6 tips for good guests
Heading to a friend's cottage? An expert's guide to guest etiquette
In a perfect world, cottage entertaining is pleasant and relaxed, a simple and simpatico exercise where hosts take it easy with like-minded guests. No spats. No tears. No hurt feelings or bitter recriminations. How hard could it be? Unfortunately, in my varying roles as lakeside intel officer, cottage caterer, and meat-counter confidant at The Dwight Market, I have been hearing rumblings of discontent. Griping. Whispered regrets.
While we all know that good guests shouldn’t be bellicose or crash the ski boat, apparently there are some lesser-known offences affecting the guest-host dynamic that are driving hosts nuts. The following is a list of practical tips for guests.
Bring actual wine
Just because your unfortunate neighbours say your homemade Gewürztraminer is delicious, that is not the case. They are just being polite. Your poisonous plonk, whether fermented in a basement bucket or produced at your local “Grapes ’n’ Stuff” outlet, is horrendous. Undrinkable. And when you present it to your hosts, they make a mental note to hate you forever and never invite you to the lake again. Instead, why not pry open your wallet and bring them a bottle (or three) of proper wine? Note to hosts: Homemade wine should be disposed of in a responsible manner, away from vegetation, wells, septic fields, and watercourses.
Even if your hosts say that they’ll supply beach towels, they don’t really want to. So bring your own. That way you won’t feel awkward when the kids drag a sodden bath sheet through the campfire pit, and you won’t be silently cursed as your hosts work through six loads of guest-generated laundry. Note: If you are consistently the only guest who brings towels, a preferred room with the cottage’s only comfortable mattress shall be yours.
Ask before helping with dinner
Even if you religiously watch Tasty Attack of the Samurai Chef on the Food Network, never stride into your hosts’ kitchen and start shaking their pans. Many cottage cooks are territorial about their kitchens, and this type of “help” will be interpreted as an invasion and may well get you stabbed with a boning knife. If you see your host is in the weeds, graciously offer assistance, but do not presume to enter the kitchen triangle until permission has been granted. Note: If the host rejects your helpful outreach and then proceeds to boil the souvlaki, you must simply sit there and watch the catastrophic kitchen meltdown. At dinner, smile and ask for seconds.
Don’t be a whiner
Unless the cedar sign by the driveway says Yahweh’s Shangri-La, acts of nature such as insects, rain, and poor cellphone reception are beyond the control of any cottage host. So when wussy-pants guests harp on about a late-August blizzard or have a hissy fit over a few bug bites, it understandably makes their hosts feel bad, as if they are personally responsible. Here’s the deal: People who make hosts feel bad are never invited back (unless they are related by blood). Note: Guests who cheerfully don Gore-Tex and take the kids fishing for rock bass despite the funnel clouds will be regarded as heroes by their hosts, plied with warm towels and cocoa, and given the keys to the kingdom—the standing invitation.
Take care of your own special needs
If you have recently discovered that you and your family are vegans, please bring your own food. Some cottage hosts do not stock or have easy access to things like protose or flax seed egg replacer. If you are forced to survive a cottage weekend on grilled mushrooms and tomato slices, it will make your hosts feel like, well, bad hosts. (See above, re: people who make hosts feel bad.) Note: If you are a vegan who consumes chicken, salmon, or string cheese, you are not really a vegan, just a picky eater.
An oldie but a goodie
Cottage walls are thin, so any late-night whispering about Jimmie’s face-singeing halitosis, Connie’s obvious unsuitability for motherhood, or how much you hate the Petersons’ yappy little dog will very likely be overheard. Awkward! And just because your husband’s Cialis prescription has kicked in, that guest bedroom with the curtain dividers is not an appropriate spot for a shagtastic celebration. Note: Sound also travels well over water. So even if you consult your doctor about possible side effects and paddle out to that distant mossy island, there’s a good chance everyone on the lake will hear your horizontal jogging and applaud with enthusiasm.
This article was originally published on June 28, 2011