Photo by Salt Water New England

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Reader Question: What is the ideal length for a houseguest to stay?

Photo by Salt Water New England

Peter Mayle's many thoughts on guests include:
"All visitors, even the most charming and well-behaved ones, cost money; not vast amounts if you take them individually, but enough collectively to make them our single biggest annual expense.  There is also a hidden cost, impossible to calculate, and that is exhaustion." 
"Relatives don't arrive at your home; they invade it.  They kick off their shoes and unpack expansively all over the living-room floor.  They pounce on your phone as though they have been starved of contact with the outside world.... And yet... all must be forgiven.  They're family."  
 These set the table for a recent reader question:
What is the idea length for a houseguest to stay?  How long should invitations be for a summer house visit compared to a New York apartment?  And how long is absolutely too long?  Any guidelines would be appreciated.

24 comments:

  1. I think Benjamin Franklin was the one who said Fish and Houseguests begin to stink after 3 days. Seems right to me.

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    1. Indeed! It is a rule I impose on myself as a guest first, then hope to extend to those who come to visit.

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    2. “Fish and guests in three days are stale.”
      -John Lyly, Euphues – the Anatomy of Wit (1579)

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  2. Emily Post has all the answers. Just ask what Emily Post would do.

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  3. Circumstances change. In the past, when household help was the norm in some families, a visit of a month was not unusual, although that did not mean the whole family came. That may have been when ladies of the family were still young and available and gentlemen callers left cards. These days, house guests are more burdensome.

    My wife likes to tell of her grandmother, who did not marry until she was 40 (and after her father had died!), would take the train up to visit with her cousin and stay for weeks. Her cousin never married and lived in the same house her whole life, living into her 90s. I don't imagine any of those things happen these days, although the train still runs. It just doesn't stop at the same places now.

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  4. Burdensome is an apt description. Three days and two nights. At most. For those people you actually like. Shorter for those you must endure. If you're lucky, the latter will find a nearby bed and breakfast, or simply stay at home. A now sadly deceased Danish professor of mine once told us, during a course on Hans Christian Andersen, that Charles Dickens kept a small plaque on a nightstand in a guest bedroom of his house that read something like, "Hans Christian Andersen slept here. He stayed for six months!" Ultimately, house guests ought to be somewhat more conscious of the fact that when people say "Make yourself at home!" most of us don't really mean that they should behave like they probably do at home. It's similar to the question "How are you?" As my late maternal grandmother advised, people don't really want to know. It's a platitude. All you need to answer is, "Very well, thank you." In any case, short and sweet for house guests, which keeps things relatively pleasant and leaves you actually wishing to see them again once they leave.

    Best Regards,

    H-U

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  5. My brother in law lives in Vermont, near to ski mountains. When I take advantage of them for overnight ski weekends I make sure to stay never more than two nights , bring a frozen dinner they can heat and eat during the week , two bottles of wine and a small gesture gift also we leave first thing in the morning so they can have sunday to themselves.

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    1. You sound like a perfect guest.
      My wife would say three days max. I would suggest the Hilton

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  6. Thanks for your post Blue Train.

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  7. Over the holidays &/or with little notice: never. This shouldn't have to be said, but I've been surprised a few times. And however earnestly a host assures a guest that it's no bother and they are delighted for the visit, it is and they are not.
    Otherwise: Friends/associates: 1-3 days. Family: one week or as long as a suitcase of clothes lasts. Unless it's your kid - that takes tact and patience. And money. And probably a new wifi router.

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    1. This made me laugh out loud! (so true!)

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  8. I would say 3 days max. 2 nights max. Otherwise you may not be friends anymore or you may not be talking to your family members ever again.
    It is unbelievable to me that people even consider dropping by unannounced.

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  9. Robert ReichardtMay 2, 2019 at 3:29 PM

    Nowadays, fifteen minutes seems about right.

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  10. My brother in law had an uncle who used to greet guests, "Hello, when are you leaving?" 2 nights 3 days MAX

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  11. Now, that's the spirit, Robert!

    Best Regards,

    Heinz-Ulrich

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  12. Two nights is my ideal guest's limit . I stay a night at most , but usually make an excuse and actually head for a hotel .........

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  13. 3 is the magic number...

    3 nights for friends, 3 hours for the friendly.

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  14. I will add another consideration to this discussion - just because you love your dog(s), do't assume that your hosts do. Leave your pets at home!

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    1. And adding, guests should remember that our pets live here, and they don’t!

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    2. Yes, leave YOUR pets at home, but don't expect mine to disappear! I had a guest years ago who asked me to keep my cat closed up in another room! Another time, a guest told my dog to stop barking. I reminded her that it was his home and his postman! The nerve!

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  15. Consider reading Rory Stewart. There are places in the world where guests are welcome. Just not, it seems, any in North America.

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  16. I'm really surprised by the negative responses but I must say I had a few good laughs. I'm an introvert so I can only handle humans in small doses but strangely, I don't mind my house guests and actually welcome them. That said, the only people I invite to stay in my home are dear friends who know that I am (at times) aloof, respect my desire for aloneness and don't take it personally. They are also very courteous and well-mannered people who don't expect me to serve them round the clock. My friends are very grateful and respectful and share in household chores, meals, additional expenses, etc.. They even enjoy walking my dogs and helping in the gardens! After reading the responses I feel even more fortunate to have the friends and family I do. One year my dear friend from Wales spent 3 months with us over the fall holidays and I never felt stifled, oppressed, taken advantage of or invaded. In some ways, having guests is like a vacation for me!
    People that are not 'dear' friends or family that are just passing through and would like to visit will offer to stay in a hotel and depending on the situation, I will offer to pay.

    Regarding pets: I most likely wouldn't allow pets in my home because it's just too much responsibility and I confess that I don't want to lose a friend over a disagreement on how they care for or train their pet. My animals are well-behaved and socialized around visitors but I know that many pets ( AND CHILDREN) are not. Barking dogs are very annoying. Sure, my dogs will bark at the delivery driver if I don't tell them everything is fine and to stop but I don't allow it to continue out of respect to the driver and I wouldn't allow it out of respect to my guests if I had any. I live next door to a couple that allows their dogs to bark at everything and it has caused problems with neighbors but they also don't respect their house guests ( or mine) and I've witnessed the look of frustration on their guests faces as well as a glance of sympathy to us- never to return. I don't blame them.

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  17. I always think three nights is perfect. It feels like a proper visit but it gives the hosts some sort of light at the end of the tunnel to focus on in those moments when hospitality is a bit more of a strain than ideal. That said, whenever possible, I prefer to stay in a nearby hotel because it unapologetically provides everyone their own space, with lots of love and fun when together, and peace and quiet when not.

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  18. Sharing a summer home among family members is even more delicate: https://www.wsj.com/articles/keeping-the-heirloom-house-11570634460?emailToken=629bda41b852152304a79c31c6f5d794E/E60oTk9kBsCWNnFzSe03+UejlP2cQPNEWqpFi/KwD1hLChml31E0tPBuN0jaxb6TOlDC0jfcqmGTycP0H5cA%3D%3D&reflink=article_email_share

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