to better hosts, we'd really appreciate it!
  • Be a friend. If you're coming over to someone's house, odds are they are your friends (or family). And they want to treat you like friends, not like guests - they want to feel like they're having a great time with you, not worry about you. So just be what you are: Friends! Even if you are just staying at a random person's house, be friendly, not a hideaway they're wondering about.
    • A great example of this was a couple that we're close with who stayed here the Shabbos we moved in (for an aufruf). Some people were surprised we'd host that soon, but we didn't have to do anything. When we were up we schmoozed; when we wanted to sleep we did. We didn't have to "host" them. 
  • Ask if you need something. No host deliberately didn't give you towels or doesn't want you to have toilet paper. If something is out, ask where you can get from. They won't be embarrassed (for more than a second, anyway) - they'll be appreciative. Better to get someone a roll of toilet paper now than to realize after they left that the bathroom was bare.
  • If you're crashing somewhere for an extended time, chip in and be somewhat scarce. Every family needs some private time, and when you're all at work doesn't count, so stay out a bit some evenings. And if you see something you can do to help out, go for it.
    • We had a friend who unfortunately had to crash by us for a long period of time... and yet somehow we didn't hate her afterward. She did a great job of not being in the way, and often offered to do things like make dinner (even if we decided to go with simpler fare usually) and she babysat a couple times when we had to go out. I don't think it's ever perfect when someone stays over for a long time, but our impression is that it's often a disaster - and this was not.
  • Don't arrive or stay out too late, unless you've already worked it out with them. Nobody wants to be the person whose house is locked even though they're *sure* they checked to make sure it wasn't. And nobody wants to worry about a guest being stuck out in the cold. If you're saying somewhere, show up at a reasonable hour unless the specific plans were to come in late. 
  • Don't be afraid to ask for help, but don't over ask. Asking for a ride to a nearby bus on the way to work or when someone's available is generally reasonable; asking for a 45-minute airport run when they have other errands, far less so. Again, they are your friends, not your hosts; but that means you ask them to do stuff you'd ask a friend to do, not a hotel worker.
    • Especially when I worked in Manhattan, I'd often offer rides back to Stern to guests who slept over. They were usually really good about not assuming that I could give them a ride, and were generally very thankful when I did. I believe I once made a girl take the subway when I thought she was asking a bit much - I'm mean like that. 
    • A friend once mentioned that by doing favors many wouldn't do, we set a standard for hosting that was a) too hard to live up to and b) caused some guests to become spoiled or expectant of them to the point that they ask other friends for favors they really shouldn't be. Perhaps this is true, though we tried to never do too much simply because a) that would be too much, as defined, and b) we didn't ever want to regret hosting. Also, we'd hope that people realize what is and isn't fair to ask of someone. (To our guests' credit, we generally offered and they rarely asked, and when they did they were generally clear that they knew it was a big favor to ask.)
  • Help out. It doesn't - and shouldn't! - be over the top, but try to help out in some way. It's like being a friend - you'd help your friend if you saw you could, so help your hosts. Our guests have been incredible with this over the years, which is probably another reason we love having them.
  • Be honest. If your hosts ask you if you were comfortable, tell them if you weren't (nicely). They actually want to know, so they can host better. They might not realize the room gets freezing cold and needs more blankets, or that an old mattress is... well, really old and not worth sleeping on, because they don't sleep in the guest room. 
    • This is one people are so hesitant on, but we felt horrible to find out after months that the pull out bed we had for guests was really, really bad. (After all, we had never lied down on it.) My mother came and we found her sleeping on the other couch and she told us. We still sometimes had to put people on it, but at least we could warn them (and fixed some springs underneath so it wouldn't be too bad). 
I'm sure there are more; these are just a few that came to mind in the middle of the night. And to all our friends, thank you! The reason we have always had so many of you so easily is because you made it easy. Y'all are the greatest 'guests'.

* It's amazing that it has been so short; it feels as if we've been here and known all our new friends here for so much longer. Also, really flattering that so many friends have already come to visit...!

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