Unexpected Guests

Sometimes, people just turn up on your doorstep without warning. They could be your best friend, a relative or a distant acquaintance, but regardless, they all bring similar challenges.

Where are they going to sleep?! How can you make them feel comfortable? & the ever-pressing question… when are they going to leave, & how can you politely reclaim your life (& living room)?

The most important thing to keep in mind is that they probably don’t want to be at your place. They probably feel like they are imposing, they would certainly rather be in their own home or renting a place where they don’t have to answer to anybody. Unfortunately, however, they’re not. The main reason they don’t want to be sleeping in your house is because they are fully aware that it is an imposition. No one really relishes having their personal space invaded — your guest is fully aware of this! They probably feel guilty that they’re unable to stay elsewhere — in fact, they are probably at your house for a fairly negative reason in the first place. You must make them feel comfortable & at ease!

An unexpected guest is a true test of your manners. Anyone can prepare for their mother coming to stay, but it takes someone with real poise & grace to accept someone into their home on short notice.

The first thing you should do is make them up somewhere to sleep. If you have a spare bed, dress it. If not, make up your couch to resemble a bed (sheets, pillows, blankets). Put as many extra blankets as you can in close reach of the bed, since everyone has different heat requirements during the night. Also, don’t be stingy with the pillows! I am a two-pillows-or-more kinda gal, & I feel like I am living in a prison if I have to sleep with only one. You should also offer an electric blanket or hot water bottle if you think they’ll need one.

After you’ve done this, you might want to sit down for a chat & tea/coffee/hard liquor (depending on the situation). In the course of this conversation, it would probably be in your best interests to enquire (in a way that could only be interpreted as being utterly charming) how long they think they might be staying with you. If they say something dreadful, like, “a month”, you really need to let them know then & there if that isn’t going to be acceptable. If you have to make up a lie, like “Aunt Bertha is coming to stay in two weeks time”, then do it, but really I would say honesty is the best policy. I would tend to be pretty blatant about it, like, “Oh, I think we will have killed each other by then, does two weeks sound okay?”. You can always offer to help find them somewhere else to stay.

Let them know that they are welcome to do as they please & that they should peruse the contents of the kitchen whenever they like. Offer them food if you’re going to be making something for yourself, & don’t feel bad about asking them to help you with the washing up. Enlisting their help to cook a big meal together can be a lot of fun.

In times like this, I find it is best not to be precious about things like who gets to shower first. If you have a pressing schedule which requires that you shower at 7am sharp, by all means let them know, but do so in advance (like the night before) & in a pleasant fashion.

If you need some alone time, tell them that you’re going to your bedroom & will see them tomorrow (or whatever) — just make sure they know that you don’t want to be disturbed. God forbid they turn out to be one of those people who doesn’t knock before entering a room. If they are, you might want to have a word with them.

Try & get them out of the house & have some fun with them, especially if they are miserable (say they’ve just come out of a relationship or something). Go to the movies, go out for a meal, take long walks.

Sometimes, guests go bad. If people disrespect you or your property (rummaging through your things, bringing nasty drugs into the house, putting their shoes on your table & things like that come to mind), feel free to tell them they have to leave. You’re not losing anything — if they behave like that, they’re really not your friend anyway. Smile when they leave: your life will be better for it.

I remember when I went to stay with my friend DTN after moving out of the apartment I shared with my boyfriend. I was so sad & tragic, but DTN was really good to me. He let me sleep in his bed (by myself), he made me food constantly, we walked around the suburb he lived in, we would sit on his bed & talk about great writers & drink tea. I think I only stayed there about a week before finding a new place of my own, but he was so instrumental in making me feel better about myself.

I really love having people stay with me — it was especially great when I lived alone, because it totally broke me out of my single-person rut. I liked to have people sleep in my bed with me, stay up talking until the wee hours of the morning & make them toast with marmalade at 2am. I remember my friend Ani came to stay with me a couple of times. We talked about boys & went to the movies, took photobooth pictures, painted our nails & did all manner of ridiculous things. Another time my friend Jennie stayed for about a week — we had impromptu parties in my tiny apartment every night. It was so great, like having a sleepover except there are no parents around to cramp your style.

The art of being a good host is about being considerate, upbeat, accommodating & chilled. (No one likes to stay with a psychopath!) Keep smiling, try to remember that other people could never hope to be as perfect as you are (pffftttt!), & do your best to focus on both of you having a good time.