How To Be a Good Guest This Thanksgiving
Gayden Metcalfe and Charlotte Hays share their tried-and-true tips for making the best impression—and securing an invitation back next year.
Every fourthThursday in November, we all sit down to share a lovingly prepared meal of turkey and dressing with our friends and family. Often, the gathering takes place under someone else's roof, and quite frequently, many of us travel to spend time with far-flung relatives. Grateful for such invitations, we ask for the grace to be polite guests no matter what happens. Here's how we have handled the tricky situations that will inevitably confront you while sleeping under someone else's roof.
1. Look Like You're Having a Good Time
"Let's play charades!" "Let's go on a hike!" The archetypal camp-director hostess is blinded by the need to organize, but a sensitive one will pick up on your discomfort and provide you with an immediate out. "I bet you would be a fabulous timekeeper while we make fools of ourselves playing charades," she might say. We see nothing wrong with trying out a polite excuse, though it is unlikely to get you off the hook. Suck it up, and accept whatever is foisted upon you as a new adventure outside your comfort zone. Endeavor to appear to be having a nice time. Being in someone else's home brings you together on a deeper level. If it's too deep of a level, there's always the splendid isolation of a hotel room.
2. Put Away Your Phone
When we were coming along, our parents didn't even let us read in the living room when there was company. It was considered impolite. Texting or checking e-mail (or worse, scrolling Instagram) in the presence of others is also rude. You can't look people in the eye, which is essential to civil discourse, while you're fixated on a screen. If you can't refrain from technology for a few intervals of conversation during the holidays, seek help.
3. Make a Bed That's Just Right
Unless you are a queen, you must make the bed every morning while staying in someone else's home—and we hope in your own too! For the really elaborately done-up beds, just do the best you can. (Tip: Take a picture of it before climbing in.) The point is to keep the guest room looking presentable at all times. On the last morning of your stay, it's customary to strip the bed before leaving, but be sure to ask your hostess first. She may not plan to deal with it immediately; in which case, you can simply spread it back up neatly. After stripping the bed, ask if you can carry the linens to the laundry room. But, again, ask first—be helpful, not pushy.
4. Rise and Shine at a Civilized Time
If you wake up at the crack of dawn, resist the urge to go catch up with your sleeping friends, even if it was okay in the old days. Unfair though it may seem, it is entirely possible that Boopsie and her spouse prefer shut-eye to hearing about your hilarious adventures. Amuse yourself quietly. Earphones and novels are good-guest must-haves. However, there is one early-riser exception to the "stay out of other people's kitchens" rule: Rare is the host who does not like waking to the wonderful aroma of a home-cooked breakfast. (Just not too early, please.)
5. Get the Conversational Ball Rolling
This is the most serious obligation of the good houseguest, and it is not to be taken lightly. What is likely to be of interest to your hosts? Brush up on relevant topics. Also read up on irrelevant topics: Random facts are the brick and mortar of conversation. Ancient corn rituals? They might be fascinating in the right company and context, but watch for signs that you are going on too long. Knowing when to stop is a quintessential trait of the good conversationalist.
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6. Share a Space with Grace
Making somebody wait while you hog the bathroom applying makeup is definitely not a good look. Consider using natural light, which is available through your bedroom window. If you want to be beautiful in the eyes of your bathroom buddy, you'll also take care to remember that the plastic liner goes inside, not outside, the tub when showering. Causing floods is never pretty. And avoid leaving traces of cosmetics in the sink basin.
7. Eat, Drink, and Still Be Vegan
Surprise, surprise—most people do eat turkey on Thanksgiving. Take proper actions to ensure that your dietary restrictions are your problem and not your hosts'. Let them know in advance, but make it clear that you would feel bad if they spent time accommodating your dietary rules. Insist that it is no big deal and that you usually get by fine choosing things that you can eat from the normal menu. This may not be strictly true, but, frankly, we're more worried about you being a bother than starving (unlikely). Still, nobody likes to watch somebody go hungry—so bring dishes that not only suit your needs but also can be shared in the big meal.
8. Think Twice Before Raiding the Fridge
Midnight munchies inevitably drive us all to the refrigerator. How can you be certain the "leftovers" aren't really the ingredients for tomorrow's lunch? If you are in the home of an old, dear friend and have a sense of how the household is run, discriminating nibbling is acceptable. You'll likely know what not to touch. In a strange house, however, this risks embarrassment. That little dab of something might be a special item that the host has saved for a treat. A thoughtful host generally puts out snacks for overnight guests, but if you know you will be famished around midnight, be sure to pack your own provisions.
9. Mind the Gap
Holiday festivities bring together family and friends of all ages, and navigating the generation gaps can be tough. Children and older people often enjoy attention, and you will help your hostess immeasurably if you show that you are genuinely interested in them. And remember: It is the older family members who always have the best stories to tell. The senior guests will do a lot to keep things lively—if appreciated and encouraged to do so. Children also deserve the holiday memory of listening to their grandparents. Ask questions, and be a facilitator. But just be careful not to allow children to monopolize the entire conversation.
10. Know When To Say Your Goodbyes
It was Benjamin Franklin who supposedly said that fish and guests begin to smell after three days. He was a smart man. As much as your host and hostess have enjoyed your company, they want to return to their routines. Even the perfect houseguest—no, especially the perfect houseguest—leaves on time. Staying too long could mar an otherwise delightful visit. Make your exit, and then write your thank-you note promptly.