9 ways to be a good cottage guest
What to do (and what not to do) on that first visit
You might be worried about committing a faux pas and ending up on the host’s blacklist. You also may be new to the wilderness, which can be an even bigger concern, for different reasons all together. Whether you’re a good friend, an acquaintance, or a tagalong, following some simple guidelines can ensure that everyone has a great time and that you get invited back.
1. Be invited — really
When someone tells you to “drop by sometime,” don’t. Unless you’re given a specific date, the “drop-by” is a non-committal, polite, semi-invite that hosts almost never expect anyone to follow through on. Weekends are short and sacred. And if you are invited — don’t bring a spouse or friend without asking first.
2. Be prepared
If your host doesn’t tell you what to bring, ask questions. For example, if you’re bringing beverages, ask if they prefer bottles or cans. And even if you are told not to bring a thing, don’t arrive empty-handed. Pack your own towels, toiletries, sleeping bag or blanket, sunscreen, bug spray, and, if there’s not going to be too much food there already, some snacks. Let your hosts know that you’d be happy to bring an appetizer or prepare one day’s lunch. Showing up with nothing more than a cheap bottle of wine is just cheap.
3. Have realistic expectations
A cottage is a special place and cottagers revere the simple life. You’re not staying at the Hilton. At many cottages, you may not get to shower (not often, anyways), watch television, play video games, surf the net, or chat on your cell (but if your cell does work, you shouldn’t do business on the dock). There will be plenty of bugs and quite possibly, bad weather. Embrace it — it’s good to get away. Sit back, relax, and be proud of yourself for “roughing it.”
4. Respect the cottage
You might find the cottage you’re visiting to be, well, interesting. It might have taken some time to get there (five hours by car, one more by boat), and it might be a little cozy (tiny) or rustic (uncomfortable) — don’t offend your hosts by complaining. They love and live for it, so try to be positive. But don’t attempt to hide your disappointment by complimenting every amenity–the host knows that their forty-year-old couch isn’t “the greatest.” It’s best to keep quiet.
5. Respect the septic system
This means minimizing water use, not flushing anything that hasn’t passed through your system first, not flushing excessively, and using a minimal amount of toilet paper–unless you like spending your weekend alone in the bathroom with a plunger. If there’s a functioning outhouse (and there may only be an outhouse), you might find it more private for when you need a little distance between your bodily functions and your hosts.
6. Never say “I’m bored”
Your hosts may have some activities planned, but remember that they are vacationing, so be prepared to amuse yourself. In good weather, enjoy the outdoors and go for a walk or a swim. To be prepared for bad weather, bring some games, a deck of cards, or something to read and entertain yourself.
7. Don’t be a (Debbie) downer
All cottagers have certain traditions and rituals. These may not be your idea of fun, but you should join in anyway. Whether it’s a sport tournament or a campfire sing-a-long, it won’t go unnoticed if you head for a chair with a magazine while everyone else is participating. Submit to peer pressure. So much of a cottage experience depends on the attitude of the people there, so try to be a good sport.
8. Don’t get too relaxed
Good advice anywhere you go, but it’s especially easy to be lazy at a cottage. Remember that you are a guest and you should keep your belongings tidy, clean up after yourself, and keep your pants buttoned up after supper (unless one of the traditions tells you otherwise).
9. Pitch in
There is more time for fun stuff if the not-so-fun stuff is divided amongst everyone. Plus, helping out shows that you appreciate being invited and would like to come back. Do the dishes, cook a meal, and do some general tidying (collecting bottle caps anyone?). It’s also good to offer a hand with maintenance tasks. If your hosts want to clear brush for an afternoon, help them. They’ll invite you back.
This article was originally published on June 1, 2009